Boston-based quartet, Morne, are alumni of Profound Lore Records and a favourite on the Roadburn Festival circuit. Put these two together and you have the type of post-metal band dear to the hearts of those that like their heavy music as introspective as a Charles Baudelaire anthology. Now on their fifth album and debut for Metal Blade, the group return with their first recording since 2018 to a world that is even more fractured. Engraved with Pain is a solemn affair that can exist outside the myriad social problems of today while not retreating from them. Of course, the isolated individual is at the centre of their music, and it’s a lonely existence.
Morne have no time for humour, nor do they engage with their audience like entertainers. Their art is far too important to be squandered on people looking for light moments of joy. This is about solitude. Listen to the percussive electronic beats scratch like fingers against the scouring surface of a sponge in the intro to the opening title-track. Only after two minutes do the forceful tom drum patterns emerge and throb with a cold finality in the snare beats at the end of each bar. Distorted guitars weave in and out of the simple landscape like wisps of rain that will not stop until they fill every pothole in the road. It takes until the five-minute mark for vocalist, Miłosz Gassan, to roar into the microphone with a phlegmatic lisp. This music poses the question: how do you extricate yourself from a despondency that threatens to toss you into the throes of depression? It’s the unwelcome soundtrack for the restless soul who can find no hope in the unforgiving darkness of a wet and windy winter.
‘Memories Like Stone’ continues with the oppressive mood. The dissonant chords sting in pain like papers cuts on calloused fingers. Minimalist metal is perhaps a better description than post-metal. You can meditate on music like this. As with Cult of Luna and The Ocean, the drum patterns reverberate like the constant itch of eczema. But Morne have their own textures underneath the burden of noise. Clouds of feedback threaten to sear through the low-end distortion. A space delay effect emanates from the guitar amps. The tunnel from post-punk to post-metal is a straight one, even if the latter is the grumpiest of the “post” genres. Morne get the most from their frugal musicianship in this song. So, why does it not sound or feel like doom metal despite the demoralised tempo? Inserting a guitar solo into this feels like a transgression.
‘Wretched Empire’ is one of the few times Miłosz Gassan shows willingness to be open about his lyrics. Humanity is the abomination. We continue to be misled by demagogues and ideologies that divide us. The violent hammer-on technique in the opening riff agitates with an impatience that suggests the guitarists have no interest in searching for melody. By contrast, the chunky palm-muted rhythm that follows is like a motor engine climbing up a hill in first gear. Morne remind you that anguished music can also rock out. Parts of this recall Killing Joke’s comeback album of 2023, especially the moody bass production and the masculine aggression in Gassan’s voice. Sometimes, you wonder if Morne want to find healing. Maybe they don’t. They seem defeated by the monotony of existence rather than emboldened to do something about it.
Their sludgy take on My Dying Bride’s signature death-doom misery in closing track, ‘Fire and Dust’, does nothing to lift your spirits. That’s the point. Gassan’s screams are like reactions to skin irritations that will not subside. Why does this song feel like a reckoning with oneself? You can see why Morne’s music receives comparison to post-metal’s pioneers. This is a genre where man outgrows the need for a deity to give meaning to the suffering that he sees all around him. The eleven minutes and thirty-nine seconds of this composition are solemn enough to remind you of the real tragedy – that there might be no God. Together with the band, you can mourn the death of hope like a child conditioned to remember songs of praise to an unfathomable supreme being. The fade-out at the end is the most meaningful way to bring things to a close. There is no dramatic climax – just an infinite void.
Morne’s first album in five years is a gloomy one. It’ll leave you cranky and unreceptive to those that go into the future with optimism.
Release Date: 03/11/2023
Record Label: Metal Blade Records
Standout tracks: Memories Like Stone, Wretched Empire
Suggested Further Listening: Tuscoma – Gu-cci (2022), Gozer – An Endless Static (2022), Mairu – Sol Cultus (2023)