Review Summary: Being nearly perfect in all the genres that it touches, Mortal Treason's "Sunrise Over a Sea of Blood" is a often-overlooked masterpiece that deserves tenfold the attention that it receives.
Metalcore often gets a bad rap, and rightfully so, due to the hundreds of metal "posers" in the scene. The genre is, at its core, quite unique. Musically, it combines the technical prowess of metal (most of it, at least) and fuses it with the heavy and reckless attitude of hardcore. There are a few bands that step outside of those confines to create sub-genres within metalcore. Deathcore often becomes the go-to for several outfits. They are now applying the harsh riffs and rhythms of a death metal band to an already intense sound to make it even more lethal. Alabama's Mortal Treason burst into this fledgling scene in the early 2000s with a unique mixture of melodic death metal, symphonic elements, and a love for brutal breakdowns. They offered the metal community a cocktail of brilliant, melodic musicianship that was reminiscent of the early work of bands like At the Gates (which the band has cited as a definite influence). Their Christian faith seeped into their passionate lyrics beautifully to create lyrics that told stories of pain, death, and righteous anger. Mortal Treason had disbanded in 2005 after several line-up changes within their four-year run together. It is very important to look back on their work still because it presents a more primitive form of deathcore that was, much like Germany's Heaven Shall Burn, focused more on melody and musical dedication than just how low you can down-tune your guitar.
The album starts with what is probably the only song that Mortal Treason may be known for to people other than fans, "Best Case Scenario." This is a strong yet simple instrumental that showcases all members of the band well. It doesn't feature them all shredding right of the bat. Instead, it masks its brilliance with subtlety. It begins with keyboardist Elizabeth Kimbrough striking dark chords while being accompanied by cello. Instruments join in soon: the bass and guitar form the signature breakdown in the song. The whole affair builds into a guitar solo and fades into the second part of the album opening, "Worst Case Scenario." A fast double-bass rhythm and tremolo-picked guitars send the heartbeat of the album racing. A symphonic backdrop is set by Elizabeth Kimbrough again ingeniously, which ushers in a strong likeness to black metal greats like Emperor or Limbonic Art. Vocalist Seth Kimbrough (husband of the keyboardist) shrieks and growls his way through with great control and ease. The production on the album is excellent considering that every instrument can be heard perfectly, yet things are nuanced when they need to be, especially Elizabeth's keys. There are some songs that showcase different elements than others very distinctly. "Abaddon" (a competitor for the best song on the album) has a section towards the end that showcases her contribution to the band and it lifted very high in the mix to where it sounds just as awesome as a full orchestra. The guitarists Josh Jarrett and Adam Wright are in the spotlight most in the latter half of the album in songs such as "Taste of a Bitter Soul," with its melodeath-inspired pedal tone riffs as well as a quick solo, and "One Hour from Forever." They also add some excellent breakdowns into songs like "Worst Case Scenario," "Dig Your Own Grave," and "These Evil Days." Drummer Steve Robinson must be lauded as well for his excellent performances throughout the album. He is taking clear influences from double-bass greats like Hellhammer and Alex Hernandez with great consistency. Bassist TJ Alford is often very low in the mix (unfortunately), but harmonizes well with the guitars in creative ways.
Another worth mentioning is the whole atmosphere about the album. This is brought on by both the lyrical themes and application of keys. "Abaddon" deals with child molestation and the pain that plagues its victims. The song ends with violent and triumphant lyrics detailing the fall of the perpetrator. The keys add a nice mood to the songs and can give them more weight. There is a pervading theme of pain and anguish, but finding hope through a time of hurt. The orchestral elements fit perfectly where they need to in order to construct an emotional experience. In "One Hour from Forever," a break in the middle of the song finds the orchestral sounds coming to a close to make room for a terrifying soundscape of burning fire and hellish groans. The music soon returns with a quicker more vicious tempo to close it out with a bang.
The only weak song on the album is really the closer, "Death Is the Beginning." It takes a slightly doomier approach to the metal side of the album and becomes meandering in the process. There is a clear shot at a victorious ending here, but it just does not come. However, it does not completely drown out the rest of the album's successes.
Mortal Treason could have been big. I mean, really
big. Their influences were clear, but so was their own unique sound. "Sunrise Over a Sea of Blood" remains among the best of deathcore releases due its fiery passion all the way through to create a listening experience that will not be soon forgotten.