‘V: Ecclesiae Mortii’ is the fifth album by the French Black Metal act Mortifera. Dedicated band fans don’t have to worry about the quality and vibe of the new material: in all these seven years since the previous album, ‘IV: Sanctii Tristhess’, practically – practically – nothing has changed in the band’s attitude towards their music. Definitely, Mortifera decided not to be original and relied on time-tested methods like a dominant slow and medium pace, melancholic melodies, desperate vocals, numerous acoustic breaks, etc. The songs of course did not become more complex in structure, although the riffs are carefully selected as usual, each new riff complements the previous one, it’s like a continuous stream. So if you miss Mortifera, you will get what you have been missing all these years.
However, an important clarification: Mortifera made the first attempt to record their fifth chapter back in 2016. The album was completely recorded, but the result did not suit the musicians at all. They only managed to re-record this material in 2020, and this time they achieved “the sound that depicts their primordial vision for this chapter.” Well, the few changes in the current Mortifera identity concern mainly the sound.
This is most noticeable in the drums, they have a more natural (underground) sound on ‘V: Ecclesiae Mortii’. They are so “live” that you clearly imagine the drum kit in your head. The snare beats are crisp, they would be “sharp” if they hadn’t been blurred a little, it is best auditioned in “Lost Poetry”. And the underground message can be discerned in the general sound of the album, it undoubtedly reminds us of the 90s. The guitar is certainly sharp, which is why early Burzum often appears dimly in the riffs, starting from the beginning: the ending of ‘Cantus Mortii’ and the opening riff of ‘Pestii Sanguine’. At the same time, the production on the album is quite clean, not thin old Black Metal production at all, you can make out all the instrumental transformations.
Not least thanks to the sound, ‘V: Ecclesiae Mortii’ can be called nostalgic – the depressive feeling inherent in Mortifera’s music has become even more tangible. Riffs and licks, as always, catchy, the best lick we hear in ‘Congregatio’ at 4:20. Doomed stoicism resounds in almost every motive of ‘V: Ecclesiae Mortii’, they often haunt you for a while, these themes. Perhaps this can be said about ‘IV: Sanctii Tristhess’ as well, nevertheless, the previous Mortifera album in comparison with the new one sounds even optimistic if you listen to them one after the other.
Vocal diversity is framed exactly in this depressive vein. Yes, sound therapy from Mortifera has been enriched with an interesting means of influencing the listener. We encounter this effect already in the first song ‘Cantus Mortii’, and at first we are lost in conjectures if it’s the solo coming in, or if it’s the vocals that are so high-pitched, unnatural, like a theremin. The extraordinary penetration of this “voice” is enhanced in ‘Cantus Mortii’ by the fact that it suddenly turns into typical Black Metal shrieking vocals. Or rather even Depressive Black Metal vocals, although Mortifera deny belonging to this genre: “Mortifera is just a black metal band that carry it own identity.” But you can not run away from the fact that the dull screams full of despair sometimes turn on ‘V: Ecclesiae Mortii’ into a classic high-pitched DBM squeal (the most vivid example is ‘Nuit Glaciale’), while the voice itself seems to be heard somewhere far away. Well, the classic methods work flawlessly.
And although the theremin-like vocals are heard more than once on the album (beginning of ‘Nuit Glaciale’, ‘Horizon Pourpre’ at 1:37, here the effect is perceived as some kind of muffled howl, and ‘Congregatio’ at 0:30), Mortifera definitely do not abuse this mindbending innovation to impress the listener, and this is a very correct approach. Furthermore, in some places the sound effects can be attributed much more definitely to the vocalist, where he sings in a clear, almost “operatic” voice (‘Nuit Glaciale’ at 3:47, ‘Pourriture Astrale’ at 3:44, ‘Coma’ at 4:09, ‘Congregatio’ at 2:18). All these new isolated, one might even say, cautious decorations, which organically fit into the old patterns of the musical canvas, testify to the careful arrangement work on the material.
The bass, by the way, is also capitally involved in creating a retro atmosphere. Sometimes it, in very truth, sounds in the vein of The Sisters of Mercy, this is no less than Post-Punk attitude. Songs in which this is most noticeable are ‘Nuit Glaciale’ and the ending of ‘Congregatio’. In its turn, ‘De Profondis Clamavi’ stands out against the background of the rest with the solo part of an almost academic bass to the accompaniment of clean guitar (from 2:50). Then (from 4:33) another bass solo sounds, in which the echo of Gorgoroth is mixed with a Jazz touch. It turned out to be a very interesting adornment.
Some of the songs on ‘V: Ecclesiae Mortii’ get an acceleration if this term is applicable to the Mortifera style, but these fast sections mostly fall short of a blastbeat, with the exception of ‘Coma’ and ‘Congregatio’. The former song is probably the most “black metal-ish” song on the album, and it feels more in the spirit of ‘IV: Sanctii Tristhess’ by the way. But even these accelerations do not affect the album’s general atmosphere, the atmosphere of melancholy and despair. Again, there is something of Depressive Black Metal in all of this nostalgic whirlpool. Maybe it is really Depressive Black Metal, just more progressive.
Well, ‘Pourriture Astrale’ stands out of the other songs, there is a bit of a Post Black Metal approach in its structure and riffage, Black Metal is softly mixed with Rock here and served in a little ragged structure. Since the song begins with a piercing atmospheric tremolo picking lead line, and the Post Black Metal sections alternate with classic Atmospheric Black Metal passages, this song settled well among the rest. But this does not prevent it from being the most unusual on ‘V: Ecclesiae Mortii’. While ‘Lost Poetry’ can be called the most melodic song on the album, this piece is also notable for the interesting paired work of guitars and vocals, and for an aggressive drum fill. In its turn, the aforementioned ‘De Profondis Clamavi’ can be called very original in terms of riffage and structure, and, moreover, it is perhaps the second most “black metal-ish” song after ‘Coma’.
Summary. Mortifera has done everything to maintain their branded identity. They embellished it just a little to avoid even the appearance of an experiment, the new effects on the recording are like a subtle spice. Maybe if Darkthrone had followed this tactic, they would still be Darkthrone today.