Similar to how Halloween is most celebrated by outsiders who don’t generally engage with holidays, Mary Mortem is a Tulsa musician for music fans who typically avoid Tulsa music. The intensely haunted sounds of Mary Mortem are so far removed from the Tulsa sound and their presence so absent from the local music scene that only by geographic technicality are they a Tulsa artist at all. Mary Mortem is an anomaly.
The pale-faced solo artist pulls from a myriad of influences from post-punk to mumble rap to death metal. They use this sound palette to paint gloomy, anguished worlds of unique expression, polished in physical isolation to then be framed on the Internet. Each project is a different strain of eclectic pairings, but it’s the eclecticism that helps unify Mary’s body of work.
Topping off a busy 2021, which saw the releases of electro-gothic album Apathetic Passionate and the distorted downtempo epic Mother Nature Love Me Kindly, Mary Mortem dropped Do You Believe in Thelema in November.
If its occult titling isn’t indication enough—Thelema is an early 1900’s libertine ideological movement—the music will quickly inform the listener that dark feelings lie ahead. Elegiac grunge guitars and moody ambiance transform into punchy beats and distorted basslines over cathartic song progressions, swinging from malnourished moments of depression to explosions of furious anxiety.
Angst-drenched lyrics about pain, dysphoria, and death are purged into freeform prose reminiscent of emo songwriting, and they are performed through a dramatic range of vocal styles. Mary Mortem seamlessly traverses from emotive alt-rock fuzz vox to sullen autotuned meandering to monstrous screaming. None of it feels out of place, and though Mary’s indulgent delivery often overwhelms the clarity of the lyrics, it speaks for them through sheer expressiveness while elevating the album.
Mary Mortem is dark, abrasive, experimental, and antisocial, which is to say that they’re unlike anything to which mainstream Tulsa music gravitates. They have found a niche online, however, and this has not only resulted in worldwide collaborations (some of which appear on this album) but also earns Mary more monthly Spotify listeners than local darlings like John Calvin Abney and Fire in Little Africa at the time of this writing.
Do You Believe in Thelema, like Mary Mortem, is not for most people. Arguably, it does not intend to appease anyone at all but its creator. That’s what makes it work so well, though. It doesn’t follow. It doesn’t lead. It simply lives, unto itself, in the dark forest of Mary’s discography. There, apart from the greater chaos of the world, it thrives, like a cryptid, in the shadows.