Mutilation Rites’ Harbinger Offers A Diverse Feeding Frenzy That Transcends Genre Shackles
Given black metal’s major resurgence in our current heavy music scene, I can’t help but be most engaged by bands that are building off the subgenre’s winter-y ice-scape and doing something new with the formula. Unless if you’ve been living under a rock with your ears plugged up whistling dixie for the last year, you’ve at least heard of Deafheaven (listen to the band’s winning 2013 album Sunbather), and I would also particularly cite Vattnet Viskar as a band incorporating most of the usual elements of black metal with various other feels (read my review of VV’s icy warm 2013 release Sky Swallower).
But Mutilation Rites most definitely belong near the top of that list as well; on new offering Harbinger, the Brooklyn band deftly fuses together black, thrash, death, and sludge to create an unstoppable force that is truly its own.
I have been a longtime fan of drummer Justin Ennis; I’ve been following the guy ever since he played with Tombs (which I mentioned in my recent review of Savage Gold), and when I caught one of MR’s early shows several years back, I knew something special was happening, even if I didn’t quite get it at the time. Ennis can play the shit out of his kit, and plus he is a true champion of the internet; if you are so lucky as to be coveted with his Facebook friendship, you will know exactly what I am talking about — the guy manages to find the weirdest, most hilarious stories out there.
The vocals on this album find the halfway point between high-pitched black metal wailing and throaty hardcore-ish yelping, and then add a death metal sheen on top — a combination that works incredibly well against the deliberate, dynamic musicianship.
The guitars on Harbinger (courtesy of vocalist/guitarist George Paul and standalone guitar player Michael Dimmitt) lay down meaty, driving riffs aplenty, but also offer umpteen windy, dissonant licks that dance around like a half-naked, eye-patch’d hippie chick caught ablaze by a raging bonfire.
And bottom end purveyor bassist/vocalist Ryan Jones (formerly of Today is the Day) adds a rich, thick rumbling that could rival the juiciest flatulence of a dragon with heartburn. Ennis and Jones are the street-level rhythm section to beat this year; no gimmicks, no trickery — just pure unadulterated raw br00tality.
Album opener “Black Pyramid” announces itself with clear determination, yet isn’t afraid to take a step back into half-time grooves or repetitive, meditative moments. This is an epic way to begin Harbinger, and thankfully the highly-set bar is met throughout.
From the outset, second track “Exhaling or Breathing In” plants its furious feet into a highly hummable chord progression that employs just the right touch of dissonance to avoid being too hooky for such a baddass band. As with every track on this winning album, “Exhaling” ebbs and flows between anthemic passages, sprawling soundscape sections, and straight-up ass-kickery. Subsequent song “Tactical Means of Ourobouros” even employs some driving early Mastodon-style riffs, allbeit in a much more black metal context.
After the doomy outro of “Ourobouros”, “Gravitational Collapse” blasts out of the gate with a fiery, syncopated lead-in that quickly evolves into a wider array of parts and moods, opening the door for a seriously diverse moshpit.
Following the Motorhead-meets-black-metal treatment of “Contaminate”, “Suffer The Children” gets downright gruesome, so much so that you can almost smell the sweat dripping from this track. But again, this is a gnarly band that continually wins over naysayers with unexpected charm hidden within the grit and grime, so be prepared to dig it no matter your bag.
On Harbinger, Mutilation Rites somehow manages to take some of the most abrasive, ugly, nasty-sounding genres, and make the result feel way more accessible than one might expect. I’m not saying this album will necessarily be everyone’s cup of icy cold black tea, but it seems likely that some folks who abhor the genres comprising MR’s tableau might find themselves pleasantly surprised at just how engaging this music is.