Fresh blood on the scene is always a good thing. It keeps the older bands on their toes and it brings in new and exciting perspectives, especially if those perspectives come from people who don’t often have their voices heard in the metal and metal-adjacent communities. However, 2020 was not a year that I thought many new projects would be popping up, but then again, the world is full of pleasant surprises, especially when it comes to Dutch singer/songwriter/bandleader Mortifero. Her brand-new debut EP The Death Ballads blends a lot of creative influences that definitely keep things fresh.
Mortifero as a project is extremely new, as of 2020, but Mortifero the musician has been around the scene for quite a bit, in a lot of different capacities. Serving as a live bassist for both Asagraum and Standvast, she has also been featured as a guest vocalist for a host of other projects, but with her self-titled solo work, she seeks to hone her craft at dark, spiritual, occult-inspired singer/songwriter folk. As both the principal songwriter, instrumentalist and lyricist, Mortifero brings together the aesthetics and atmosphere of doom and black metal with the instrumentation and feel of neo-folk and even a little alt-country that touches on subjects like witchcraft, the occult, death and murder and folklore. Imagine King Dude meets Death in June meets Lana Del Rey and you can almost start to get a sense of what The Death Ballads is like. The seven tracks that serve as the band’s introduction to the world primarily showcase Mortifero’s delicate but intensely soulful vocals and minimalist instrumentation dominated by acoustic guitar and all wrapped up in a delightfully lo-fi production landscape. The sparseness of the musical backdrop and production really does a good job of highlighting the star of the show, Mortifero’s vocals, and it also makes these tracks surprisingly charming despite their grim subject matter.
It’s not necessarily anything new to write folky songs about dark subject matter, but the way Mortifero leans into the gloomy atmosphere in a way that is very metal in nature but blends it with an almost alt-country vibe is quite refreshing for both genres. Opener “Necromancer” features chicken-fried strumming and whispered, light vocals over a dense backdrop of dreary textures. Lead single “Battle Cry” builds more on the neo-folk side of things, with gentle finger picked guitar chords before building up into a driving chorus. “Grief” is probably the strongest vehicle for Mortifero’s vocals, with layers building on each other in haunting harmony. Closer “The Return” brings the highest amount of energy here, with pounding percussion and a chugged guitar line over swelling background elements. The whole affair feels very funereal, but there is an elegance to the simplicity of the songs that make it very effective, both emotionally and artistically. Mortifero definitely knows how to nail a mood, and The Death Ballads practically drips with atmosphere.
Since the release of The Death Ballads, Mortifero the project has gone on to expand the lineup in preparation for live shows (fingers crossed on those), with the addition of Nortfalke and Neer (bass/percussion and guitar, respectively), and the trio are currently biding their time by writing a debut full-length as a team. It’ll be really interesting to see what an expanded lineup and maybe some more instruments on the tracks will do for the overall sound. If The Death Ballads is anything to go off of, then whatever comes next is sure to be a home run.