Australian band Mortification was the first Christian death metal band to have burst forth onto major metal record labels such as Nuclear Blast and Metal Blade over the years. Formed in the late 80s by Steve Rowe of Lightforce, the band has gone through several times of difficulty bankruptcy and cancer, only to pull together in the end and manage another release year after year.
After their fourth album, Mortification changed styles from death metal to thrash, and even took on power metal and traditional metal influences in their later days. The band has recently returned to their thrash/death metal roots from their "glory" days. The line-up has also changed many times, but bassist and vocalist SMortification is an Australian Christian extreme metal band. As one of the first and most successful Christian extreme metal bands in the world, they serve as inspiration for many of today's Christian metal bands. The group was formed in 1990 from the ashes of Christian power metal band Lightforce by Steve Rowe, Cameron Hall and Jayson Sherlock. Over the years Mortification has released over twenty records and several videos on major record labels such as Nuclear Blast.
During the early 1990s Mortification "belonged to the elite of the death metal movement," especially with their widely praised album Scrolls of the Megilloth. After the departure of their original drummer Mortification began experimenting with groove metal, hardcore punk and power metal. They achieved notable commercial success with Blood World, though the critics have not been interested in the band after the 1996's critically acclaimed EnVision EvAngelene. Despite critical backlash, the band has maintained its status as "some kind of superstars in the Christian metal scene," and have been called in the mainstream media as "a legend in the death metal scene." They returned to their deathrash roots on the 2004's Brain Cleaner album.
In the late-eighties, bassist Steve Rowe played in the Australian power metal band LightForce, a group which saw moderate success in its homeland. Around 1990, the band broke up. Steve, still determined to play heavy music with a Christian message, soon joined with drummer Jayson Sherlock and guitarist Cameron Hall under the LightForce name to release the 1990 demo, Break the Curse. With this release, the band changed musically towards thrash metal with a death metal influence. Feeling that their new musical direction merited a new name, the band retitled itself Mortification.The album's music garnered the band some attention from the heavy metal underground and, according to Allmusic, contains some of the most frightening vocals ever recorded.
In 1991, they released their self-titled debut album Mortification on the American Christian label Intense Records. Michael Carlisle replaced guitarist Cameron Hall, and the direction of the music changed once again. A lot of the songs were taken from their demo Break the Curse, but the band tuned their guitars down, and the feel to the songs was a lot more heavy and doomy than on previous material. Also, Steve proved to be an excellent death metal vocalist, presenting his "Grind Baritone vocals of extreme reality" throughout the album. According to Allmusic, the band "sought to provide a positive alternative to traditional death metal acts such as Carcass, Death, and Obituary. On the strength of their self-titled 1990 debut, Mortification quickly gained a reputation in their native Australia for being one of the loudest and fastest bands around."
In 1992, the band had signed a deal with Nuclear Blast Records in Germany, who had the biggest death metal names on their roster. Mortification released their second album, Scrolls of the Megilloth, which had great success, and in the Christian metal scene is considered a classic as well as a piece of Australian metal history. The line-up had outdone themselves, playing some fast death metal with a few doom metal influences on a couple of tracks. According to Allmusic, the album contains "some of the most frightening vocals ever recorded." A video-compilation titled Grind Planets which featured eight Mortification music-videos shot by film maker Neil Johnson was also released. Grind Planets, a word play of the term "Rock Star" presented a more humorous side of Mortification on the "On the Road" material in contrast with their serious message about spiritual warfare - a common theme among Christian extreme metal bands during early 1990s when anti-Christian bands such as Deicide and Morbid Angel gained popularity.
The band conquered new ground with their 1993 release Post Momentary Affliction. Most notably, the vocal style shifted, adding some thrash-like screams to the already-familiar metal growls. The band also experimented with the industrial style. The album also featured one of Mortification's most popular songs, "Grind Planetarium". Jayson Sherlock had his last concert with the band at the Blackstump Festival '93, and the concert was released both on CD and also VHS under the name Live Planetarium. A big US major magazine cited the Live Planetarium video as the best live album and video they have ever seen and heard. Jayson joined Paramæcium, and Phil Gibson replaced him as Mortification's drummer.
The band released a new album in 1994 called Blood World. They leaned more towards modern groove/thrash with classic metal and hardcore punk influence, rather than death metal, and Steve mainly used his shouts rather than growling. Phil and Michael left the band, and Steve stood by himself. The strange combination of extreme styles began setting Mortification apart from the crowd of same sounding bands and widened the band's audience as they became quickly recognised as innovators and not imitators. Blood World received rave reviews in America and Europe. Horror Infernal Magazine gave the album 13 out of 13 points. Blood World eventually became their best selling album.
1994 also saw the birth of Steve's own record label, "Rowe Productions." Also, Break the Curse was remixed and re-released by Nuclear Blast Records with a bonus track called "Butchered Mutilation".
Together with numerous friends, Steve recorded the album Primitive Rhythm Machine which was released in 1995. The sound of the album is really nasty and messy with a tribal-percussion to it. Musically, Steve mixed all the styles Mortification had played in the past, death metal, thrash metal and groove metal.
Also, Mortification's The Best of Five Years were released. A compilation album of older material. 2 songs from each previous release made a good introduction to new fans, and showed the bands innovation. This was the last album to be released by Mortification through Intense Records.
In 1996, Steve Rowe started his search for a new drummer and guitarist. The drum position was filled by long time roadie Keith Bannister, who had become a Christian during the first Mortification tour back in 1990. He learned how to play the drums while Mortification was on tour, and when they came back, Steve saw that he had been practicing, and was amazed at his progress, and instantly chose him to fill the spot as the drummer of the band. The guitar position was filled by guitarist Lincoln Bowen. Together, they recorded the album EnVision EvAngelene. This disc mixed elements of classic metal, thrash metal and added a punk feel to some of the songs. The first cut is an epic 18- minute about Christ's crucifixion from the angels point of view.
Two live EPs were also released, Noah Sat Down and Listened to the Mortification Live EP While Having a Coffee and Live without Fear. Unlike their first live album Live Planetarium from the Black Stump Music and Arts Festival, this was recorded at a small club, with a raw sound.
A video compilation called EnVidion was released, containing numerous music-videos and interviews. Also released this year was a novel by Steve Rowe titled "Minstrel."
In 2006, their song "Livin like a Zombie" was played in the background of the BME Pain Olympics: Final Round.
Mortification recorded and released Triumph of Mercy in 1998, which was released by Rowe Productions in the US and Nuclear Blast Germany in Europe. Lyrically, the album focused on the experiences of Steve and the band during Steve's two-year trial. The style of the album was a mixture of groove and thrash.
1999 saw the release of Hammer of God, also a mix of thrash and groove. The death metal elements had vanished, but the religious message of the lyrics remained.
In 2000, Mortification released another live album, recorded at Blackstump Festival in 1999, called 10 Years Live Not Dead, which mainly featured material from their newer albums plus a new song called "Dead Man Walking". Keith Bannister left the band, and a replacement was found in the very young drummer Adam Zaffarese.
The new line-up released the album The Silver Cord is Severed in 2000 and the band went on its first world tour. The music continued to be thrash and groove. While many fans thought the album was the weakest effort in the band's career, The Silver Cord is Severed sold well like its precessors. This was due to the fact that - like Nuclear Blast founder Markus Staiger stated in a newsletter - had become "some kind of superstars in the Christian metal scene". At the end of 2000 Lincoln Bowen left, and the band was split, which seemed like it was the end of Mortification. However, things changed when the guitarists Jeff Lewis and Mick Jelinic joined the band, and in 2002 they released Relentless. The band went in a slightly more heavy direction with a good dose of thrash and classic metal. The band played live as a 4-piece only a couple of times, as Jeff Lewis left the band.
Return to death/thrash roots
2004 saw the released of Brain Cleaner, now with ex-Cybergrind and current Martyrs Shrine drummer Mike Forsberg. This was the heaviest release from the band in 10 years, and fast thrash dominates the album with lots of groove and death metal influences.
In 2006, Mortification released a new album. It was originally titled Impaling the Goblin, but after many complaints that in some cultures this term had a sexual connotation to it, they changed the name to Erasing the Goblin. The album, with a cover which features a warrior throwing a sword into a goblin sitting on a rocking chair in a cave, is said to be a take on their older death/thrash sound around the time of their first 2-3 albums.
In early 2008, the band's nine early records were re-released by Polish Metal Mind Productions. In July 2008 Steve Rowe announced on his website that drummer Damien Percy was leaving after 3 years in the band and has been replaced by Dave Kilgallon, who is also the drummer for Australian Christian metal bands Grave Forsaken and Scourged Flesh.
On June 6, it was announced that Mortification will record a new album in 2009 On August 5, the band stated that they would record a demo for the new album. On February 4, Rowe announced that the album titled The Evil Addiction Destroying Machine was partially completed, and it was released early June. Confusing many fans, Steve Rowe has reportedly called the new musical direction "easy-listening thrash." Rowe noted in a message for The Metal Resource about the reception of The Evil Addiction Destroying Machine: "With all new Mort releases there have been mixed response; pretty black and white. Some Really Like It and some really Don't Like It. But I knew with presenting the band in a reinvented way it was an excitingly dangerous move!"
Reception and Legacy
According to Australian writers Gary Garson and Peter Schultz, Mortification is the world's most successful Christian extreme metal band. Their first three albums are respected efforts of death metal. Blood World was a commercial hit and EnVision EvAngelene gained some respect for its music. During the tour for Blood World they played with Napalm Death, Sick of it All and Entombed for audiences consisting of thousands of people, and sold more merchandise than the other bands in the venues.Several Mortification tribute albums have been released by Christian metal bands that have been influenced by Mortification.
Records released after Steve Rowe's leukemia have received poor reviews from critics, though they kept selling well. A critic wrote that "The weakest link of current Mortification are the lyrics. They are just somewhat naive and cheesy. On the old albums sinners screamed in pain in the fiery pits of hell, Satan was slaughtered; the rhetorics fit the spirit of the brutal music better. Apparently the fatherhood and going through the disease has calmed Rowe down too much, although on the early records the previous members Jayson Sherlock and Mick Carlisle wrote a lot of the lyrics." The different singing style Rowe did for many years after Post Momentary Affliction was another target for criticism, being called "poor screaming".
Steve Rowe - (Vocals & Bass) (1990–present)
Mick Jelinic - (Rhythm Guitar) (2002–present)