Morthound – Mortology 1990-1996 5xCD Raubbau 2014
This special box set is a lavishly presented 5xCD archival release of the classic Swedish act Morthound, whom somewhat confusingly was also known as Morthond (depending on the release). Here the box set functions to re-release and re-package: the debut cassette (for the first time on CD); the main trilogy of albums released on the lauded Swedish Cold Meat Industry (CMI) label; and a further CD of scattered compositional remains. In taking an initial overview of the varied styles and sounds encapsulated within Morthound’s complete discography, with the passage of time it is abundantly clear that solo project member BJ Nilsen was a significant contributor to the development of the now recognised CMI sound. Likewise despite the extremely varied musical approach displayed between albums, the constant thread is an atmosphere of filmic and soundscape oriented compositions.
‘Death Time’ is up first, which originally was the debut cassette released on the CMI cassette side label Sound Source, and demonstrates the tentative steps of an artist finding his way. Here loose tape manipulations and smatterings of radio/ movie samples intermingle with slow ominous throbbing synths and deathly pounding industrial rhythms, and are very characteristic of the emerging ‘CMI’ style and sound of the time. Likewise ‘Anœsthetic’ and ‘Entertainment in the Desert’ with their tribal percussive thump provide vague hints at a later direction and sound of the project.
Noting the initial steps taken on ‘Death Time’, a further step forward is evident on the formal debut album ‘This Crying Age’. By specifically building upon the early template, the debut album pushed Morthond’s sound into a far more refined experimental soundscape/ dark ambient style. Features 4 tracks and spanning 54 minutes ‘This Crying Age’ articulates a sonic mood of cold arctic wastelands and ominous dreamlike to nightmarish soundscapes, which are punctuated with ticking clocks, disembodied voices, programmed synths, smatterings of loose industrialised rhythms and the emergence of spare ethnic percussion and woodwind instruments. Thus with its barren arctic ambience ‘This Crying Age’ displays sparse abstract filmic styled soundscapes and at the time of its release clearly helped bed down the nordic CMI dark ambient sound.
Following only a year later in 1992, ‘Spindrift’ represented a significant evolution and resulted in their tour de force album (noting that at this stage the moniker had also evolved slightly to that of Morthound). Merging experimental dark ambient soundscapes with structures that on occasion veer towards on pop-songs, ‘Spindrift’ still manages to maintain a dark undercurrent throughout. Also with the emergence of prominent world music relates influences, the album created a style which could be referred to as ‘ethno-ambient’. Here the compositions are awash with moody synth melodies/ piano movements, percussive industrial/ tribalised rhythms, female sung lead vocals (on ‘Herb of Grace’), and again with smatterings of movie dialogue samples. ‘Riverine’ represents the pinnacle of Morthound’s ethno ambient sound, being an amazing piece of mid paced Asiatic rhythmic chimes and percussion, booming tympani percussion and piano accompaniment which settles into a looped meditative groove which gradually evolves over a 17 minute expanse. In a word this track is marvelous, although somewhat oddly the track has been reordered from being the album’s opening track to that of its centrepiece. As a bonus ‘Shrivatsa’ has been added to this version (originally from the ‘Karmanik Collection’ Compilation CD), and is another absolutely transcendent ethno ambient composition of floating ritual ambience (hurdy gurdy drones, chimes, tabla and soaring flute accompaniment).
With a span of a further two years 1994 saw the release of the third and final official album ‘The Goddess Who Could Make the Ugly World Beautiful’, again displaying a major stylistic shift. At the time of its release fans of ‘Spindrift’s’ ethno-ambient style were shocked by the heavy use of industrial tinged guitars, where repetitive pummeling Godflesh styled guitars and thumping program drum machines sit atop a base of dark ambient to industrial soundscapes. Whilst the guitar oriented sound of project has never been a favourite of Morthound’s around these parts, there are enough filmic dark ambient tracks on the album to make it not totally guitar dominated and in fact with guitars featured on only 3 of the 7 album tracks, referring to this as the ‘guitar’ album is slightly misleading. Of the non guitar pieces, the hazy yet brooding dark ambient atmospheres of ‘hibernation’ (complete with vague disembodied voices floating in and out of the mix), in part mirrors where BJ Nilsen would take his sound post Morthound and as displayed on the debut album ‘Lech’ issued under the Hazard moniker. ‘Syyzygy’ also sees the ‘ethno ambient’ be reprised in full guise, here with full Indian flavour evoked through tabla percussion and sampled ethic female vocals. Yet for all its outward display of stylistic diversity, the crowning achievement of this album is the concluding track ‘World End’. Being an amazing soundscape of doomy droning layers and multitude of abstract yet cinematic sound textures (unintelligible vocal snippets adding to the nightmarish edge), the track breaks out into a final segment of dark industrial tribalism with mid paced ritual drumming and wailing female vocals. Fantastic.
The final of the 5 discs is titled ‘Unleashed 1990-1996’, which collects together an additional 9 previously unreleased Morthound compositions. ‘Woodstock Mayhem’ is noted to engender a freeform structure and almost industrial noise style to its distortion squall, which is clearly a differing sound for the project despite the wide variety of styles already covered. Likewise ‘Down the Hall’ provides a solid example of ominous ‘unknown lurking fear’ type of dark ambience. For the latter half of this CD are a collection of long-form sprawling, minimalist/ abstract dark ambient compositions (9-14 minutes each), some with tinges of ethno influences (ritual gong, woodwinds etc.), others with a slight mechanised approach, which equally arcs back to the cold minimalism of ‘This Crying Age’ as much as it also mirrors several elements of the hazy swirling atmospheres of Hazard’s debut album ‘Lech’. Although this disc is slightly less focused than other albums in this set (obviously down to the multiple original sources), this is still a solid complimentary disc to bring together the remaining loose threads of the project.
Where ‘Morthology’ excels is that it is far beyond being just an archival ‘completest’ release. This is an expansive and expertly realised document of all Morthound recorded output and functions as the perfect mechanism to revisit the complete back catalogue in reinvigorated packaging and sound. Listening to this set in its totality is a pleasure and is illustrative of the ripples of influence which have radiated out from the early to mid 1990’s when these albums were originally released. For old or new fans alike, your Morthound history lesson awaits.