Feb 072023

(This is DGR‘s extensive review of the debut album by the multi-national band Mithridatum, recently released by Willowtip Records.)

Mithridatum are a new death metal trio that are part of a much larger musical wave taking place within the metal scene. Over recent years the concept of a dissonant death metal band has been a slow-growing sub-section of an already fractured and widely spread subgenre of metal to begin with. Reflective of the large motions in the quest for the nebulous ‘heavy’, many artists have found new vitality in making some of the ugliest and most unapproachable music out there, where a listener can recognize the barest components but otherwise spend just as much time fighting to find the appeal in any of it, or having the music actively reject the idea of approachability.

There’s so much incredibly cool stuff happening within the spinning vortex of sound that emanates from Mithridatum but you’re just as often subjected to nightmarish sonic hellscapes as best as the band could write them. Fascinating? Yes. Friendly? Not a chance in hell. Harrowing may be one of the more apt titles out there for the five songs and thirty-five minutes of music on the group’s first full-length release.

Five songs and thirty-five minutes is a hell of a statistic to see if you’re the type who is quick with math. You’ve likely already hammered out that this means every song on average is high in the seven-minute range, and congratulations, you’re not wrong. With an up-and-down at about a minute in each direction, most of the songs on Harrowing do in fact stay at around – or given the way they were written, sure as hell feel like – seven minutes. Three of them are about six-and-a-half and the other two sail well over that mark, coming in at over eight and near seven-and-a-half.

You’d be forgiven for assuming that, because of this, Mithridatum are treading into doom-waters but on Harrowing the band would be more likely to pull from Gorguts‘ lengthier and uglier moments than they are at risk of becoming the next Candlemass. Instead, much of Harrowing is a large ball of sound that is being steadily crushed into the confined shape of song-form, which is how every strum of the guitar within can still seem to echo across a vast abyss while the band rumbles behind it with the cacophony of a hail storm.

The result of this particular approach is that even though Harrowing is a prickly hellstorm of an album, every song here is a different style of attack. It’s notable because the full thirty-five-minute dredging through Harrowing doesn’t play out as one long weather beating but instead as five distinct shifts.

“Sojourn” is the one that will likely set the biggest impression of the album and it makes sense, given that it was also the first release from the Mithridatum crew. It is distinctly ugly and remarkably checkpoint-oriented in terms of ticking off each dissonant box that would place the band genre-wise where they are now. “Sojourn” is suitably nightmarish and perfectly fitting in its title because you are walking into something far-darker than you might’ve expected, and the six some-odd minutes of the song make sure that you cover tremendous ground in that time. Where you start is where you end up with “Sojourn” as the song ties back around on itself to close things out, but everything in between is like trying to describe how you ‘found the groove’ in someone aiming a leafblower at your face and you’re still not a thousand percent sure it wasn’t you just getting high off of the gas fumes.

What is interesting about Harrowing is the following song “Silhouette” and how different it is from its predecessor. “Sojourn” is suitable as a genre-fare introduction if you’re familiar with the style – a musical nightmare for everyone who might be exposed to this less frequently – but “Silhouette” takes eight minutes of time and decides to go wild with it. You’re not even thirty-seconds into “Silhouette” when Mithridatum leap headlong into death-and-roll territory, dead center of the apocalyptic musical movement that is the main throughline of Harrowing.

Even the slightest shift in sound is welcome, as it can break you out of settling fully into the murk that covers much of this album, the second song being one of the more adventurous here. Even though it is the longest song, all of the craters that the band leave behind with each step of “Silhouette” makes it so that it’ll become one of the quickest-moving songs on the disc. With so much happening within a song, Mithridatum achieve that art of killing the listener’s sense of time. Before you know it you’re deeper into the release than you might’ve expected.

It can, however, be tempting to quest for the the ugliest moments possible within Harrowing. Sometimes it’s exciting to see just how far a band will push themselves, and that is where – if you’ll forgive the pun – a song like “Lower Power” finds its power. Verging on the edge of chaotic hardcore music at times, while extending its tendrils ever-further into a murkier death metal world, “Lower Power” is a lot of energy being unleashed all at once. The times when “Lower Power” decides to start bouncing off of the walls are the most exciting, each segment summoned forth by a ton of cymbal crashing within the transitional movements. If they didn’t seem to appear at random, you could likely set your watch by each time “Lower Power” shifted gears by virtue of a percussive series of guitar and cymbal crashes in tandem before the next wave of sound barrels forth to roll you over. The song drags itself forward through those opening chaotic moments back into the dust, and by the end of it is a song just as ugly as its brethren within the overall Harrowing journey.

An album like Harrowing can be hard to pin down throughout the wider scope of the heavy metal genre. A disc such as this can serve as a beacon point of where a style was at a particular time, a musical flashpoint, and one that is representative of a whole style in microcosm. Within thirty-five minutes, Mithridatum have written a terrifying introductory course into the dissonant death metal world; as unfriendly as you might expect and as abrasive as they could possibly get.

The overwhelming sense of ‘darkness’ that pervades the whole album adds to the musical atmospherics, and the auditory journey that the band are going on – and by the end dragging you along – is one that by the time it wraps up you can claim challenged you. Whether you meet it or not entirely is unpredictable.  You could be the type to find one or two songs in particular you enjoy, or the type to always make the thirty-five minute hell-dragging each time Harrowing fires up. While the appeal of something like Harrowing may not be incredibly wide, what Mithridatum have created is an album that is so precisely laser-targeted for its particular style that you’ll have no problem recommending it to those who enjoy musical trips into the bleak and inaccessible.


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