Dissonant death metal has produced some astonishing music over the last few years. Groundbreaking efforts by the likes of ULCERATE, GORGUTS, PORTAL and MITOCHONDRION collectively help to forge a new path into the black depths of heaviness, and that same experimental mindset has been conspicuous in other strange corners in the genre too. The only major problem with dissonant death metal is that beyond self-evident masters of the form, it is often subject to a purposefully impenetrable, low-fi production approach. You can probably blame PORTAL for that, but even at their most obtuse, the much-hailed Australians have allowed a degree of musicality to be heard loud and clear. On MITHRIDATUM's debut album, clarity is king. Dissonance is a dominant force but by no means the only noise in town, as this shadowy trio weave various black and death metal threads through a dense melee of blasts and wrongness.
In much the same way that ULCERATE's "Stare Into Death And Be Still" trounced the vast majority of competition through sheer sonic enormity, "Harrowing" is a crystalline torrent of sound, where every guitar line and every drum strike is pristine and present. Rather hiding behind an illusory fog of reverb, opener "Sojourn" impacts with the kind of near-industrial attack that made SATYRICON's "Rebel Extravaganza" such a bolt from the black. There is still an underlying, queasy churn to every riff, but precision is the method behind the madness. "Silhouette" is a grueling hail of musical bullets, infused with the primitive spirit of '90s black metal but propelled along with mechanical consistency. As it evolves, it becomes more and more perverse and discordant, building to a deliciously grim final crescendo. "Mournful Glow" begins in skeletal, gothic horror mode, before tearing away at an insane speed, improbable chord shifts and wild blastbeats colliding at will. "Lower Power" is so oblique and unsettling that it occasionally sounds as if MITHRIDATUM are playing everything backwards. They peak with the finale, "The Passageway", a more progressive and dynamic thing, with echoes of BLUT AUS NORD in its robotic gait. It spirals and jerks towards a final, vexed blur of riffs, snapping to a halt like the plug has been pulled on, let's assume, humanity itself.
There is vast potential in this brief, 36-minute introduction to MITHRIDATUM. Wayward and weird, "Harrowing" is sworn to the black and as dissonant as Hell, but not in any of the usual ways. Much to admire in that.