Thursday, November 3, 2011

Morta Skuld - Through the Eyes of Death (2011)

Morta Skuld were one of those Midwestern death metal acts in the 90s that felt like they were really developing a scene to rival New York or Florida, but for whatever reason their albums were lost upon a largely saturated audience. They actually achieved some visibility with releases on Peaceville and Pavement, but to be blunt it was the first two records Dying Remains (1993) and As Humanity Fades (1994) that were their best; by the time Surface rolled around in 1997, they'd devolved into some very average riffing that was more of a step backwards and forwards, and that turned out to be their swan song. With Through the Eyes of Death, a compilation being issued through another high priority label (Relapse), we're offered a collection of their 1990 demos which presumably hearken back to those promising, formative years of development.

The best thing about this is that the tracks are not redundant with either of the old albums, so if you don't already OWN the demos, this will in effect seem like a whole other full-length worth of material. The style is definitely a hybrid of thrash and death, with almost as much in common with a Morbid Saint or earlier Sepultura than its overtly obvious Florida influences. For example, "Preacher of Lies" and "Gory Departure" (from the demo of the same name) sounds like something Death or Obituary would have written in the late 80s. The vocals definitely have a tint of John Tardy, Chuck Schuldiner or Kam Lee to them, but on the second demo Prolong the Agony they are more carnal and heavily spattered with effects. In addition, the riffs there seem more punchy sounding, but they still bear a lot of the same influences. I will say, though, that the demos sound pretty clean for their time, and that alone shows a sense for Morta Skuld's professionalism early on.

What's also cool about Through the Eyes of Death is the inclusion of the band's rare Eternal Suffering single which had been recorded for Earache but never saw the light of day. The titular tune definitely has a sluggish, atmospheric sewer/swamp vibe to it akin to Obituary, albeit more technical and varied in its transitions, and there's also a cover of the classic "Metal Church" cut from the better known American band. It's a great song to choose, and one of the earlier examples I can remember of a band applying the guttural vocals to pure heavy/speed metal, but it did feel a bit flat in spots.

That said, even if I don't quite enjoy the content here as much as Dying Remains, this is pretty much what you want out of a fan compilation. The tunes were tightly written, if not memorable. Unlike that crappy Peaceville release Re-Surface: The Best of Mortal Skuld, this also gives you everything you really want in an orderly, polished fashion, without draining the value of their later studio works, so if you've already got their four full-lengths, the collection is now complete. Non-fans should probably skip this though and make a bee line for the 1993 debut or it's 1994 successor.

Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10]

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