Album Review: MRTVI — “Autology: The Shadow Work”

MRTVI are no stranger to the…let’s say unconventional in their practice of psychedelic, experimental, completely out-there black metal.  Last year’s Omniscient Hallucinatory Delusion was quite something in the way that it broke down into tiny parts everything you thought you knew about black metal, or even music in general, for that matter.  Not even a year later, the project is back with yet another mind-bending full-length, Autology: The Shadow Work, which is their fourth release.  This time around, things somehow get weirder, if you can even believe such a thing was possible.

MRTVI is the brainchild of multi-instrumentalist and mastermind Damjan Stefanović, who plays all instruments on all MRTVI albums and writes all the music…if you can call it that.  According to the man himself, every MRTVI album strives to be different than the last one, and on Autology, Stefanović draws influence from grindcore and early Gorguts; seemingly unlikely bedfellows for a black metal-ish outfit, but definitely plausible.  Where things get really nuts is the manner in which this album was conceived and recorded.  Autology is broken up into two halves, titled “Union of the Insoluble” and “Bring You to Mercy,” respectively.  Each half is further subdivided into a dozen or so tracks that all bleed together, because each half was recorded spontaneously, totally improvised and entirely in one take, all in one night each exactly one year apart.  If that wasn’t wild enough, each layer was recorded separately, one by one, first drums, then bass, then guitars and finally vocals, all without Stefanović listening to the previous layer recorded.  So what we have is not just two nights worth of improvised material, but four to five improvised sessions per night, each completely independent of any other instrument, and then somehow layered over each other with minimal to no editing.  And somehow it all ends up working.  If that isn’t the definition of mad genius, I don’t know what is.

If you’re wondering if Autology sounds like just a bunch of noise, well…I guess you wouldn’t be wrong.  That is kind of the point though, and it’s the “just” qualifier that I would take issue with.  Yes, when you have several layers of independently recorded instruments stacked on top of each other, it’s going to sound discordant and noisy, but that is the point.  Ever listened to grindcore or old Gorguts?  If not, what is wrong with you, but if yes, then you know this actually makes more sense than you would think it would on paper.  Nothing played is so wildly complicated that it overshadows or clashes with anything else in a way that isn’t musical.  The drums lay down a solid foundation, loosely holding a rhythm where everything has a place to explore.  The guitars function more for ambience and atmosphere than riffs, which might come as a disappointment, but it’s hard to pull off the concept when everything is expected to be lockstep perfect.  This is more about exploring sonic space, and that space is sufficiently explored and then some.  Screeching feedback and echoey growls constantly assault the senses, pulling you back and forth between an actual, for-real nightmare and an appreciable amount of awe at the instrumental and intellectual prowess needed to pull something like this off.  It just blows my mind that there are people who are this creative and have the follow-through to see something like this to completion.

mrtvi - band pic

Not only are MRTVI following up on Omniscient Hallucinatory Delusion after less than a year, Stefanović already has albums five and six recorded and ready to go.  Clearly not one to rest on his laurels, it seems there’s no end to the head of steam Stefanović has worked up, and good for him.  I hope it gets weirder, personally.  As we’ve said about MRTVI before, Autology is not an album for everyone, but goddamn do I love the premise of it,

– Ian

Autology: The Shadow Work will be available October 1 on Life as A Dream Records.  For more information on MRTVI, check out their Facebook page.

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