Mortiis - Some Kind of Heroin Review
by Mark Hensch
Throughout musical history few figures have stood out with the level of enigmatic iconoclasm that Mortiis has. Getting his start with Norway's legendary Emperor, the new rebellion that was the 1990's Scandinavian Second Wave of Black Metal quickly bored Mortiis. Leaving Emperor, he soon ignored his entrance point in bass guitar and turned to individual eccentricity, releasing a slew of Norwegian-folk inspired ambient pieces. Ethereal and obtuse, the largely metaphorical aspect of these projects made it hard for Mortiis to remain in direct contact with his listeners, and he soon defied convention even further by turning his self-named project into an industrial/darkwave project with plenty of bleak grit. This new approach, the likes of which melded metal's viciousness to industrial's chilling dance tones, owed both genres much without really fitting in comfortably with either. To make things even more intriguing, Mortiis soon adopted an elaborate stage outfit, a prosthetic suit designed to look like the trolls of Norse lore. Surrounded by an army of angry and violent rivet-heads sporting studs, spikes, and 'hawks, Mortiis was at once past and future, modernity and mythology, anachronism and prediction. To put it simply, all the changes confused and perplexed listeners the world over, and because of this Mortiis' surprisingly long and successful career has largely avoided the necessary reflection it deserves.
Earache Records looks to finally correct this oversight with Some Kind of Heroin. Despite the fact it can be billed as a retrospective, in reality this is naught but a teaser for future works Mortiis will be putting out. His last album, 2004's stellar The Grudge, saw Mortiis hit two United Kingdom chart singles and shed his costume following the success of the disc. The Grudge's mechanical beats and bleak melodicism made for material as gripping as a meat-hook through the arm and in this writer's opinion catapulted Mortiis to the peak of the industrial-rock heap once dominated by acts like Nine Inch Nails, the Ministry, and Skinny Puppy. As a way of showing how rejuvenating The Grudge has been to the industrial/metal crossover scene as a whole, Earache and Mortiis graciously have allowed a plethora of the scene's darkest flames to add their own unique stamps to material off The Grudge. Though the disc does have its flaws, the strength of Mortiis in general and Some Kind of Heroin specifically lies in the fact that the songs are so open to alteration and change.
The songs range from the repetitive to the rare gem. "The Grudge," "Broken Skin," "The Worst in Me," Way too Wicked" and "Gibber" all get double-treatments if not more. Unique interpretations of "Underdog," "Twist the Knife," and "Decadent and Desperate" add some much needed variety, and although you might get sick of certain lyrics the disc excels at crafting a diverse set of interpretations for a single song.
Such interpretations at times skirt the line between radiant reinvention and bland failure, but most of the acts on here manage to turn their cuts into some facet of Mortiis' complex personality; vulnerability, desire, hatred, misanthropy, nihilism, depression---all these themes and moods appear in various guises on Some Kind of Heroin. For the sake of criticism, I will now proceed to dissect each song and its various takes, if any.
Zombie Girl remixes "Underdog" to coked-out bliss, its jittery beats effortlessly sounding mechanical and hollow at the same time. As danceable as it is, Zombie Girl wisely chooses to let some of Mortiis' original aggression shine through, meaty riffing and caustic howls popping up amidst the chaos. As far as opening tracks go, this one kicks all kinds of ass, and I'm glad that "Underdog's" mix of eerie samples and bleak catchiness still manages to assert itself no matter how much it is remixed here. "Twist the Knife" as reimagined by Implant sees the song stripped down into bare minimalism only to be slowly constructed back again into full-blown trance raving lunacy. At first badly jarring, my guess is that the song's slick and subtle sense of dynamics will win listeners over. The last single remix is Dope Stars' ripping "Decadent and Desperate," the likes of which truly rocks. Dope Stars gives the song tons of balls-to-the-walls riffing and let Mortiis' vocals do their thing. The keys take a restrained but well-crafted backseat, adding tons of depth to the background and contrasting with the riffs to make them seem that much heavier. "Decadent and Desperate" thus ends up as the album's verified barnstormer, and is well recommended for a shot of adrenaline to the arm.
As the title track of the album that inspired the very remix itself, "The Grudge" gets quite a lot of reworking, and four separate remixes compete for listener satisfaction here. The first remix, by Gothminister, is probably the best, mainly because it does the song actual justice. Keeping the biting but sweet lyrics of guest vocalist vixen Stephanie Groth, the song kicks off with acoustic strumming before Mortiis' own vocals descend into a disturbing nightmare of George A. Romero soundtrack beats and soaring guitars. Gothminister confidently reimagines the song as a love-lost anthem of industrial heartbreak, and it works surprisingly well. I'm not sure if the same can be said of Mental Siege's interpretation, which turns the song into a jangling and wistful jam. Though musically it sounds much too joyous for the subject matter/lyrics, the remix saves itself towards the end by keeping Mortiis' violent howls in stark contrast to the militant but fun beats. David Wallace's version ends up being an aggravating noise-romp, all manner of riffing lost in aimless Ministry worship. Short, boring, and uninspired, it does not need to be on this collection. The final take on it comes courtesy of Kubrick, who transforms the track into an alienated opus, spacious and isolating. Robotic (in a good way) and calculating, this version kindly disarms you only to rob your soul of its light when your back is turned. Out of all four versions, I'm going to give top accolades to either Kubrick or Gothminister's takes, both of which contain the largest amounts of individuality while still doing the source material some form of justice.
"Broken Skin" was in my opinion a more industrial oriented cut on The Grudge, and this trait is fully exploited on both versions here. The first, a cover by XP8, ranks among the album's best. The song basically skullf***s you to death on the dancefloor, pumping the beats up to maximum volume and rattling intensity. Funker Vogt attacks with a vastly different presentation, the beats stripped down to fake-sounding keys and slowly evolving into a house-mix from Hell. Rather than keeping the original's dark and dreary themes, this version turns it into a cathartic rave-up that could make pretty much any weeping Goth feel marginally better. Thought I prefer the XP8 cut, Vogt's surely grows on a person over time---nice work by both artists.
"Gibber" has a triple-serving and this time around the three takes create a mixed-bag. PIG's mix literally slavers and gibbers with a sort of rabid whirl of night moves and dangerous Ministry-influenced guitars. It works pretty well, but Velvet Acid Christ's subsequent take falls on its face. Nothing is technically wrong here, but the song remains fairly unaltered and is essentially just a cold trace-industrial fusion. It will inspire chills, but from a shiver of actual cold or mere insipid boredom is your call. The Gibbering Idiot Remix is even worse, sounding like a badly-muffled version of the Velvet Acid Christ take. My advice is to avoid all of them save PIG's, and just be done with it.
"Way too Wicked" has two vastly different mixes, each offering fun in its own way. The Kovenant's garish and neon-colored song is waaaaay too fun for its own good, so much so you can't help but enjoy it. The later Absinthium cut couldn't be more different, a slow hum being used to build a much more restrained cover. As mellow and lounge/house influenced as The Kovenant's is gabba-leaning, the former works as it is so in-your-face while the latter shoves the groove into the back and kind of lets it taunt your eardrums from afar.
The disc is topped off with strong cuts of the already fantastic song "The Worst in Me." Girls Under Glass deliver a swelling, powerful mix, the likes of which builds from quiet wistfulness into defiant yet explosive drama. The album's final track, a mix by In the Nursery, is every bit as fiery. Weaving percussion worthy of Dead Can Dance into a mix of triumphant strings, jangling piano keys, and venomous lyrics, this cut ends the disc on a fist-pumping yet classy note. Firmly balanced between sleek gloss and dirty grime, a mix like this truly exposes how intelligent Mortiis is really behind his bloody hatred.
Both Mortiis and Earache hit the ball out of the park with this one; all the artists chosen to remix cuts from The Grudge know what they're doing on Some Kind of Heroin, and hopefully this will provide a strong distraction from the fact that Mortiis hasn't released any new material in a couple of years. Familiar enough to make people realize that The Grudge is not worth giving up, yet fresh to the point of still being innovative and entertaining at the same time, this disc is one of the best in the spirit of industrial remixes and cross-pollination that I've heard in some time. To sum it up, Some Kind of Heroin is well worth getting, as it is the kind of reinvention every bit as addicting as both its name and its source material imply.
Mortiis' Some Kind of Heroin Remix Album
1. Underdog (Zombie Girl Remix)
2. The Grudge (Gothminister)
3. Twist the Knife (The Gibbering Mix by Implant)
4. Broken Skin featuring Stephanie Groth (Septic Wound Mix by XP8)
5. The Grudge (Mental Siege Mix)
6. Gibber (PIG Mix)
7. Way Too Wicked (Psychotic Comatose Mix by the Kovenant)
8. Gibber (Lysergic Club Mix by Velvet Acid Christ)
9. The Worst in Me (Girls Under Glass Mix)
10. The Grudge (David Wallace Remix)
11. Broken Skin featuring Stephanie Groth (Funker Vogt Remix)
12. The Grudge (Emotional Heresy by Kubrick)
13. Decadent and Desperate (Thera**** Remix by Dope Stars)
14. Gibber (Gibbering Idiot)
15. Way Too Wicked (Absinthium Mix)
16. The Worst in Me (Extraction Mix by In the Nursery)
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Mortiis - Some Kind of Heroin
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