With a history that reaches back well over a decade now, it would be wrong to consider Boston-based doom metallers Morne as anything but veterans in their craft. Yet, despite previously releasing three full-length offerings over that span of time, it has still been over five years since Shadows was released to the world. With the release of To The Night Unknown, however, Morne has proven that those days were spent wisely. This latest effort has taken on an improved, more dynamic form than any of its predecessors and is, without a shadow of doubt, the strongest Morne release to date.Given the time between records, it had been a bit since I last sat down and absorbed a Morne album. In fact, my last exposure to the group was a show here in my small coastal city about a year and a half ago. Naturally, I was compelled to revisit Asylum and Shadows while exploring this latest offering. From a categorization standpoint, Morne is a bit of a tricky band to label. Initially, the mind goes to funeral doom. But when you focus on some of the other elements at work, you find some sludge, crust, and post-metal within the bleak, dense riffs and vocals. It’s a combination that I find rather addicting in all its gloom. While Morne clearly established their mark with these preceding efforts, there was still a noticeable step up to Shadows. But for the step up that signified the release of Shadows, To The Night Unknown is a far more significant leap forward.
From the initial build that opens the title-track, it becomes apparent just how well this evolution was executed. And the track continues to build, the way the dense crunch of the guitars introduces the percussion and eventually the vocals highlight the quality of this release from the very beginning. All the elements of previous Morne records are in here, but as I alluded to earlier, this is an enhanced offering on a number of levels. The lead and rhythm guitars are more experimental — they are delicate and enchanting at times, complex and precise at others, and the reliable weight and grit that highlighted past albums resurfaces constantly. The percussions feel more dense and seem to carry more weight while the vocals are just as harrowing as ever. And all of this comes together in a way that puts each element on notice while simultaneously preventing anything from getting lost in the mix.
As the album transitions from “Not Our Flame” through “The Blood Is Our Own” and “Scorn,” the varying tempos of the album make their point. While these tracks can be a burden to absorb — based on duration and sheer power alone — it is an aspect of this album that makes the overall runtime far more manageable. And for a record of this magnitude, the 67 or so minutes definitely leave a mark. The transitions from the galloping passages, to the slow and brooding, to the straight melodic is rather remarkable. All that said, there are periods of this listen that feel extensive. With four songs covering over nine minutes on an eight track album, that is bound to happen. You’re ready for the next transition, but they make you hold out just a little longer, time and again. It’s a feature of Morne’s music that I have come to accept, and in a way appreciate. The immensity of the builds, especially on “Scorn,” more than make up for anything overly deliberate.
Working through the second half of the album, these moments that tend to drag seem to surface a bit more regularly. It is simply a product of the deliberate, plodding nature of some of these tracks and the sheer weight with which they lay upon you. Fortunately, tracks like “Show Your Wounds” and “Shadowed Road” offer a bit of respite in the added melody and slightly more consistent pacing between them. And everything rounds out with what could be the most impressive track Morne has released to this point. “Surrendering Fear” may not be the heaviest or the most complex track on this record, never mind their discography, but it successfully shows the range of Morne’s capabilities. It feels like a culmination of the seven monolithic tracks that preceded it. Almost as if everything has finally come to a resolution. It is bleak, yet also uplifting. Not every ending is a happy one, but it’s still an ending. And that counts for something. That’s the sense you get here.
Being a regional band, I have long been a follower of Morne — staying up to date on their releases and catching them live when possible. To that end, To The Night Unknown far exceeds any previous release. It is more complex in structure, more intriguing and diverse in sound, and delivers with a cleaner, more organic feel. Their capabilities as musicians and song-writers were proven years ago, so they knew what they were aiming for with this album and they let nothing hinder the execution. To The Night Unknown continues to drive home the Morne vision while simultaneously expanding and further perfecting their craft.
“Ein Bier… bitte.”