In a world full of chancers and fakes, it's good to be MORK. From the release of his band's debut album "Isebakke" a decade ago, Thomas Eriksen has walked an isolated path; always honoring the icy magic of Norwegian black metal's pioneers, but never slavishly following its well-worn tropes. Devoid of the posturing and self-consciousness that reduces many bands to well-intentioned mediocrity, MORK have focused almost entirely on the music. The results have been very consistent, too. In particular, the string of albums released since Eriksen signed with PEACEVILLE RECORDS in 2017 have set the band apart from and ahead of their peers. On "Dypet", MORK vanish out of sight altogether.
The brilliance of this band's (endlessly malleable) formula lies in its threefold attack. Firstly, Eriksen is an exceptional writer of riffs, and much of MORK's atmospheric power comes directly from the dense clangor of guitars. Secondly, "Dypet" reveals progressive and experimental sensibilities that were only hinted at on previous albums. The introduction of modular synths is the obvious development, but Eriksen's vocabulary has expanded hugely since "Isebakke": these songs are three-dimensional and fully realized in a way that would have been unthinkable ten years ago.
Thirdly, MORK are really making the effort. Not quite a concept album, "Dypet" ("The Deep") takes its thematic cues from the Lovecraft-ian universe, but filtered through the spinning, obsidian prism of Norse mythology, with particular reference to an aquatic ghost colossus and Cthulhu-alike known as Draugen, who legendarily lurks off the Norwegian coastline. This is definitely what many of us signed up for. David Thiérée's extraordinary artwork adds an extra layer of unsettling melodrama to the whole project, too.
Ultimately, it's Eriksen's songwriting that makes the conclusive difference, just as it ever was. Opener "Indre Demoner" slowly rolls in on melancholy waves, before a spiky, post-punk spirit seizes the steering wheel. There is a diamond core of rock 'n' roll intent in evidence, and Eriksen's ground-glass howl is as commanding as ever, but this is subtly sophisticated stuff, with inspired, overlapping guitar hooks and some laudably inventive bass playing all contributing to the vivid, vital whole. "Forfort av Kulden" is even more startling. At first it stamps and scythes with MORK's usual eerie abandon, but again the melodies are brighter and more insidious than before, the changes of pace, more graceful. Blessed with a giant, euphoric chorus, it is a simply magnificent song.
Gloriously, that adventurous mindset is writ through every last moment here. Even the starkest, doomiest moment, "Bortgang", offers a highly evolved take on the stripped-down grimness of the band's earliest recordings. "Hoye Murer" (featuring Hjelvik) is a churning maelstrom of deathly sludge and bloody tentacles; while the closing "Tilbake Til Oprinnelsen" weaves a mesmerizing tapestry of necro blasting and gothic indulgence, ending with a final flurry of aggression that feels like a pointed statement of authority. And who can blame them? "Dypet" is a big, fat triumph.