Morta Skuld – Creation Undone


Wisconsin death metal quartet, Morta Skuld, are an interesting proposition. They formed in 1990 and worked their way towards signing with Peaceville Records in 1995, for their third LP, before disbanding in 1998. Not until 2012 did they reform, and it took five more years for their fifth studio recording to emerge, when they rejoined the roster at Peaceville. This allows them to bask in the glory of being an underdog legend of the death metal scene with album number seven ready to go. Creation Undone won’t change the world, but it achieves the rare feat of retaining your attention for forty-four minutes.

What makes this affair so enlivening? Opener, ‘We Rise We Fall’, gives us the answer. Say hello to the drop-tuned thrash of the mid-1990s with jangly bass guitar movements and violent drums that tremble like a hanging scaffold. Morta Skuld are a death metal band that leave riffs behind like a jeep leaves a trail of dust in the desert. The downward palm-muting and precise double-kick patterns are as crunchy as a tiger’s jawbone wrapped around the head of a baboon. It’s death metal, but it has a penchant for hooks. Dave Gregor growls at the microphone with great delight, yet he never pushes himself outside a comfort zone of great clarity. “I’ve given up trying to save you all / You turned your back on me,” he snarls. You’d think they sneaked a road drill into the studio for the ending to this track.

English legends, Cancer, are a valuable reference point for this music. A dissonant arpeggio rings out in ‘The End of Reason’ like a computer virus for the first fifteen seconds before the band get into gear with an uptempo thrust of chunky guitar rhythms. Here, the drummer threatens blast beats in between the verses but then switches to a groove when you least expect it. Picture early Celtic Frost with the rhythmic precision of Benediction. Your head has no reason to stop spinning in tandem with the chunky riffing. Sepultura might have sounded like this on Chaos A.D. if they’d stuck to their settled death-thrash sound in 1993.

This record is not an enigma. If anything, it invites counter-factual speculations. ‘Perfect Prey’ is how thrash metal should have evolved after the Black album – still lively and fast but down-tuned like Carcass. Here, palm-muted riffs attack like hidden machine guns in a camouflaged pill box. Dig deeper into ‘Painful Conflict’ if you want to continue with the musing. It’s clear that Morta Skuld write death metal for air guitar enthusiasts and have no pretension to be a jazz-fusion interpretation of the genre. You can hear the thrash metal origins of this music in the rhythm and muscle of the guitars but more in the manner of Morbid Angel with Obituary’s posturing of the mid-90s. Dave Gregor’s vocals do not grow tedious despite their limited operational range.

There’s nothing raw or ugly about this music – its precision and machine-like bludgeoning are two of its finest features. It ought to be monotonous but it’s not. “No more pain, no more sorrow / No more today, no more tomorrow,” roars Gregor in ‘Soul Piercing Sorrow’. Can you think of anything bleaker as a chorus? Fortunately, the muscle-flexing riffs reach centigrade in the outro. By contrast, ‘Self Destructive Emotions’ is the most reflective song on the album with a slower tempo but just as much anxiety. The simple chromatic riff is classic Sepultura in the advance stages of the Max Cavalera reign to the point where you want to yell, “War for Territory!” Yet the shifting speeds and blast beats of the middle section keep this assault grounded in death metal.

You’ll reach the last track and wonder if Morta Skuld can chance their arm for something different. They do. ‘By Design’ starts with an ominous down-strum of the guitar in clean mode and then buckles under the weight of distortion after ten seconds. It’s a wise decision to end the LP on a death-doom meditation with a cameo of vicious riffing in the middle eight to maintain a permanent snarl on your face.

Underdogs don’t stand out at first glance. Morta Skuld are not leaders of the pack, but they’re essential to its function as a pre-emptive survival unit.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 23/02/2024

Record Label: Peaceville Records

Standout tracks: We Rise We Fall, The End of Reason, Soul Piercing Sorrow

Suggested Further Listening: Memoriam – Rise to Power (2023), Cancer – The Sins of Mankind (1993), Celestial Sanctuary – Insatiable Thirst for Torment (2023)