Bringing Back Moss Metal: A Review of Terra’s Mors Secunda
What was your first thought upon pressing Play on Mors Secunda, the new album by British black metal act Terra?
That’s it? Yes? Yes what?
Sometimes you become so snowed-under with new music that you allot yourself like a three-second Yes/No window. After three seconds you either stick around for a deeper listen or you move on.
Okay. Care to elaborate on what made you say Yes to Terra?
No. [Pause.] Kidding. Terra plays a long-winded type of atmospheric black metal — sometimes triumphant, sometimes downtrodden — with build-ups and falling action and ebbs and flows and blast-driven vamps, so three seconds was not actually enough time to figure out what they were about. This album is only two tracks, each in the neighborhood of twenty minutes long. I know, I know, *yawn*, right? Actually, wrong. It wasn’t really until the drums kicked in — kicked being the operative term here — that my brain lit up. See, the drums are quite articulate, centrally placed in the mix. A good thing, as this Luke guy is bringing some serious technique that is sadly lacking in a lot of moss metal. He’s got charisma.
Wait. Wait. Back up. What is “moss metal”?
We’ll get to that in due time. What I was going to say before I was interrupted was that Terra’s drummer is the real key to making these lengthy compositions work. Just before your thoughts start to wander into the foggy swamps of guitar-and-bass sadness, he switches up the beat. Occasionally he even turns the beat around.
No. Let’s talk about that swamp. First off, the bass is actually audible. I know, *gasp*, right? At times it tends to drown in the guitar — as is black metal’s wont. Or maybe it’s the guitar drowning in the bass. The sound is quite thick and viscous. In any case, some light distortion helps the bass keep its head just above the marshy waters. Neither Olly’s bass nor Ryan’s guitar is the star here. They work in tandem, a big beautiful impressionistic smear.
So it’s not the usual trebly mess?
No. The entire frequency spectrum is present. It’s got…what’s it called?…oomph. You can wallow in the morose moss-covered pall, or you can get up and shake your butt. If I had to compare the overall sound of the album to something else–
–I’d say it falls squarely between the bellowing haze of Wolves in the Throne Room and the crushing, uh…oomph of Altar of Plagues. Or if those names are too “household” for you, think Antlers or Wiegedood. But, y’know, not mind-numbingly boring.
Wow, burn. Moving on.
[Coughs.] Probably the second or third thing that struck me while listening to the first track, “Apotheosis”, is that some of the atypical chord choices reminded me of Yellow Eyes. But Terra leaves much more room to breathe inside their songs. And they employ a sense of direction, of building toward something meaningful, as opposed to lashing together a bunch of parts all willy-nilly, with no discernible logic or sense of organic growth. Terra possesses both the steady hand to stretch their canvas for miles and the wisdom not to waste too much of that space. Let’s face it: It is risky to write such long songs. You’re in danger of decimating your potential audience in doing so. If you do it right, what you lose in record sales you can make up for with effective art.
So how does the second track, “Nadir”, stack up against the first?
Uh…take back about half of those nice things I said about “Apotheosis” and you’ve got “Nadir” in a nutshell. I mean it’s not a bad song, but it’s nowhere near as engaging. The opening is a morass of percussive flurry and swampwater riffs. The chordal choices are more conservative and drone-prone. And the vocals: where have they gone? I mean the windy, unintelligible shrieks are not terribly abundant on “Apotheosis”, more of a garnish really, but on “Nadir” they are even scarcer. The whole feel of the song is different. It’s not as mossy; it’s more monochromatic, grayer, more angsty. The title just might provide a clue as to why: nadir, the bottom. So if “Apotheosis” operates as an ascension to great heights and exaltation, then “Nadir” is the inevitable comedown. In service of this architectural premise, it makes perfect sense. Too bad a bit of song-craft was sacrificed in the name of the overarching theme. Oh well. Sometimes you can have your cake but you cannot eat it too.
If you say so. We’re almost out of time. You wanna talk about all this “moss” business now or just continue to be a dick about it?
Moss metal is a term coined by I forget who back in the day, used to describe Ulver‘s Bergtatt and other records which somehow did not completely fail to capture some semblance of that vibe. Woodsy stuff. You know, music that actually sounds like a forest and all the things hiding inside. Looming trees, whispering leaves, babbling brooks, fungi…and moss. The term moss metal never really took off. But it still might.
Definitely. Yeah. No. Definitely. So, you wanna wrap this up with some broad statement about the experience of Mors Secunda as a whole?
I feel like saying No just to spite you. But review etiquette seems to dictate otherwise. So here goes. I like this album. It’s a bit of a lopsided listen — and I could have done without the three full minutes of feedback which serve as the afterglow to the climax of “Apotheosis” — but all in all its strengths far out-moss its weaknesses. (Yeah, moss is a verb now, deal with it.) With Mors Secunda, Terra have shown themselves capable of keeping pace with the big dogs of modern atmospheric black metal.
3.5 /5 FLAMING TOILETS OV HELL
(Band photos via)