Review: Choke ChainMortality

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The debut full-length from Choke Chain comes following a series of EPs that each teased different aspect of the project’s wider sonic palette. 2020’s Chain Tactics was more restrained, mostly focused on tight industrial techno while 2021’s Endless Death and Invoking Shadows concentrated on buzzsaw electro industrial and corrosive industrial metal, respectively. The project’s first LP, Mortality, is a solid and cohesive merging of all their past material with a more laser-focused musical and lyrical vision.

“Sorrow” begins ominously, barking synths in the distance belying the beat-driven industrial to follow on the record. As an introduction to the record and an establishment of tone, “Sorrow” is serviceable, if obviously lacking in the devilishly syncopated EBM stylings you’d expect from Choke Chain.

“Burial” returns to familiar grounds—a thorny bed of electro industrial instrumentation serving as a basis for vocalist Mark Trueman’s tortured performance. It’s the compositional makeup for most of Mortality, combining the bass driven danceability of My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult with intense synth-work and vocal harshness reminiscent of Virgin Mind-era IRM. Alongside the title track, it’s the least objectionable floor filler in the world’s saddest club.

It’s a trajectory furthered in “Cruel” and “Darkness”, both of whose muscular rhythm is disrupted by disquieting, distorted audio samples. Mortality is described as an “Uncompromising vision of anguish” and Choke Chain’s hyper-focused sonic and aesthetic sensibilities represent that, revisiting familiar territory several times throughout the record to underline their illustration of anguish. It’s a quality that might alienate some, but it defines Mortality as a very deliberate record that focuses on specific and negative emotions and experiences through pummeling, rhythmic noise and its repetition is by design.

Mark Trueman said the album is “an exploration of the state of the mind I’m trying to escape.” And it establishes Mortality as a record primarily dealing with egress. The lyrical content is less so defined by tortuous, isolated instances of suffering so much as it encapsulates something smothering and impenetrable—all in dialogue with the distortion of the music to create this burning, repellent quality throughout the album; the sound of urgent escape, the sound of fearful scraping on walls, panicked grasps at the latch on a window.

“Living This Death” is easily the highlight of the record—grim, mechanical, heavy and desolate. A track that cohesively harnesses all of Mortality‘s ideas into one song, with the most explicit summation of the album’s intent;

“Awake in a nightmare, (…) give me the power to end it.”

It’s the track whose composition neatly summarizes both the record and Choke Chain’s trajectory over the past three years—a song that’s pitch-black tone and production encapsulates their whole discography. One of Mortality‘s biggest strengths is how, despite being an album that wears its influences proudly, it resists becoming a pastiche in both presentation and execution.

Left slightly in the lurch is “Despair (Misery Mix)”, a track that, while serviceable, really begins to tap dry everything that “Living This Death” managed to flourish with. A combination of awkward track positioning and unmemorable composition leaves “Despair (Misery Mix)” feeling slightly undercooked. Thankfully, the title track it precedes is a highlight for its staccato synth line and massive beats.

Choke Chain have a broader range of inspiration than a lot of their contemporaries. The most obvious traces of Front Line Assembly, Skinny Puppy, and DAF are present, but bleeding through too are elements of traditionally angular, bass-driven post-punk alongside subtle techno elements reminiscent of SHXCXCHCXSH.

The sheer freneticism of Mortality‘s delivery make its obvious stylistic origins fade into one another, which aids in the album’s theme of egress. As much as it is a record dealing with negativity, death, and pain, it’s ultimately a record dealing with transcendence, a sonic exorcism that’s one of the year’s most surprisingly cathartic and essential industrial releases.

3.5/5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell

Mortality releases September 22nd from Phage Tapes

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