The end-of-year bonanza that comprises most of November and December is both exhilarating and frustrating for music writers. On the one hand, it’s refreshing to be given the opportunity to initiate an organized, systematic retrospective on the year in music, and creating lists of surprises and favorites is always an enjoyable endeavor. The flip side of that coin is too often an abject neglect of new music released in these months, which facilitates feelings of consternation when not enough time is available to give new discoveries a fair shake before our best-of lists are due. This is the exact predicament I found myself in last week when I stumbled upon Rorcal’s fifth full-length release Muladona. The list is in, year-end toasts have been made, but I’m thankful to have a platform to tell you about how good this record is and why you should give it all the attention it deserves before compiling your own year-end lists. Because if what this band is dishing out rests in your wheelhouse, you’ll most likely need to make room for it.
Being my first experience with Rorcal (being rectified at this very moment as I comb through the band’s discography), describing their music’s sonic and aesthetic impact would be difficult to do without mentioning bands like Amenra and Dragged Into Sunlight. Peddling a blackened sludge/post-metal sound that’s as adventurous as it is violent and unyielding, Rorcal’s take on these genres, as well as the doom and drone elements they employ, is incredibly singular and richly rewarding. Muladona in particular dives deep into the Hatred for Mankind playbook by splicing the band’s harrowing music with spoken-word readings from Eric Stener Carlson’s novel Muladona, in which a demonic spirit visits a sickly child in 1918 Texas, delivering seven tales of horror and woe. Such a dark backdrop could not be more fitting for the band’s music here, which mixes an ethereal, droning atmosphere with vicious riffing and percussive blasting that makes the entire affair one of the more intense I’ve heard this year. But albums of this nature more often than not feel like unique novelties that carry less and less weight as the shock wears off. Thankfully, several listens deep into Muladona has only continued to heighten the experience and deepen my appreciation for this dark work of art.
The principal component to Muladona’s staying power is its songwriting. These tracks ebb and flow with intention and purpose, making the albums compact, 37-minute runtime feel purposeful and jam packed with quality musicianship that is never short of fully engaging. Opener “This Is How I Came To Associate Drowning With Tenderness” is a dark, drone-heavy introduction to the band’s conceptual framework and sonic motifs that is incredibly arresting. Read by Carlson himself, the album’s opening spoken-word passages blend impeccably with the doom-laden drums and feedback-drenched guitars, building and growing in intensity before eventually exploding into the blackened sludge typhoon “She Drained You of Your Innocence and You Poisoned Her With It”, which incorporates all of the above mentioned components of the band’s sound into a boiling cauldron of sonic malice. On a performative level, the band take the unique thematic content and construction of Muladona and create something consistently musically invigorating. This record is no one-trick pony. Each of these tracks plumb the depths of the human psyche with absolute aplomb, crafting well-designed tracks that feel fairly accessible without ever dipping into simplicity. It’s a hard balance to strike in a record like this, and Rorcal succeed handily here.
The middle section of the record represents the most structurally cohesive and musically engaging passages of the record as a whole, with “I’d Done My Duty To My Mother and Father. And More Than That I’d Found Love” continuing the album’s previously established trajectory without dipping into sameness. Carlson’s spoken-word passages continue to feel like much more than artsy interjections, but rather the essential narrative pieces they were intended to be. As the story progresses, the harshness of the music only intensifies, adding further gravity to the tale being read. “A Sea of False Smiles Hiding Murder Jealousy and Revenge” is utterly punishing, unleashing a veritable onslaught of pitch black riffs that are as memorable as they are intimidating. This pattern of sheer intensity continues through “Carnations Were Not the Smell of Death. They Were the Smell of Desire” and “The Only Constant In This World Is Blackness of the Human Heart”, which feel like a constant release of pressure leading up to the album’s stunning finale, which bookends the proceedings with an unexpectedly uplifting ending that caps off the record gloriously.
Front-to-back, Muladona is one of the most singular and mesmerizing listening experiences I’ve had this year, and I’m at a loss when trying to find another record from this year to compare it to. Wearing their post-metal and blackened sludge influences on their sleeves without ever dipping into parody, Rorcal have crafted a record that is incredibly difficult not to enjoy. We may be approaching the end of another amazing year in music, but don’t let that discourage you from giving this record your full attention for a few hours. You may find yourself making some last-minute changes to your year-end list. A harrowing and fundamentally impressive release.
Muladona is out now and available for purchase and streaming on the band’s Bandcamp page.