Released By: Rockshots Records
Release Date: February 22, 2019
Genre: Progressive Power Metal
Lucas Flocco – Vocals
Jesse Shaw – Bass
Ollie Bernstein – Lead Guitars
AJ Larsen – Rhythm Guitars
1. Facing the Truth
4. Till Death Do Us Part
5. Last Christmas (Wham Cover)
It’s been a long, challenging road for American progressive power metal band Mortanius since the band was formed in 2013, but they have overcome many obstacles along the way, and are finally ready to unleash their full-length debut, Till Death Do Us Part in late February. The band was formed in 2013 by vocalist Lucas Flocco and drummer Victor Cardone (who has since left the band.) They’ve released three EP’s to date and have gone relatively under the radar, so I had personally known nothing about them until I received the promo for this release, but hopefully, they can get some more attention and have some success, now that they have signed with Rockshots Records for their new album. I wasn’t sure what to expect going in, but it didn’t take very long to realize that Till Death Do Us Part is a unique, highly enjoyable release, and while it feels like the band has some untapped potential, there’s definitely a lot for prog and power metal fans to enjoy here.
The band has gone through quite a few lineup changes in their relatively short career so far, and currently consist of only Lucas Flocco and bassist Jesse Shaw, with everything else on this release being performed by session musicians, who helped with the recordings, along with a couple of high quality guest vocalists in Leo Figaro (MinstreliX) and Jonas Heidgert (Draongland), who were each brought in to add some extra vocals to one track. Musically, the band has quite the unique sound, as they lean heavily towards the prog end of the spectrum, emphasizing longer tracks with very complex arrangements, and there’s a ton of extended softer passages, dominated by keyboards. There are certainly times where the music reminds me a bit of classic Dream Theater, and for a prog/power metal album, the music is often very soft and subdued, with a strong focus on ambient keys. When the music does get heavier, there are also times where the keys have a very retro sound to them, and overall the music has a very late 80’s/early 90’s feel to it, to the point where I could easily see some folks who haven’t been told otherwise, possibly thinking it could be a lost album from that period. I don’t consider that a knock against the album, though, as it does feel intentional, and if anything it helps give the music a distinct feel, that feels quite different from most modern albums in the genre. While keyboards dominate, there is some great guitar work to be found here, with the expected excellent solos, which are equal parts technically proficient, melodic and very emotional at times, as well as some heavy riffs, which tend to come in quick bursts.
Looking at the tracklist, one could easily be led to believe this release is an EP, as there’s only four original tracks, plus one cover track, which would usually make for short running time. However, that isn’t the case here, as two of the four tracks are over 10 minutes, with one other being almost 9 minutes, and so obviously this is a band that leans towards longer compositions. I’ll get to the full song by song breakdown later, but needless to say, the band is at their best when going all out with long, complex arrangements, as they’re very effective at using slow build ups to lure the listener in, before blasting away with heavier parts, and then throwing in all kinds of twists and turns along the way. As much as I’ve emphasized the prog side of their music, there is quite a bit of power metal here as well, along with some slight symphonic elements coming from the keys. All four original tracks have some speedy passages, which are especially prominent in the two longer songs, and the choruses are all very catchy, with a very strong power metal feel to them. If anything, I’d say the music feels like a mix between very raw sounding Euro power metal, classic prog metal and retro prog, with a pretty good balance between all of those. The production is fittingly very raw, and again would feel right at home on a 90’s release, though everything sounds clear, with the bass, in particular, coming through very well in the mix, which is something many metal albums don’t do well, and the sound quality is very good, while having a fittingly old sound to it.
Another area where the album has a decidedly old school feel to it is the vocals. Singer Lucas Flocco has a very high pitched voice, which fits the music well, but it also sounds rather distinct and fairly atypical for the genre, at times reminding me of a younger Geddy Lee, especially during some of the more dramatic parts, when he sings especially high. Along with the two guest vocalists, there’s also a ton of harmonies and choir vocals used on this album. They appear on every track and help add extra layers to some already very good choruses, while also giving the music a very theatrical feel, which helps add even more to the overall retro sound. If anything, I’d say while the lead vocals are already quite solid, the choirs are probably even more memorable, and they’re used very effectively throughout the album, especially on the title track.
Trying to write about every song on a release can be a challenge with some albums, but that isn’t the case here, as there are only four tracks here (plus a cover) and they each stand out pretty clearly from one another. Up first is “Facing the Truth”, the shortest song here at just over 5 minutes. It’s a rather upbeat, fun track where the retro-sounding synth immediately make their presence felt. The keys have a slight symphonic feel to them and are pretty epic, while the guitar work is fairly simple but quite heavy when it appears. The track moves at a nice pace, without being blisteringly fast, and it has a very catchy chorus, with the choir vocals, in particular, being very epic and amazing, while the retro-sounding keys are also excellent. Overall, it’s a very enjoyable track and a nice start to the album.
Next is the 10-minute “Disengage”, which is my personal favorite on the album. It starts off soft and slow, with some ambient keys, which help build the atmosphere of the track, before some choir vocals kick in, and then the guitars and drums slowly arrive, before speeding up for a while, and then slowing back down again for the opening verse. It’s a very moody track, which makes very smooth transitions from soft passages to heavier passages, and it manages to be fairly complex, while still being engaging and having a catchy chorus. Speaking of which, the music speeds up greatly for the chorus, and this gives listeners the first real taste of power metal on the album, as the music moves at a frantic pace, with heavy guitar work, epic vocals, and some very nice keyboards, which have a classical piano sound to them. From there, the song gets faster, heavier and more intense for a while, and it proves to be a very thrilling, highly engaging track, with a very addictive chorus, while also having some complex arrangements as well as some amazing instrumental work. It definitely proves that while the band can write some good shorter material, they specialize in writing longer songs. Next is the slightly shorter “Jaded”, which clocks in at just under 9 minutes. This track has a very retro sound to it, with the verses, in particular, reminding me a lot of early Dream Theater, while the chorus has some very atmospheric keyboards, and is upbeat while being very melodic and also a bit dark. It’s a simpler song than the two it comes in between while being a bit more complex and challenging than the opener. It has some great instrumental work and moves at a pretty fast pace, without ever fully speeding up.
The longest track here is the title track, a massive near 18-minute epic, which starts off calm and slow, before going through many tempo changes throughout its long running time. It’s another very moody and atmospheric track, with a lot of emotion put into both its vocals and instrumental work. While everything about it is great, my favorite things about it are the acoustic parts near the beginning, which have more classical piano sounds, some of the speedier instrumental parts, and the chorus, which is fast, heavy and catchy, while having a sinister tone to it, as well as making great use of the choir vocals. It’s a very complex track overall, which goes through many different sections, while still managing to have some memorable and very catchy moments, and it’s certainly an excellent track, overall. Closing out the album is a cover of Wham’s “Last Christmas”, a classic pop song, which the band has morphed into a power ballad. What used to be a fun and upbeat song, has now become slower, darker and much more downbeat, with a twist to the sound the emphasizes the more sorrowful side of the lyrics. It’s a pretty interesting experiment and one that fits the band’s sound pretty well while being by far the softest track on the album. It’s easily my least favorite here, mostly because I prefer the band’s heavier, more progressive material, but it’s a pretty well-done cover.
I had no idea what to expect from Till Death Do Us Part when I first heard it, but in the end, it has proven itself to be a very enjoyable and unique release. Mortanius have made a strong debut, producing an album that mixes in complex progressive arrangements, some power metal, catchy choruses, and some very retro sounding keyboards. Inf act, the album has a very old school sound to it, which helps add to its charm, and I can see it winning over folks who think too many modern metal albums sound overly polished and overproduced. I’d also recommend to any progressive power metal fans looking for something a bit darker and more complex, while still having some fun power metal moments. Hopefully, the release proves to be a success for the band, as I’d definitely be happy to hear more from them in the future.
Written by: Travis Green