Mortuous – what a name for a metal band – highlight how thin the line between copying and paying homage is. Their debut full length, Through Wilderness, deals with the filthier end of the retro death style – murky sludge plays nicely with ravenous, cavernous bursts of energy. The California act’s list of influences is long and impressive – Autopsy, Obituary, Incantation, and even Sepultura, which is to say the resulting sonic stew is manic, murky, and malevolent in equal measure. Through Wilderness isn’t exactly easy-listening, but this is a record and a band that revel in the dirt. The riffs, the fantastic kit work – even the audible bass lines – are all designed for maximum crunchiness.
If Mortuous were content merely combining all their influences into something cohesive, that would really be something. However, this debut is much more than that; it’s an exercise in recognizing what made the greats so, well, great and honoring them by making incredible music. Much has been made about whether Gruesome is honoring Death by basically offering up homages to each of the classic act’s records. That’s a story for a different day, but Mortuous’ success isn’t due to a high-quality copy-paste job. Through Wilderness does have its moments where influences shine through, but the majority of this breezy listen is punctuated by a heaping dose of unique personality and brute force. Mortuous have clearly leaped over retro-focused act into something more special. The fact that this is merely a first outing is all the more reason for praise. There isn’t a bad song on the record, and aside from a very relative hiccup in the opening and closing tracks, Through Wilderness is a fantastic dose of muddy and ugly death metal.