Morthound – Off The Beaten Track The Light Don’t Shine CD Raubbau 2015
For long term fans of Morthound the prospect of a new album was a wish which had long ago been abandoned; particularly given the Morthound name had been put to rest in 1994 when Benny ‘BJ’ Nilsen then forged headlong into more experimental realms (…opting to release albums for a number of years under the Hazard moniker before continuing on under his own name). Yet not to let the project fall in to obscurity, Raubbau were good enough to give the complete back catalogue a reissue treatment in 2014 (reviewed here). Noting there were a couple of live shows to celebrate this release, this evidently provided the inspirational spark for Benny to reactive the Morthound name and to record music of a darker hue. Obviously this then lead to some interesting speculation of exactly what may be encompassed on this new album, given if anything was to be gleaned from Morthound’s back-catalogue is its sheer stylistic diversity (…if not all out sonic schizophrenia).
Starting with the fast paced and slightly disorientating metronome ticking of ‘The Device’, this opening movement soon delves headlong into foreboding dark ambient realms of grinding mechanical drones and sub-harmonic orchestral textures (…a fine introduction indeed). The following ‘Between Midnight and Dawn’ then follows as an 11.5 minute journey through twilight realms and is as nightmarishly tinged as the titles might suggest, including abstract horror styled strings and later continually swirling and morphing tense bass layers. ‘The Munich Manual’ is then notable for its beautifully rendered soundscape style, which has a very filmic ‘sound design’ feel based on the depth and clarity of the sound production. Following a divergent path, the spitting, static infused ‘Disquieted’ is an experiment in tone and sound, which mid-piece morphs into a shuddering industrial-noise composition, complete with semi-buried but entirely mangled spoken vocalisations. ‘Disembodied Voices’ then represents an excursion into subtle and minimalist bass drone territories, with slow morphing tonal washes and rhythmic formations which subtly shift over its length. Choosing to finish the album on an ethereal high note, the final of the 6 track ‘The Black Forest’ revisits the ethno-ambient sound of ‘Spindrift’, where the driving but understated tabla percussion is underscored by maudlin ethnic tinged synth washes to create a rather transcendent album conclusion.
At a mere 47 minutes it is not a long album, but equally ‘Off The Beaten Track The Light Don’t Shine’ represents a strong comeback which comfortably sits within a mid-point between Benny’s musical output to date. Given the stark diversity and difference between each Morthound album to date, this new album continues in that tradition. Without doubt it makes clear nods to the darkly hued dark ambient of years prior and also includes a perhaps obligatory ethno ambient track. Likewise the production is reflective of the more academic and experimental recordings of more recent years, meaning it amounts to more than a mere retread of what has come before, whilst also being faithful to the Morthound legacy. Currently there is no clarity around whether Benny intends for Morthound to continue beyond this point, but given there was a massive 21 year gap between this and the last Morthound album, perhaps it is best to not yet pine for another album just yet – rather simply enjoy it for whatever it may be if it ever eventuates.