Considering the single year’s gap between The Wizard and The Mortal, it’s fair to assume that Merlin’s fifth full-length album picks up right where its predecessor left off. The band keeps to the Americana space doom that’s been their calling card since forming in 2012 and their approach to musicianship retains that cinematic yet cacophonic attitude. The latter is especially impressive when you consider the lineup shuffles that occurred between releases, most notably picking up a third guitarist. Thankfully they managed to keep the saxophone around.
Rather than being wholly identical, The Mortal is noticeably moodier compared to its predecessor. While The Wizard used its buildups to create more opportunities for extended grooves, this album uses them with a more brooding attitude. Songs like “Towerfall” ride somber downtempo swells while “Ashen Lake” drums up some Floydian dreamscapes and “Metamorphosis” gives way to an acoustic-driven waltz. In this sense, the album has the most in common with 2014’s Christ Killer, which I sure as hell won’t complain about.
That said, the band isn’t afraid to keep rocking out either. “Basilisk” wouldn’t have been too out of place on the last album with its happy go lucky horn work and “Chaos Blade” does feature a pretty steady groove, even if it doesn’t quite pick up the pace until the (literal) last minute. “Mindflayer” serves up another curveball as the album’s heaviest number, mixing a hard-hitting drum shuffle with an almost classic metal chug, psychotic vocal effects, and a psychedelic breakdown toward the end. No matter what the band is trying out, it is impressive how they’re able to change gears without inducing whiplash.
With the playfulness of The Wizard combined with the drama of Christ Killer, The Mortal does a pretty good job of summing up everything that Merlin is about. The band’s eccentric prog-doom formula remains fresh even with a near-constant flow of releases and I can only see this one being another grower with time. Preestablished fans can consider this an instant purchase and it’s well recommended to new listeners as a viable entry point. Merlin has five excellent albums under their belt thus far and there’s no telling what sort of shenanigans the 2020s have hurtling around the bend…
Scroll down for our exclusive premiere of “Chaos Blade.” The Mortal drops on August 23rd from The Company. Pre-order here: