If you count live albums, EP's, and compilations, I believe this is Mortifications 18th release. Quite an impressive feat, especially since their frontman Steve Rowe almost didn't make it to the 12th album. It's equally amazing that Rowe has been able to keep the band going despite an ever-changing lineup. On this 18th release, Brain Cleaner, Mortification makes that long-awaited return to their roots that many fans have long been waiting for. Now this is not just a death/grind album by any means. The band still has plenty of thrash and power metal influences so as to not alienate all the new fans that have come on board the last decade. Plus Steve Rowe has made it clear that he doesn't want his band to get "boxed in" to one particular genre. But this disc is definitely the heaviest and most aggressive the band has released in the last ten years.
Brain Cleaner didn't grab me as quickly as Relentless did, but after probably twenty listens, it has really grown on me to the point that this is probably my favorite Mort album since Steve's return from his battle with leukemia. It's not my favorite Mort disc ever though. That would still have to be Scrolls of the Megilloth followed by Post Momentary Affliction. But hey, better to be heading forward again than taking steps back.
The sound here is brutal and powerful, with the very talented Mick Jelinic and newcomer Mike Forsberg (ex-Cybergrind) providing Steve Rowe with, in my opinion, his best supporting crew since Mick Carlisle and Phil Gibson on the Bloodworld album. On Brain Cleaner, Mort seems to take many influences from their past albums. One can hear similarities from Post Momentary Affliction, Bloodworld, Hammer of God, and others. The overall feel is also much more raw than their last effort Relentless. While the sound IS raw and powerful, this disc doesn't really match up with the massive sounds that Scrolls and PMA gave us in the early '90's.
Steve still mixes it up between his yelled/grunted vocal style, death vocals, and a combination of the yelled/growled style. "Too Much Pain" is one of the standout cuts with its heavy death/grind influence. Images of Post Momentary Affliction really stand out here. Other standouts include "I'm Not Your Commodity" and "Livin' Like a Zombie". "...Zombie" is probably my favorite cut on this disc. It starts out fast and frantic with Steve in yelled/growl mode before switching to full-on death vocals. Mick Jelinic just "goes off" around the 2-minute mark with a crazy solo before the band grinds to a doomy halt ala "Distarnsh Priest" before picking up the pace again. Later the band rips into a faster part reminiscent of the beginning of the song "Humbled" on Crimson Thorns newest before switching back to "Distarnsh..." mode. Great tune! "Free as a Bird" is a decent instrumental that acts as a great segue into the title track "Brain Cleaner". The band even does a cover of a Lightforce song called "12 Men". I'm not an expert when it comes to Lightforce material, but from what I've heard, this is better than the material that Lightforce put out back in the '80's. The song is pretty simple, but contains a very catchy chorus and some fine guitar playing. The only songs that I didn't care for as much were the title track, due to the somewhat weak vocal performance (although the music was good), and the very short closer "E.D." The closer is one of Mort's famous short-songs that they do on almost every album. This is easily the weakest that they've done yet. It doesn't compare to great "shorts" like "The Majestic Infiltration of Order", "J.G.S.H.", or "Killing Evil". They attempt a little humor, I think, but it's just not funny. Thankfully it's short.
Production-wise, the band does another solid job. All instruments are plainly heard and cranking the sound only makes the listening experience better. Lyrically, Steve explores many different ideas in his usual way of making it simple for anyone to understand what he's trying to convey. The main focus of the title track of the album and how it ties into the artwork is that the Word of the Lord is a "Brain Cleaner". The lyrics state: "Bring up the young in the way of the Lord/When they are old they will not depart/From the Word that cleans their brain/Learning young to avoid the pain." Simple message, but profoundly true. The rest of the lyrics are very straightforward and bold for Christ, with even one song ("Purist Intent") taking a little bit of a stab at some critics regarding Mortification's direction as a band.
The artwork of the album is something I'm not too crazy about. It's well done and applies to the lyrics, but doesn't really fit the musical style. Seems almost kinda like a mixture of artwork you'd see on a power metal album or maybe a Harry Potter book. I'm glad to see the use of the old Mortification logo again though! (Where's the skulls with daggers and the cobwebs??)
Overall, Mortification has recorded a fine album that will definitely take more than one or two listens to set in. It's fairly straightforward and nothing overly technical. But even if it were mega-technical, they'd probably get criticized for that too (just ask Extol). Some people just can't be pleased no matter what you do. Compared with other bands in the genre, Mort still doesn't measure up in a lot of areas. But after 18 releases, which included a bit of a lull for a few albums, at least they've got the ship pointed in the right direction again. This album is a fun listen and should translate very well in a live setting. It's definitely not a Scrolls Part II, but if you are a Mort fan that has stuck around through all the changes, you should be pleased. (Review by Matt)