Mortiis – The Grudge Review

Mortiis – The Grudge
Earache, 2004

1. Broken Skin
2. Way Too Wicked
3. The Grudge
4. Decadent and Desperate
5. The Worst In Me
6. Gibber
7. Twist the Knife
8. The Loneliest Thing
9. Le Petit Cochon Sordide
10. Asthma

Introducing Mortiis to the unacquainted is an arduous task; once upon a time, he played bass for black metal pioneers Emperor. Since leaving that band, his musical releases have spanned throughout the dark ambient techno arena, typically with an overlying theme of fantasy and Scandinavian folklore. For years, he’s dressed as a goblin or troll — up to and including a skull codpiece — and always sat somewhere oddly between his black metal roots and his love of the synthesizer. All of these elements made Mortiis quite difficult to cross over into any sort of scene: obviously no longer able to carry the metal crowd, yet too bizarre to fit in with the folks who appreciated the folklore and ambient techno sounds. He took a decidedly more dark direction with his last release, The Smell Of Rain, which was also powerful enough to start grabbing attention of other Europeans in the goth techno scene. And now in 2004, Mortiis seems to have ventured headlong into straight industrial music.

Dropping his incorporation of fantasy (and supposedly now dropping his troll costume), The Grudge is quite the kick up in the angst department from his prior works. Clearly eager to flash his Nine Inch Nails influence, many passages throughout the disc come off as a blatant attempt to emulate Trent Reznor’s style. There really remains little of what made Mortiis a true original; shedding his love of folklore, all that truly remains are vague lyrics of empty anger. While the writing isn’t bad (and at times is quite clever), the subject matter truly smacks of an attempt to climb from a niche and into the mainstream.

Yet, this is far from a mainstream album. Industrial music isn’t exactly radio-friendly, and Mortiis doesn’t strain for dance-incorporated beats that would make him a club favorite. Shifting from trudging to frenzied, his choices in atmosphere recall :wumpscut: and My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult. Throughout, the production is staunchly mired in 1992, with enough mud and distortion to make even Steve Albini sit up and say, “hey, maybe we should clean this up a bit.” Quite simply, it’s only more mainstream in the aspect that it’s less weird and more akin to typical industrial acts.

Opening with “Broken Skin,” the change is obvious within the first minute; synthy sounds with distorted guitars kick into Mortiis’ vocals, featuring a musical breakdown and nearly-whispered chorus that almost screams for Reznor to start checking into copyright law. Luckily, it’s the only song on the disc that seems to so clearly scream, “I LOVE NINE INCH NAILS!” as variety begins to take over and saves the disc from becoming mired in the worst of techno mistakes — the inevitable electronic blur of copycat beats.

In fact, there are some utterly brilliant tracks spattered throughout the album. “The Grudge” slows down from the initial fury of the disc, incorporating Mortiis’ talents with an ambient backdrop to his cold beat and frustrated lyrics and featuring vocals from Sarah Jezebel Deva (best known for her work with Cradle of Filth). “Decadent and Desperate” almost screams for the listener to get up and start furiously dancing; it’s easily the most (industrial) club-friendly track, featuring some beautifully syncopated rhythms that distance it from generic dance fare. “The Loneliest Thing” is a cold, goth-infused track with some tremendous atmosphere, and the closing song “Asthma” amplifies Mortiis’ skill in creating a mood by managing to somehow make one feel like they’re experiencing an aural asthma attack.

Still, there’s a lot hampering this album from becoming wildly recommended. Tracks like “Gibber” and “Le Petit Cochon Sordide” embody industrial cliches that have been played out for at least the last ten years (including the overuse of clearly annoying samples) and, quite simply, bringing nothing new to the table. “The Worst In Me” starts out promising, but falls into a repetitive ramble that begs someone to have stopped it far before the seven-minute mark. “Way Too Wicked” is yet another track that isn’t horrible, but simply isn’t memorable in the least; in fact, the second half of the album tends to fall into lulls that make it difficult to recall the better moments.

For fans of Mortiis who typically don’t typically venture into the industrial scene, this album isn’t a huge shock given the artist’s tendency to shape-shift. Recognizing his talents for mood and having a taste for the ambient, The Grudge is a welcome progression, albeit lacking his themes of fantasy and folk. For fans of industrial music as a whole, one might pick up The Grudge and laugh first at its outdated and fuzzy production; upon further listen, while sporadically shining through with innovative moments, it simply comes off as NIN worship gone awry. No elements of modern industrial are present whatsoever, but that may also appeal to those who prefer the darker, less dance-influenced days of the genre. Selected tracks may appeal to those outside these circles (particularly darkwave and gothic types), but in comparison to much which is already available, Mortiis’ offering simply doesn’t bring a new voice to the cluttered market.