[21st January 2014]
[Season Of Mist]
01. Water From Water
02. Bull Of Crete
05. Zeta II Reticuli
06. Zeta II Reculi
07. King In Yellow
08. When Blood Leaves
09. Larks’ Tongues in Aspic
How encoded can a band’s influences be and still be said to be part of their sound? Chicago’s Murmur are often described as “experimental black metal,” but this appears to be nothing more than a misnomer with really good intentions. Their music is to black metal what whiskey is to grains. Grains are a crucial ingredient in whiskey, but when put side by side with the finished result, there’s really not all that much in common anymore. Even a band like Nachmystium (with whom, incidentally, Murmur released a split in 2011) could more clearly draw comparison to black metal, and in that case it would still be a stretch to actually put the term in their description without a modifier like “esque” or “tinged.”
This album is the band’s second full length release, coming three years after the well-received Mainlining The Lugubrious. Where Lugubrious had some clearer semblance of black metal in the production to ease the comparison, Murmur is largely cleaner, clearer, and less abrasive. This isn’t to say it’s clean, clear, or nonabrasive, per se; but there’s something to be said for the sliding scale of traits like that, particularly in extreme forms. If you were to sandwich most any track on Murmur with songs from, say, Trivium, the Murmur song would sound like the darkest and murkiest thing ever. Put it up against something from Lugubrious, though, and it will seem decidedly lighter. This isn’t a criticism, just an observation. In this case, light works. Oh boy, does it work…
The progressive label seems to get thrown around an awful lot these days. It seems like anything that isn’t 4/4, straightforward rock riffs gets a pass to call themselves progressive. That said, on this album, Murmur are PROGRESSIVE. Like, a cape-wearing Rick Wakeman keyboard solo in the middle of a 17-minute song about Gandalf-level of progressive (that doesn’t really happen, but the reference is solid). The last song on the album is a King Crimson cover, for crying out loud. Murmur clearly wanted to make sure people understood what kind of band they are this time around. Yes, the first track tries to trick you by being legitimately black metal for stretches at a time. Yes, the vocals are often tortured wails, and the guitars are often tremolo-picked and screechy. No, that does not mean black metal gets to steal the show and make claims about its contribution to the album. This is prog’s party, and it’ll go on eastern music inspired jazz freakouts if it wants to.
The transitions and pacing on this album are absolutely impeccable. Any time there’s a chance that something gets boring or overextended, it is deftly replaced, even if only for a moment. Perhaps the clearest example is the track “Al-Malik”. At nearly 12 minutes, this song has ample opportunity to get stale. The initial black metal attack quickly resolves to what feels like a surreal, super slowmotion tumble off a cliff, complete with barely conscious cartwheels towards the bottom. Then it’s creepy guitars. Then it’s nervous drumming. It just builds and swirls and twists and collapses and coils in on itself. It’s fresh and exciting and more than a little insane.
Strap in; this paragraph is going to be exclusively about drums. A lot of metal drummers get attention for being fast and accurate. These are traits of mechanical proficiency, earned by long hours of laborious drills. They are performance athletes, impressive for the feats their bodies are capable of. Murmur’s Charlie Werber is impressive for completely different reasons. Not just his speed. Not just his chops. Not just his flourishes, his dynamicism, his seamless segues and incorporation of disparate styles. It’s his fluidity. Or more accurately, his viscosity. His sound pours out onto the drums like molasses. When he makes a run around the toms, he somehow avoids the convention of succinct articulations. It all smears together in a wonderful way. Think of it like using a bow instead of a pick, only on drums. While it’s somewhat difficult to describe, it would be even harder to simply adopt. He’s unlocked some sort of drum legato, some capacity for blending sounds that is wholly reminiscent of Bill Bruford, a prog drumming legend, and likely someone Werber has studied at some length. Take all of that unique tone and throw in some really tasteful usage of blasts and then try and argue Werber doesn’t get his own paragraph in this review. Can’t be done.
- Black metal but not really.
- Something about whiskey or something.
- Subtle, inappropriate jab at Trivium.
- Rick Wakeman reference.
- Cartwheels of freshness..
- OMG drums.