One of the most striking features of Mortals, a blackened metal trio from Brooklyn, is also one of the things they’re most reticent to discuss. They are three women in extreme music, a genre dominated by men, but they see this fact as secondary to their band’s identity.
“We try not to make it an issue,” bass player and vocalist Lesley Wolf says about the topic of gender. “People can think whatever they want.”
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It’s an in-your-face attitude that mirrors the aggression of their music, which takes influences from death metal, black metal, thrash, and Balkan music and stirs them into a hybrid brew. But talk to the band about anything other than the all-women thing, and you’ll find a tight-knit cadre of friends whose combined personalities create a surprisingly effervescent chemistry. “We were told last night that we’re like the power triplets,” Wolf laughs, on the phone with her bandmates en route to a gig in Massachusetts.
This year, their Cursed to See the Future LP has earned Mortals a broader audience and deepening respect in the metal realms — an impressive accomplishment considering it’s only their first full-length record. The group came together in 2009 after meeting via other projects that ultimately disbanded (Slaywhore, NYC’s all-female Slayer cover band, being one of them). They released a two-song EP in 2012 and signed to Relapse Records last year, a move that’s helped them reach new fans. “We get messages from South America, all over Europe,” says guitarist Elizabeth Cline. “We haven’t toured outside of Canada and the U.S. before, so we already have fans in places we’ve never been to.”
Their bucket list of places to play — Europe, Central America, Japan, and at least one big festival — seems more attainable now, except perhaps for one dream: “I want to be in the Priscilla, Queen of the Desert bus in Australia,” jokes drummer Caryn Havlik. “That would be thrilling.”
Havlik confesses to a love of Balkan music that she says has informed her style as a drummer. “They’re going for speed,” she explains, comparing Balkan musicians to death metalers, “and they’re going for absolute aggressive playing, and they’re there to rile up a crowd.” She adds, “I try to [listen to] it now in the privacy of my own earholes and not harass the bandmates with that when we’re in the van.”
Cline chimes in, “The reason why we don’t like her to listen to it in the van, especially when she’s driving, is because she starts dancing, and then the van starts swerving all over the highway, and it’s really scary.”
Scary-meets-joie de vivre could describe the dual energies at work within Mortals. During shows, Havlik grins from ear to ear while Wolf screams brooding lyrics. Cline calls this an “interplay between darkness and light,” and the dynamic is indeed unique, much like the contrariety of the band’s somber musical aesthetic and the high-spiritedness of the individuals crafting it. In view of this, it’s right that Mortals not be known simply as the female metal trio; they’re far more complex than that.