There is so much to say about ‘Formless’ that it would be easy to heap superlative upon superlative until the whole review reeks to high Heaven with fawning.
Hyperbole can have the opposite of its desired effect after all – so I will try to offer a measured, considered overview of what is probably the best album Mourning Beloveth have yet produced.
The level of self-assuredness on display is striking. It’s as if these songs have been gradually accumulating in the band’s collective psyche since their inception.
They feel unforced and completely natural while offering plenty of twists and turns to keep the old fans’ grey matter active and alert.
Opening this roughly one hour and twenty minute long double album with the crawling ‘Theories of Old Bones’ is a bold move.
It saunters out of the blocks with a restraint that hints at some of the more brooding aspects of ‘A Murderous Circus’, but unlike that divisive and cold album, the production here is so warm and enveloping that when it curls itself around you, you don’t want it to let you go.
It’s so characterful, from the minimal, gradually unfurling riffs whose simplicity masks a depth of subtlety to the vocal performances that are undoubtedly career bests from Moore and Brennan. Every element of the song is meticulously considered.
The interplay between the vocals across the album shows off a complexity and level of maturity that leaves their finest past works in the dust. Passion, power, aggression, drama… It’s all in here and while it has never been lacking before, the boys have really outdone themselves across these two discs.
Moore sounds absolutely feral in places, while elsewhere his spoken passages sound so unaffected as to be almost vulnerable. Brennan’s restrained delivery across the board is like sober morning light creeping through the gloom. It doesn’t really offer redemption, rather it sounds self-questioning, attempting to make sense of the surrounding disarray.
When the seventeen minute ‘Ethics on the Precipice’ ambles out directly after the fourteen minute opener, it shows no signs of relieving the tension. The band are intent on stringing us along, aching for some resolution.
It’s a reclusive act. They have turned their backs on the outside world and have just given themselves completely to introspection. The experience is almost voyeuristic.
It is not until about halfway through the song that they finally open up and offer a glimmer of light with great panoramic chords that rip holes in the black clouds and offer a hint of sunlight. It is worth the wait, too.
What a treat to be assaulted next by the shortest, most violent track in ‘Old Rope’. They have never attempted something like this before. It is pounding, primitive in structure and hammers its point into your flesh and bones like six inch iron nails.
Layered, effects-laden screams add a chaotic note to the thumping rhythm while delicate clean notes glow secretively behind the dense wall of distortion. Five minutes, one or two perfect riffs and a molten delivery. It is mind-blowing.
The band drop a gear again for ‘Dead Channel’, with residual traces of ‘A Disease for the Ages’ evident in Brennan’s vocal melodies as the music gradually offers up its gift. When Moore’s shredded vocals are added the resulting face-off sounds absolutely vital.
To lead us out the other side of that dark display into what is hands down the most spine tinglingly massive and beautiful piece of music on the whole album is a stroke of genius. This is what Mourning Beloveth have always excelled at- taking mountain-sized, mournful riffs and wrangling the most addictive melodies out of them.
It will bring you to your knees.
The depth of tone really hits home on ‘Nothing Has a Centre’, the final track on the first disc.
Those rich low notes are magnificent, the bass tones robust and enveloping. The whole production is, in fact.
Where ‘A Disease for the Ages’ and even ‘The Sullen Sulcus’ were roaring, upfront, wall-of-sound albums, the songs on ‘Formless’ rely on a construct of layered tones and subtle dynamic to swell to their inevitable crescendos.
Rather than assault you this one entices you to lose yourself within its opulent and labyrinthine halls.
There are playful jittering rhythms in the opening section of the song that give way to yet more hair raising gestures as the pace livens up a little, with mid-paced rattling bass drums and chugging guitars that eventually slip back to their slow, decaying doom. It harkens back to the obtuse magnificence of ‘Part 1’ from their split 7” with Lunar Gate.
There is a nod to Primordial in the final lilting section and the vocals switch between Brennan’s sublime melodies to Moore’s spoken and growled outpourings as the song winds itself down in typical Mourning Beloveth fashion. These lads always know how to end an album in style and this one surely doesn’t disappoint.
This is of course a false horizon as we have a second disc to explore.
Containing a single track, ‘Transmission’, it shows the band pushing further out into unknown territory. A hypnotic, spiraling delicate guitar motif repeats indefinitely, echoing into the void with a single resonating bass note providing the anchorage as Moore weaves his cryptic, apocalyptic language throughout.
The bell knolling gently in the background is a fair warning.
It suddenly moves into almost Folky terrain, with an acoustic guitar making an appearance while the tension builds and Moore’s ranting becomes more incensed.
It’s an odd one, that’s possibly why they decided to put it on a separate disc, but it works really well and shows that even though the band are now into their third decade they haven’t run out of things to say or creatively fertile avenues to explore.
They could never be accused of being anything other than a Doom/Death band, but the amount of emotion, creativity and playfulness they have presented here puts them into a category that can only be accurately defined as Mourning Beloveth.
Every aspect that makes them the band that they are is on display but it all sounds slightly altered. It is a scouring of the familiar, a reconfiguration of identity, like a freakish twin assembled from the same DNA. Bearing both a familiarity and confident steps into the unknown, each repeated spin highlights the band’s ease of communication through, and mastery of, the obscure.
This is so much more than a merely brilliant album, it is a work of Art and I believe that time will prove this to be the band’s masterpiece.
5/5-Andrew Cunningham ::: 07/02/13