It may be a consequence of our times, but it seems like metal bands are playing with their original sound now more so than ever. Maybe this boils down to the fact that these days it’s nearly impossible to make a decent living from music if you’re not in a band that panders to mainstream taste. So artists don’t feel the need to tread the line anymore because there are no real financial risks resulting from failed experimentation.
Of course, experimentation is nothing new and most genres have developed because of the brave artistry of musicians. But the speed at which metal bands shift styles seems to have ramped up in recent years. Also, because of increased open-mindedness and an appetite to learn about new types of music in and outside of metal, the ridiculous rules that used to govern and restrict extreme genres have also been smashed. And the younger the band the less prejudice towards outside influence there seems to be, thus making now an exciting time to be a free-thinking metal fan.
Sweden’s Morbus Chron, comprised of four musicians who are all in their early 20s, are a product of our times. In 2010, the then teenage band burst onto the Swedish death metal scene and rejuvenated it with their head-caving demo Creepy Creeping Creeps. Morbus Chron nailed the scraping guitar tones, asphyxiating atmospherics and signature clawing riffs carved bloody by Carnage, Entombed, Dismember et al at the dawn of the ‘90s, and fired-up this style of metal with brash energy and a ravenous hunger to impress.
The young Swedes followed up the hype with their 2011 full-length debut, Sleepers in the Rift, an album now easily ranked as a modern Swedish death metal classic. With its psychedelic, Lovecraftian artwork and the rampaging attack of the nine razored songs contained therein, Sleepers in the Rift put Morbus Chron on the underground metal map — much like The Horror did a year earlier for fellow Swedish death-dealers in Tribulation. And like Tribulation, who last year released an intoxicating brew of psych-dipped death metal in the form of The Formulas of Death, Morbus Chron have split their originating sound from neck to navel for their second album, Sweven.
The only criticism that could have been placed at the hoofed feet of Sleepers in the Rift was that originality was non-existent. It was a true tribute to the band’s forebears; albeit one that perfectly encapsulated the spirit of Swedish death with an ample dose of malevolence taken from Autopsy’s claret-covered discography. Although it retains aspects of the old school death mauling that brought Morbus Chron to the Boss HM-2 pedal-laden table, Sweven is much more expansive and experimental, with labyrinthine song structures that allow the band to venture down more than just one Left Hand Path.
With Sweven, the biggest compliment that can be placed upon Morbus Chron is that they have managed to avoid sounding pigeonholed on this album. Progressive rock/metal, math rock, hints of black metal and pyschedelia, and of course death metal all find ill-harmonic space without grating against each other. However, what Sweven holds in the hypnotic pull of its songs, it lacks in the boundless energy and biting aggression that initially made Morbus Chron such a refreshing breath of fetid air. This lack of intensity will undeniably alienate some the band’s fans who were hoping for another hell-bound ride in less than 35 minutes. Yet given the time it deserves, Sweven’s magnetic pull intensifies and draws you further down the cryptic rabbit hole Morbus Chron have conjured for us.
Named after a style of composition that usually resembles a lullaby, “Berceuse” lives up to meaning behind its name; luring the listener in while resisting the urge to go straight for the jugular. Simple circular melodies and organic tones waft unthreateningly before the song bleeds into “Chains”. “Chains” releases the first of many rolling riffs and echoing, unhinged screams courtesy of the torn vocal chords of Robert Andersson, who still screams bloody gore (Andersson also handles guitars alongside Edvin Aftonfalk). This song is the first real example of Morbus Chron’s evolved experimental streak, with its off-kilter riffs charging in different directions driven by the disorientating, stop-on-an-impulse rhythms of bassist Dag Landin and drummer Adam Lindmark. There is disquiet to the melodies and unfurling guitars of “Chains” and of Sweven as a whole, and the positioning of different motifs within the one track that compliment rather than confuse make this album play out like one ever-developing composition.
To further enhance the flow and compositional singularity there are placid interludes placed at the end of some songs, where the music pairs back to the bones of a guitar plucking mesmeric yet simple melodies (See: the fully instrumental interlude “Solace” and how the band develop the seven-plus minutes of the towering “Towards a Dark Sky”). Consequentially, Morbus Chron’s music is not as confronting as it once was but instead it’s more controlled yet wildly adventurous, and dare I say, more mature. “Maturity” is usually spat at when mentioned in the same breath as metal bands, especially the extreme kind. But the word is an appropriate descriptor for Morbus Chron’s second full-length — an album created by musicians who, because of their age, are far from what you’d normally consider capable of creating the progressive twists of “Ripening Life” and impressive dynamism of the uroboric “The Perennial Link”.
Oddly, the production that embalms the music — specifically the clean instrumental passages — recalls the Shadows (‘60s beat-group forerunners led by the guitar skills of Hank Marvin) more than, say, Autopsy. This distinctiveness in tonality really compliments the off-kilter and often queasy movements, lending the album a peculiar feel. Because of this, Sweven sacrifices clotted oppression in favour of a mysterious draw; and this too may turn off your old school death metal fiend because this album isn’t overtly “heavy” in the traditional sense. For everyone else, Morbus Chron’s second album — from the opening bewitchment of “Berceuse” to the bending riffs and mid-paced D-beat rhythms of “Aura in the Offing”, and on to the doom-entrenched finale “Terminus” and its soothing end release — will thrill and beguile in equal measure.
Sweven is a resounding success for this young band whose fearless approach to altering their craft leaves plenty of older (ailing) bands with years of experience sounding tired and irrelevant. It’s truly an exciting time to be a member of Morbus Chron, because from here on out there are no artistic boundaries for these four musicians besides the limits of their own minds.