That Cambridgeshire simply didn’t have any good metal bands was a sad fact I’d come to accept. When I’m not at university here in York, I live in the small cathedral-city of Ely, a short drive from the county’s namesake and hub of Cambridge. Musically, it’s an utterly desolate landscape. Friends of mine who live and study in Cambridge have confirmed as much. So when I learned that Cambridge was now the home of TERRA, an atmospheric black metal band along the lines of Wolves in the Throne Room or Ash Borer, my heart leapt. And while TERRA certainly do draw on these bands, they forge their own path on their second full-length album ‘Mors Secunda’.
The album is comprised of two colossal songs lasting roughly 20 minutes each. Deeply evocative, atmospheric and texturally rich, what Terra have crafted here conjures images of lush ancient forests, moss-covered roots, a dense canopy of leaves, and the beauty of a natural world in a state of decay, corruption and rebirth. While this accurately represents the album’s first half ‘Apotheosis’, as the name suggests, ‘Nadir’ represents the darker, more destructive half of the album, with more aggressive and abrasive moments and a more ominous, foreboding atmosphere throughout. There’s beauty but also fear, corruption, and destruction. The guitars at times have a dreamy blackgaze quality to them, reminiscent of Celestial Lineage, but the vibrant landscapes their powerful melodies conjure are all the better for this hazy quality. The densely-written guitar passages are powerful, moving, and even sometimes catchy. The bass is thick and heavy, and cuts through the haze nicely, granting some heft and weight to the band’s sound. Mastered by the one and only Colin Marston (of Krallice, Gorguts, Dysrhythmia, etc.) it’s no surprise that the album sounds stunning.
While TERRA do make use of the traditional black metal staple of howled, tortured screams and roars, they’re certainly not the centre of attention here, with the instruments doing the real heavy lifting here. Special mention must surely go to drummer Luke Braddick, whose performance is consistently one of the most enthralling elements of this band’s ensemble. His work behind the drum-kit is so passionate and so frequently creative and engrossing that it lends the album an additional magical quality. His performance at times reminds me of Jamie Saint Merat of Ulcerate fame due to the way in which he is constantly switching up his style, keeping himself and his bandmates on their toes, and in fact forms a central facet of the band’s sound.
As I mentioned earlier, the album is comprised of just two tracks titled ‘Apotheosis’ and ‘Nadir’, which each last roughly 20 minutes, and this is perhaps the album’s greatest strength and potential weakness, depending on your personal tastes and expectations when approaching TERRA’s Mors Secunda. These are vast soundscapes, meticulously crafted to conjure a rich atmosphere that draws the listener in. At times the songs do have a tendency to meander, but that’s simply the nature of the beast here. For the most part this really isn’t an issue, and the album’s songs feel far more concise than they really are – I’ve listened through ‘Apotheosis’ multiple times and each time the song’s end is a surprise to me. And the performances all play off against each other in such a natural way that these lengthy songs never feels dull, as the band are constantly bouncing ideas off each other, with the driving force of Braddick’s percussion keeping things on track.
Mors Secunda is not an easy listen. It’s an album that demands patience, attention, and investment on the part of the listener, in unpacking the dense musical constructions at work here. But the splendour of this organic piece of work really is something to behold. This is an album of vast soundscapes, of lush natural beauty, a celebration of the majesty and terrifying power of nature. Throw yourself into this album, you won’t regret it.
I was so enamoured by the startling ferocity and evocative nature of this album that I had to get in touch with the band to talk about Mors Secunda, the band, their influences, writing process, and local scene. Read on for an interview with their drummer Luke Braddick!
A good metal band from Cambridge, finally! How’s your experience been as an extreme metal band in Cambridge?
“Thank you. Generally it’s been good but not entirely what you’d expect from a city as big and as well known as Cambridge. It’s a strange thing which I can only put down to being an unfortunate byproduct of it being an expensive, tourist-focused place where a large portion of people are here temporarily.
“Don’t get me wrong, there certainly are local promoters who are passionate and go beyond the call of duty to put on shows, as well as plenty of talented musicians and bands that are within or orbiting the city. Not to mention an alternative crowd that comes out of the woodwork when something great does gets put together. But things like the diminishing number of live-music venues and the focus on club-centric events I think can contribute to the local live scene being somewhat fragmented.”
Could you tell me how Terra formed? What was the idea and motivation behind it?
“I think it was about 3 years ago now that a mutual friend, who had produced my previous bands record, told me some guys were looking for a drummer for a black metal project. Ryan and Olly had written material a while beforehand and after hearing it I felt like I wanted to be involved. Before I joined, the music they were writing had gone through transformations already, with new elements coming into play.
“Once we were a full group, and started breaking it down and working on doing it physically it started taking shape and the motivation was mainly to be a functioning band that’s able to perform the material live effectively.”
What was the writing and recording process like for the album? It must have been a great feeling to know Colin Marston is mastering your album.
“For sure, I mean for me it was one of the main things that would punctuate our intention to make Mors Secunda the next step up for Terra, to show that we were progressing in every sense. That attitude was applied to every other area like writing, gear, the people we had involved with drum production and mixing, and all those things came together almost disturbingly naturally. I guess we were hitting a groove off the back of all the work we put into the first record. But yeah having someone who we respect as both a musician and engineer of atypical extreme music, applying his sensibility and experience wasn’t just an honour it was the most ideal choice in regards to the kind of music we are trying to make.”
I’d like to talk a bit about the meaning behind the album. My rough Latin suggests the album title translates to ‘Second death’, while the track titles refer to a kind of rise and fall, or growth and decay, while the music itself paints pictures of vast ancient forests. Are these all linked?
“Kind of, yeah. generally our concepts and ideas aren’t something we try too hard to drive home. Music is personal, for ourselves, and for the individual listener so to go in deep describing them sort of removes the listeners freedom to interpret what information there is in their own way. We wouldn’t want someone to approach the album predisposed. That being said, yes there is a concept of sorts, There are lyrics (much to the surprise of some), but they aren’t the focal point for a reason.
“In religious senses ‘the second death’ was a term to describe the death of the spirit /its inability to be saved after death. This was a term adopted by scientists through experimentation to describe societal decay in utopia. Inevitable cyclic self-destruction of civilisations. As parallels are being drawn all around us Mors Secunda could be the soundtrack to a time of transition.”
What sort of story are you trying to tell with Mors Secunda? What is it you hope listeners take away from your music?
“That’s probably best summed up in the last question, there’s a concept as a small anchor but it’s up to the individual to decide a story, if they want one at all. I think if listeners are to take anything away, I hope it’s that (especially in a live environment) the music has been as cathartic for them as it is for us performing it. As an album, Mors Secunda is our best effort to capture that.”
Are there any bands from your local area that you think listeners should check out and support?
“Depressingly I can’t think of any currently going to quote our bassist Olly: “Cambridge is a middle class wasteland of blandness. Nothing of any artistic value has happened here for years”. Sadly I think he’s fairly spot on as I mentioned earlier with the lack of live venues catering to smaller bands the local scene has really declined compared to 5-10 years ago.”
Is there anything else you guys would like to add in closing?
“No, I think I’ve said enough as it is, thank you for checking us out.“
Thank you again to Terra and to Luke for taking the time to discuss their music with me! You can support the band by liking them on Facebook and by picking up their album from Bandcamp. If you want to support this blog, just give the Facebook page a like or sign up to the newsletter!