Way back in 2018, before our resident Canadian cowboy hung up his spurs to mountain bike off into the sunset, he was quite taken with Morne’s previous LP To the Night Unkown. He typed at the time, fingers sticky with maple syrup, “Songs are built on monstrous riffs, but also feature old-school metal guitar solos and subtle keyboard embellishments. Bass is a subsonic rumble, underpinning everything as if a train is passing nearby on loose tracks. In short, Morne have mastered the art of heaviness.” I quite liked To the Night Unkown at the time as well, though I haven’t spent much time with it since. It’s been a full five years since those simpler times, and this Bostonian four-piece have released Engraved with Pain, their first new material in that span. Do Huck‘s observations still hold? Almost 20 years into their career, have Morne maintained the quality they’re known for?
Those familiar with the band’s previous work will find it mostly unchanged here. Morne sit at the intersection of post-metal and doom with the residue of crust and sludge corroding any exposed surfaces. Structurally, they like to write a big, driving riff with methodical drums pounding away and then just camp on that for a while. Then they build a house there and put down roots. They have kids, get involved with the PTA, and become empty nesters, but they keep the kids’ rooms set up for whenever they visit. Repetition is their weapon of choice, using it to slowly build menacing grooves that worm their way into your limbic system. It’s all as Huck described it above, with one caveat. The riffs are indeed monstrous, keyboards lie low in the mix for atmosphere, and guitar solos usually crop up in the final minutes of each song. That said, Engraved with Pain isn’t as heavy as past outings. This is partly due to Kurt Ballou’s relatively clean production job. With the exception of Miłosz Gassan’s terminal bronchitis vocal delivery, Morne move away from much of the crust and sludge of their previous outings.
The success of Engraved with Pain lies in how willing the listener is to let themselves be borne away by the repetitious grooves and incrementally shifting song structures. More than with other styles, this type of post-metal is like entering a contract where the band and listener agree to meet halfway. If one can get past the “Damn, are they going to do something different soon?” knee-jerk reaction, Morne can reward you with their impeccably tasteful, less-is-more riff transitions. The benefits of patience are most obvious in “Memories Like Stone,” which shifts from the jittery repetition of the song’s first five minutes to a more measured atmospheric stretch to a final three minutes that nail the kind of elegant solemnity their doom side can bring to the mix. The song’s closing guitar solo is simple but extremely rousing. The doom aspect comes front and center on final song “Fire and Dust,” with an aching guitar line dripping in that honeyed Brave Murder Tone. Everything about the track has a timeless feel, including the shift to a kind of doom-n-roll outro to close the album.
Engraved with Pain grew on me considerably, but I must admit I found it harder to enter into that band/listener contract initially than I have on their past records. Chalk this up to a couple of things. First, post-metal as a whole seems to be reaching a kind of stagnation point. Morne play the style particularly well, as do many other bands, but the formula of drawn-out riffs, slow builds and loud/quiet/loud dynamics (something Morne is not guilty of perpetuating) is, to this reviewer’s ears, wearing thin. Another initial hesitation I had involved Engraved with Pain’s cleaner sound. Lead single “Wretched Empire,” with its oddly industrial leanings and 90’s-ish guitar tone could be a Nine Inch Nails song if it were a bit less heavy and the vocals were swapped for Trent Reznor’s. As a major sludge lover, I missed the filthy edge of To the Night Unkown. Thankfully, these Boston lads are talented enough and their compositional skill sharp enough that multiple spins broke down any walls I initially put up.
Over nearly 20 years, Morne have carved a nice niche for themselves in the metal landscape. Engraved with Pain being only their fifth full-length in two decades, they operate on their own timeframe. This has helped them release impeccably constructed records that pull off a minimal brand of post-metal/doom exceptionally well. This album is a grower and well worth the contract negotiation for patient listeners.