Mortiis – Spirit of Rebellion (Album Review)

The dark mind of Mortiis is set to release Spirit of Rebellion, the outfit’s return to Dark Dungeon Music, on Friday, January 24th through Omnipresence Production / Dead Seed Productions.

Billed as a re-imagining of the 1994 classic Ånden som Gjorde Opprør (literally, “the spirit who rebelled”), Spirit of Rebellion encapsulates and eclipses its predecessor by nearly twelve minutes of runtime. The idea to revisit Ånden som Gjorde Opprør came during rehearsals and preparations for a Cold Meat Industry 30th anniversary concert in late 2017. Mused the eponymous bandleader, “I had no idea that I´d eventually create an (almost) new record, nor that a section of it would be used for my first Dungeon Synth video since 1996. But here we are.” The refreshed work was then the focus of the solo North American tour Mortiis undertook last spring. Adding to it’s appeal, the artwork for the album was devised by French visual artists David Thiérrée, known for his work with Behemoth, Wolves in the Throne Room, and Primordial.

Briefly looking back, after a stint playing bass for Black Metal legends Emperor, Håvard Ellefsen departed to start his own projects, namely Vond and the one-man band Mortiis, named after the moniker Ellefsen used within Emperor. Divided into several ‘eras,’ the discography of Mortiis has moved from its deep origins with dark synthesizers and “dungeon music” (Era I) to an almost poppy sound (Era II, basically covering The Stargate only), Industrial Rock (Era III), and, most recently, Era 0, which combines his latest Era II & III talents with some of his earliest Era I themes.

Naturally, re-recording these tracks with 25 years of time and experience, painful as those may have been, does remove a bit of the ingenuous qualities that made Ånden one of the definitive albums of the then-nascent genre. It is difficult to apply the term ‘polished’ to a style such as Mortiis’, due to the fact that the dark, desolate feeling comes through regardless of production quality. Nevertheless, the polish does dull the pain a bit compared to the original recording.

“Visions of an Ancient Future” reflect some of the more modern sounds Mortiis has employed, while still keeping the overall theme of his earliest work. The piano movements in particular can be taken as subtle nods to the largely instrument Ghosts work by Nine Inch Nails, though these glances are quickly overtaken by the familiar rumble of battle hymns and dispiriting passages. Any lingering consternation can be dispelled during the middle progressions of this second track, as periods of etherial haunting alternate with brisk anthemic grandeur.

Rather than simply dust off a priceless original and stuff it onto a splattered 180 gram vinyl, Mortiis has chosen to painstakingly review, augment, and recreate the themes of the initial record using the skill and patience developed in the time since. The first go-around as Ånden som Gjorde Opprør cemented Mortiis as a unique mythical force to be reckoned with, while Spirit of Rebellion proves that he has not been resting merely on prestige or reputation, and is able to deeply and honestly critique his earlier work and improve portions as needed. As such, Cryptic Rock proudly gives the reworked Spirit of Rebellion 4 out of 5 stars. 

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