Oh man, that was close. I dragged my feet, and missed out on nabbing the slot for one of my most anticipated albums of 2023 (Reverend Kristin Michael Hayter‘s Saved!) here on Everything Is Noise, so I scoured our review list, trying songs from a number of different albums. It took seconds of listening to the title/opening track of Morne‘s latest release to tell me that I was onto a winner.
Formed in Boston in 2005, Engraved With Pain is the fifth full-length album for the quartet, who are commonly labelled in the sludge and post-metal branches of the metal sub-genre tree. As established by post-metal titans the likes of ISIS, a common trait to the sub-genre is repetition, and the beauty of the music lies in subtle variations and/or gradual shifts in said repetitions as the song builds to an emotional crescendo. Morne mind that hallmark well, using repeated riffs to build tension, momentum, and to dial the heaviness up to eleven across the four tracks that comprise this disc.
“Engraved With Pain” begins with slow-burning dread; soft whispers and industrial beats building a sense of apprehension. Then, the soaring main riff, rumbling bass, and hypnotic drums drop, laying down the album’s first pattern for us to sink into like a mire. This builds to a heavier, dirtier version of what came before – a hard, driving theme almost like a march, which guitarist/vocalist Milosz Gassan‘s vocals only serve to propel further forward into the abyss. This peaks around the 8-minute mark, adding in some gang vocals, accelerating the song’s natural evolution into an imposing, towering, and dark wall of sound at the crescendo. An expertly crafted example of the band’s ability to take the listener on an emotional journey with which to open the album.
“Memories Like Stone” wastes no time, opening with a fast-paced intro, establishing a menacing riff that is somewhat reminiscent of early Ministry, or Chu Iskikawa‘s masterful score for Tetsuo: The Iron Man. The track’s first pattern is built on furious double-kick drumming, wailing guitar, and howled vocals, wrapped in surging bass, rhythm guitars swirling around all, evoking a sense of wounded urgency. Frenetic and surging with fury, Morne strap you to the hood of their car and drive you into a hurricane of post-metal glory. And all of this is only the first act of the song.
The next movement slows the pace considerably, the band shifting down a couple of gears and establishing a more doom-laden pattern. It’s moments like these that allow the listener to really sink into and absorb the music, to let the song inspire their imagination, and to evoke emotional responses beyond “this fucking rips” – though yes, this song absolutely does fucking rip. The final movement rebuilds momentum with some hypnotic double-kick before a harrowing, sorrowful solo takes the song out to a close, making “Memories Like Stone” a standout track among standout tracks.
“Wretched Empire” roils to life, its intro underscored with ominous synths. The band ratchet anticipation with slow measured drums and pensive guitar before the track takes off, carried by a driving, empowering riff and Gassan‘s throaty screams, giving the feel of a call to action, of a song to be chanted in a march of the like-minded raising their fists in defiance against their oppressors.
The beginning of “Fire and Dust” hits like the score accompanying a film end credits sequence, the song carrying a sense of finality, of things beginning to slow, to wind down. The main riff, bass, and drums set up a doom-laden pattern over the first half of the track, a mournful solo aiding to transition to a brief dirge. Then, a juggernaut of a wall of sound brings the track to its emotional apex, before a solo gently fades the song and the album out.
The album as a whole is everything a metalhead could ask for – dark, heavy, and loud. For fans of post-metal, the patterns never stray into monotony; they draw out the listener’s sense of curiosity just long enough before delivering an emotional payoff. The vocals perfectly complement the music while underscoring the songs with a sense of pain and frustration. There is a whole lot else here to appreciate without having to intellectualise, and feeling the record is the best way to experience it… with a pair of good quality headphones, mind.
Engraved With Pain may not completely reinvent the post-metal wheel, but Morne‘s blending of the sub-genre with doom and sludge, their songwriting prowess, and Kurt Ballou‘s slick recording and mixing come together in an absolute banger of an album that makes a strong case for post-metal being as malleable and relevant a sub-genre now as it was almost eighteen years ago.