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The first Mortification album was a mere dress rehearsal for the absolutely gargantuan “Scrolls Of the Megilloth” that would arrive a year later. Released in 1991 - the same year as Death’s “Human”, Morbid Angel’s “Blessed Are the Sick” and Sepultura’s “Arise” – it is a thundering death/thrash effort marred by a thin production, and unimpressive artwork. Forming in Melbourne, Australia in 1990 after the demise of power metal band Lightforce, the trio sought to capitalize on the emerging death metal sound. While not nearly as brutal, versatile or as compositionally dense as some of the albums released the same year it was a fitting start for one of Australia’s most long-standing institutions. The album was released by Chicago label imprint Intense Records in North America in 1991, while then still death metal-focused German label imprint Nuclear Blast Records promoted and distributed the disc in Europe. It is simply a killer death/thrash record.

The first Mortification line-up consisted of vocalist/bass guitarist Steve Rowe, guitarist Michael Carlisle, and drummer Jayson Sherlock. The self-titled album was almost entirely written by creative force Jayson Sherlock with minimal contributions from the other two members. Michael Carlisle wrote two songs (‘Until the End’ and ‘New Awakening’), with Steve Rowe contributing three tracks (‘Break the Curse’, ‘The Destroyer Beholds’ and the brief ‘The Majestic Infiltration Of Order’). Only ‘Brutal Warfare’ was co-written by Jayson Sherlock and Steve Rowe. For the session three tracks from the 1990 "Break the Curse" demo ('Journey Of Reconciliation', 'Brutal Warfare', and 'Break the Curse') were repurposed here. The debuts of Sinister, Vader and Monstrosity that were released a year later (in 1992) take a good portion of inspiration from this album, although Mortification’s first effort is notably thrashier in architecture, and not nearly as speed-oriented as the albums that came a year after.

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Even though the band was only together for a year this self-titled effort doesn’t show it. As an album opener ‘Until the End’ is sturdy and workmanlike, even though it was subject of a music video. ‘Brutal Warfare’ would have been far more powerful as such. The couple of bass breaks in ‘Brutal Warfare’ are indicative of the band’s future direction where the bass guitar would play an integral role in “Scrolls Of the Megilloth”. Whereas ‘Bathed In Blood’ is a straight-up thrasher ‘Satan’s Doom’ in many ways lays the groundwork for the second album, along with ‘Brutal Warfare’ before it. A case could be made that ‘Satan’s Doom’ is the architectural template for ‘Scrolls Of the Megilloth’ as the latter is a heavier, faster and grimier interpretation of the stomping former. Likewise would Rowe’s growls and bass guitar tone become deeper on the subsequent record. ‘Turn’ is an interesting 34 second long oddity that almost qualifies as grindcore for its brevity, although it lacks the breakneck speed to truly qualify as such. ‘Break the Curse’ has a very Motörhead-ish vibe with its playful bass intro and rock n roll rhythms. ‘New Awakening’ is essentially a strong song, but it was outplayed in terms of speed and intensity by Sepultura’s “Beneath the Remains” that was released two years before. ‘The Majestic Infiltration Of Order’ holds, despite its mantra-like goofy lyrics and repetitive rhythm scheme, a couple of the best and most inspired guitar leads of the album.

The biggest strike against the album is the underwhelming production. It was recorded at Power Plant Studios in Melbourne with Roger Martinez and Gil Morales producing. While the production is on the thin side the vocal production by Martinez is from where the album derives most of its early death metal aspects. Likewise the bass guitar lies prominently in the mix whereas the guitars and drums tend to be on the thin side. Despite the prominent bass guitar the production provides no mentionworthy bass-heaviness, or concrete weight to give the material any heft. This ailment would be duly rectified on the second Mortification outing “Scrolls Of the Megilloth”, but considerably hampers this album. While the songs sound powerful pure from a compositional point of view they are robbed off much of their impact due to the impotent and thin production. The only truly convincing things are the guitar solos, the bass guitar tone and the vocals. The entire thing tends to sound hollow, and the dry guitar tone doesn’t help matters either.

Mortification’s most obvious inspirations appear to be Slayer, Possessed and Death. Each of these cuts has the crunch of an early Slayer song, the heft of Possessed, and the thrashy technicality that made Death’s “Leprosy” so memorable. The album was released with two different covers. The original cover art (by drummer Jayson Sherlock) was considered too provocative to be sold at Christian bookstores, thus a second version with only a green/purple logo on a black background was issued specifically to meet the demands of these outlets. Had Sherlock’s vision been interpreted by the likes of Dan Seagrave, Kristian Wåhlin or Michael Whelan the album would have looked tenfold as impressive on the visual side as it does in its current form. Parallell with his tenure in Mortification, drummer Jayson Sherlock was involved with early doom metal band Paramaecium, contributing to its 1993, and 1995 albums. Sherlock’s involvement proved vital to the enduring strength of the first two Mortification releases. Once Rowe took over as the creative force, and main songwriter the band took a curious path.

It’s surprising that Mortification was able to capitalize on, and become such a force in, the emergent death metal movement of the time. Not that it was in any way inferior to a lot of the signature albums that were released in the same timespan. It nevertheless remains somewhat of an curious oddity, not merely because of its overt Christian rhetoric but also that is sounds restrained to a lot of its contemporaries. After releasing two strong death/thrash albums the band went briefly into slightly more technical territory with “Post-Momentary Affliction” before completely losing the plot afterwards. Despite continually changing musical direction, and ever-fluctuating line-ups, Mortification has forged onward in the face of changing musical tastes, and personal problems. As far as debuts go “Mortification” is a reliable slab of early 90s death/thrash metal despite its quirkiness, and tendency to second-guess itself.

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Of the earlier full-blown death metal acts Mortification from Australia was one of the more interesting outfits. Sounding as a mix between Morbid Angel, Kataklysm and Sinister the lads from down under delivered their ultimate effort with “Scrolls Of the Megilloth”. The band’s second album is a bass-centric slab of thunderous death metal that combined the best of the American and European scenes, on top of being graced with a sense of percussive density and elegant melodicism all its own. Steve Rowe might not have been a particularly gifted vocalist, but he and his fellow band members knew how to write a death metal song. The album was released by Chicago label imprint Intense Records in North America in 1992, while then still death metal-focused German label imprint Nuclear Blast Records promoted and distributed the disc in Europe.

The album opens with ‘Nocturnal’ that is initialized with sounds of crickets, frogs and other nocturnal beasties before delving into some dense riffing and simple but effective drumming. The riffs still carry an audible thrash metal vibe, but Rowe’s thundering bass guitar and his semi-shouted, semi-growled grunts push this easily into the realms of death metal. There’s a clear influence from “Blessed Are the Sick” by Morbid Angel in terms of overall construction, and the whole album exudes a sense of urgency and immediacy most closely related to the Kataklysm demo “The Death Gate Cycle Of Reincarnation” and Napalm Death’s stylistically similar “Harmony Corruption”.  Rowe’s vocals are cavernous grunts that remain both frightening and surprisingly eligible. Much like Bolt Thrower’s Karl Willets, Dave Ingram from Benediction (and later also Bolt Thrower, for one album alone) and Death mainman Chuck Schuldiner, Steve Rowe pronounces the lyrics surprisingly clearly, especially in the many faster parts. The straightforward drumming is pummeling and intense but never excessive.

‘Eternal Lamentation’ is closest to the title track in terms of construction, and the finale is especially dark and malevolent sounding. It is hard to tell whether the bass guitar is the lead – or support instrument at times, and that is exactly the strength of the record, and the band at this point in time. Mortification was both standard and deceptively smart about what it did, and how it did it. ‘Raise the Chalice’ has some effective double-tracked vocals and funky bass lines, but is rather limp and non-committal otherwise. ‘Lymphosarcoma’ has more double-tracked vocals and is reminiscent of Kataklysm’s slower material. Its first three minutes are stock death metal, but halfway it segues into an introspective, somewhat technical bit between the prominent bass guitar and the rhythm guitar until the drums fall in and the song works towards its conclusion. The title track starts off with chiming funeral bells and a schmaltzy church organ – what it leads to can easily match itself with the better cuts from Kataklysm and Napalm Death of this era. It is by a wide margin the most violent and bloodcurdling cut of the recording.

‘Death Requiem’ owes a good deal to “Hell Awaits” and “Reign In Blood” era Slayer as far as architecture is concerned, and the band doesn’t go out of its way to hide it. The spoken part in the mid section with the chiming bells make it sounds more ambitious and atmospheric than it actually is. This is once again a clever usage of limited resources and studio effects. The concluding spoken part and studio effects strengthen the cut. ‘Necromanticide’ opens with the sampled spooky wind of “The Evil Dead” and an effect of breaking glass. This track is largely similar to the title track in construction, notable is that the guitar playing is far more pronounced here. ‘Inflamed’ is the darkest sounding track of the album along with ‘Eternal Lamentation’.  In truth, ‘Inflamed’ is a mere introductory track to the mammoth death/doom epic ‘Ancient Prophecy’, which clocks in at a gargantuan almost 12 minutes. It is the highlight of the album and the ideal closer.

The production aims for the thick but clear Morrisound sound of the time. Despite that it wasn’t recorded at that facility the similarity in scope, the replication of tones and overall range is astounding. This could easily be mistaken for a US sound production. To push the record two promotional videos were shot. One being the more accomplished ‘Scrolls Of the Megilloth’ and the other being the largely live shot ‘Terminate Damnation’. Of the two the title track is most representative for the album it is culled from, and ‘Terminate Damnation’ shows the more straightforward and percussive side of the band.

As far as early death metal is concerned this album is as haunting as it is atmospheric. Be it through the intelligent usage of sound - and studio effects, eerie melodies or the sparse organ Mortification use everything in moderation. It wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination if the bass playing on here at least, in part, influenced the writing and playing on Demilich’s sole album “Nespithe”. “Scrolls Of the Megilloth” is an often overlooked sub-classic in the death metal genre – and this in part due to the isolation of their geographic location, as well as the band’s ideological convictions. Mortification’s second album could easily measure itself with the American – and European releases of the time. It is largely eclipsed by the band’s extensive catalog of trend-hopping and constant musical reinvention to pander to wider demographics. As far as 90s death metal is concerned “Scrolls Of the Megilloth” is worthy of your undivided attention.