Misere Mortem

Back in 2000, I was pretty disappointed to hear that Morten Veland was leaving Tristania after their brilliant second album, Beyond the Veil – an album I still consider to be one of the triumphs of the entire goth-metal genre. (I was, however, lucky enough to see the band in one of their few US appearances just before his departure – great show). Given that Veland provided the growls and the majority of the songwriting, I didn’t think Tristania would be the same without him. And I was right – their next one, World of Glass, was tepid and uninspired, whereas Veland’s new outfit Sirenia had two great releases with At Sixes and Sevens and An Elixir for Existence, basically picking up where Beyond the Veil left off. The follow-ups Nine Destinies and a Downfall and The 13th Floor enlisted a new lead singer for more of a poppier goth-metal feel; some tracks on both releases still used growled vocals, but overall those albums are less menacing than their predecessors.

Perhaps Veland has missed some of that lost aggression, because he’s formed a new project called Mortemia, and it’s pretty much the repressed masculine side of the more feminine Sirenia. Misere Mortem employs a  burlier, darker palette, specifically in the dominant use of booming male choirs and gruff growls. If you’ve heard recent efforts from Therion, Hollenthon or Septic Flesh, you know what you’re gonna get, except that there’s still that airy undercurrent of synth-work from the Sirenia albums – more on that later. Tracks like “The Malice of Life’s Cruel Ways,” “The New Desire,” “The Wheel of Fire” and the second, more urgent half of “The Eye of the Storm” definitely deliver on that late 90’s beauty-and-the-beast nostalgia. Album closer “The Candle at the Tunnel’s End” even snakes out some actual riffs instead of simple guitar chug, with an overall more blackish feel than the rest of the album. I wouldn’t put any of these songs up against the best moments of Widow’s Weeds, Beyond the Veil, or At Sixes and Sevens, but they’re still a welcome step back towards the heft that Sirenia has dropped over the last few releases.

However, despite all that orchestrated sturm und drang, Misere Mortem doesn’t impress as much as it could, and that’s because the tinkly keys and orchestration are just not convincing – in fact, they’re frequently distracting. They simply do not have the might to work with the other, more muscular elements here. When matched against the booming choirs, snarls, growls and rough-hewn guitars, they come off like a bodybuilder who’s stacked on top but forgot to work on his skinny little chicken-legs. Beyond the Veil didn’t boast a symphony orchestra either, but there was a greater variety of elements, a more metallic feel to the guitar lines, and the mix was just overall more cohesive. The contrast here is just too noticeable, and it saps the power from the rest of the stronger elements. If you listen to Misere Mortem at low volume it’s not as bad, but that’s not really metal is it?

More to the point, unimpressive synths have essentially become the metal equivalent of shitty visual-effects in a sci-fi or action movie. You still get the general intent, and can maybe even look past them if the story and characters are engaging enough, but they still pull you out of the experience all the same. The Prague Philharmonic Orchestra did wonders for Dimmu Borgir on Death Cult Armageddon – at this point, with all of the gothic bombast on Napalm’s roster, they should just have an orchestra on retainer.

Overall, Misere Mortem was a pleasant enough listen, but unless you haven’t heard his earlier albums, there’s really not much here that Morten Veland hasn’t already accomplished with Tristania or Sirenia. Mortemia is basically the same thing, just minus the lead female vocals. Maybe that was the point; this is a solo effort and just a chance to do something slightly more aggressive again. Perhaps next time he’ll push his formula a bit further. Might I suggest that he check out some old Dead Can Dance or Fields of Nephilim in the meantime? There’s got to be more to goth-metal than just the same old Gregorian-styled pomp.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jordan Itkowitz
June 9th, 2010


  1. Commented by: elguerosinfe

    Nice review GG – eager to check this out.

  2. Commented by: Cynicgods

    The bodybuilder analogy was excellent, Jordan. Nice review, as always. I’m checking this out, I like Veland’s vox and compositional skills.

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