Posted by: Addison – Sep 12, 2012
The way the reviews tell it, a listener could be mistaken for assuming Mutilation Rites to be the savior of all that's pure and unpretentious within black metal. It seems a good deal of their coverage posits them as a sort of anti-Liturgy, the burly, snarling counterpoint to every studied or tangential turn the genre has taken. But all the harping on their supposed “old school” leanings doesn't really do their music justice – they're not a throwback to some bygone days, but instead favor the sort of multi-disciplinary metal that has risen to prominence in recent years, the kind characterized primarily by its eschewing of firmly distinguished sub-genre characteristics. Which is to say, for every moment that sounds like Dissection, there are an equal number of moments that sound like Dismember or Disfear.
Previous albums were a little heavier on the straightforward, blasting black metal, which was fine, if not necessarily distinctive. Each successive release veered from that genre trope a little more, however, and the band ended up with something far less singular in its intent. Empyrean consists of thirty-five minutes of whiplash tempo and mood shifts, shrieking and blastbeats rapidly giving way to crustier, hardcore pounding that is in turn punctuated by the occasional doomy trudge. These stylistic transitions can sometimes come off as a little forced, but when they work well (and they do, more often than not), they achieve the sort of visceral response that is the common denominator of all the best heavy music.
It is this dissolving of the artificial peripheries drawn around different subgenres that makes bands like Mutilation Rites notable. Their eclecticism isn't forced; it doesn't come off as academic or dilettantish. They don't exactly tread new ground, instead redirecting well-trod and familiar aesthetic footpaths until they're in step with each other. Empyrean comes out of the gate with a ferocious intensity that continues unabated for the album's entirety. It's not catchy, it's not atmospheric, it's not intricate or nimble, but it is distinct and memorable in all its rough-hewn glory.
It seems like some of the most widely-recognized American black metal bands are the ones that are able to incorporate influences from outside the often-narrow strictures of the genre. So, to an extent, Mutilation Rites are neither alone nor unique in their approach. But the point is rendered moot by the viciousness of the music and its absolute refusal of stasis, both in song structure and in the overall aesthetic approach. It is ugly, heavy music that needs no manifestos to convey its point; no crossover appeal to justify its existence; only its ever-shifting, yet unrelenting aggression.
By Graham Scala