On a surface level, death metal can seem monotonous, but upon deeper investigation this musical genre opens up into a labyrinth of sound and style. One of the bands leading the charge to evolve the death metal sound is Mortuous.
Combining technical prowess, true death metal ferocity and a sense of sonic imagination too often missing from modern death metal, this San Jose band stands out in a sea of similarity. Their original but familiar sound comes alive on a brand-new full-length album, Upon Desolation.
The band’s brutal roots grew out of a 2009 side project from San Jose-based guitarist Colin Tarvin. Growing impatient with the musical activity of his then-band, Funeral, Tarvin set about writing and recording an entire demo by himself in his room.
From there, word spread slowly but surely through the death metal community. A guitarist, bassist and vocalist were added, solidifying as a full band in 2010. Life got in the way for the band’s first drummer, so Mortuous enlisted local drum impresario Chad Gailey. Joining Tarvin and Gailey in the current lineup are guitarist Mike Beams and bassist Clint Roach.
Through “various states of activity,” according to Gailey, Mortuous has released seven distinct projects—be it in full ep, split-seven or demo form—since its inception. In the process, it has earned fans and critical acclaim for its technically masterful musicianship combined with a face-melting brutality plus a flair for sonic imagination, adding a distinct sound to the extensive death metal canon.
Though initially indebted more to old school death metal elements from the late ’80s and early ’90s, the Mortuous sound has evolved in both acumen and scope. “We are a death metal band with technical aspects, doom metal aspects. … There’s a lot of influences that make up Mortuous,” Gailey says.
Gailey says Upon Desolation, released just this past week,was nurtured by a deluge of musical ideas guitarist Mike Beams germinated over the course of a couple years and subsequently brought to the band. “When it came time to write the new album, we had pretty much everything ready to go,” Gailey says. “We just kind of combed through some of the songs [Beams] sent us, we decided on a tracklist, and we learned all of these songs together.”
Gailey notes, however, that much of the work featured on the album involved a symbiotic process, with all of the band members adding to the lyrics or beefing up the musical compositions.
With songs like “Graveyard Rain,” “Metamorphosis” and “Nothing,” Upon Desolation features a beefy, in-your-face sound that is both exquisite in its musicianship and dominating in its sheer brutality. Plus, the incorporation of nonconventional metal instruments like violin and piano shows Mortuous’ ability to transcend the death metal genre in search of their own inspired sound. “[Upon Desolation] has been four years in the making, and the last year especially, has been a lot of hard work between the four of us just getting ready,” Gailey says. “It’s been a massive undertaking, but I feel like we’ve really stepped it up and accomplished everything we set out to do.”
Perhaps what helps Mortuous further carve out its own unique musical space is the fact that since 2018 the band’s releases have been on drummer Chad Gailey’s own record label, Carbonized Records. “It’s been really cool to have all the control between the band,” Gailey says. “There’s stuff that goes on behind the scenes [with labels] but it’s nice to know exactly what’s going on at all times.”
Despite just finishing a US tour in July, Mortuous is already back on the road for a 22-show US tour in support of Upon Desolation. “It’s gonna be quite an adventure considering we just did a full tour,” Gailey says. “But we are stoked to do it because we have the new album, new merch, and a completely new tour package, so we are all really looking forward to it.”