Review Summary: Old metal, new school.
How Morbus Chron ended up where they are is a complete mystery. They started out as a pretty standard “I like X band so I will make a record that sounds like X band” old school death metal act, with all the self-awareness and tongue-in-cheek bull***ting that is basically required for a group of dudes who want to sound like Autopsy in the post-millennial decades (when a band sports an EP called Creepy Creeping Creeps you can rest assured they probably don't actually think they're totally morbid). And it was pretty charming for what it was, if not all that good. After signing to Century Media in 2012, they released A Saunter Through the Shroud
, the EP that marked a distinct change in both their sound and overall approach to the death metal aesthetic. While their first full-length was basically an extension of their initial output, Saunter
was an almost total enigma. The basic sound was still reminiscent of their previous efforts but filtered through a heavy tape deck rotation of Dark Millennium, Obliveon, and King Crimson, and while it was kind of a strange turn for the band it was also quite good.
So here we are at the beginning of 2014 and the band’s enormously under-hyped debut on Century Media Records finally drops, and it's safe to say that it might possibly be the best death metal record to come out of Sweden since Entombed got tired of playing death metal. The aptly titled Sweven
is nothing short of a total success on all fronts. The entire history of death metal, all the way back to before rock even existed, is a part of Sweven
in some strange way. It's almost impossible to find any semblance of the band we knew as Morbus Chron unless you take into account the basic elements that have defined their sound until this point. Those nasty, shrieking vox that were at the forefront of A Saunter Through the Shroud
are here in perfect form, the undertones of the swampy sewer metal courtesy of Autopsy are still vaguely present, and most of all the charming adversarial attitude showcased since the band’s inception in 2007 is still alive and well. The only thing that's different this time around is that Sweven
sounds like nothing the metal world has really ever heard before.
It’s difficult – if not impossible – to describe Sweven
like someone would any other modern death metal album, as a sum of its influence. Sure, there's some Autopsy on this record, but it doesn't really
sound like Autopsy. Sure there's a little bit of early Cynic on here, but it doesn't really
sound like Cynic. Sure there's a ton of other little influences on this record from Pink Floyd to Voivod and all the way to Emperor, but regardless of how a riff sounds or a chord is played it never actually sounds exactly like it should. What Morbus Chron have done with Sweven
is to exploit the uncanny quality of a musical genre that exists almost solely as a sum of it influences. They've taken the entire lineage of rock music from its most basic form all the way to its furthest extremes and harnessed it all into one single record that sounds like everything and nothing at the same time. The result is nothing short of a completely captivating and wholly original slab of putrid, groovy death metal, which for a record in 2014 is a task that all to easily could be considered completely impossible.
is aggressive, melodic, groovy, funky, and evil from start to finish. It's heavy in ways that most death metal would never even consider trying. Any band that can pull off the groovy, dissonant stomping of the opening riff on “Ripening Life” on the same record that contains something as mournfully sublime as the tremelo leads in “Towards a Dark Sky” (the highlight of the album and one of the better tracks death metal has produced in general) is easily light years ahead of the competition. It doesn't hurt that Sweven
is immaculately produced down to every last detail. With a distorted crunch that would give a dog a bone, reverb-heavy clean tones that Paul Masvidal would kill for, and thudding no-trigger-bull*** drum sound straight from 1975, every inch of the album is covered with a thick, psychedelic syrup that oozes divine evil in perfect vile form.
Interestingly enough, Sweven
is approached with a much more serious tone than band's previous efforts and is wholly successful in its attempt at sincerity, which in itself is a grand feat for any death metal act regardless of age. While the tongue-in-cheek nature of their first few releases bordered on self-aware parody at times, it was nonetheless charming to find a band that could love something as absurd as death metal and have a sense of humor about it. In fact, a case could be made for the idea that the best death metal has always sort of been self-aware in one way or another. Sweven
is different in that it takes itself completely seriously and it still manages to succeed on just about every conceptual level. It's a psychedelic, existential trip through all the voids of evil and darkness but done in a way that makes sense for the subject matter. Maybe it's the fact that their sound has matured so much since they originally formed, but the entire presentation of Sweven
fits so well that no part seems out of place, even amid the labyrinthine corridors of its own hazy insanity.
Morbus Chron's Sweven
is a record that only comes once in a lifetime. It's as innovative as it is exceptional and is presented with a staggering vision that can only result from complete clarity of intent. Whether it's the mournful dirges of the closing tracks or the raw aggression of the meat of the album, Morbus Chron have set a standard by which death metal from this point out can, and should, be held against. Sweven
is a monstrous journey through the depths of the endless void and manages to stay completely surprising from start to finish. It will be quite a long time before anything else comes out that even approaches the scope and execution of what Morbus Chron have done with their second full-length record, so if you have even the smallest inclination towards extreme music, Sweven
is absolutely essential.