Murmur – s/t (Season of Mist, 2014)


Black metal is getting weirder.  From Aluk Todolo’s blackened krautrock to Oranssi Pazuzu’s astral psych attack and beyond, the genre has decidedly taken a turn towards the freaky and far-out, and even though it’s only January, it’s hard to imagine another BM band in 2014 getting freakier or more far-out than Murmur have with their self-titled second album.  The Chicago band’s debut for the resurgent Season of Mist label appears poised to kick black metal into interstellar overdrive with a singularly intricate yet highly atmospheric sound that must be heard to be believed.

It’s telling that Murmur chose to cover King Crimson’s “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic Part II” for the album’s bonus track, as the album proper borrows much from the overlords of progressive rock.  KC’s early works, such as the classic “21st Century Schizoid Man” possess a certain frenzied quality, as if they could slip into total hysteria at any moment, only to recede into more mellow, spacey territories (the transition into “I Talk to the Wind”) and so to does Murmur’s compositional sense seem to exist in a constant state of building tension to the point of near overload, only to taper off into delicate, soothing sounds, such as when the monolithic eleven minute “Al-Malik” dissolves into the lilting acoustic guitars and astral synths of “Recuerdos.”  It’s evident that Murmur have challenged themselves to craft an extremely dynamic album, brimming with dexterous shifts in mood and texture.

What ultimately might be most impressive about Murmur the album is how Murmur the band incorporate so many different/disparate outside influences, among them progressive rock, krautrock, psychedelia and jazz, yet somehow still manage to create an album that can readily be identified as black metal.  In spite of how far they push things, the music retains its malevolent, ugly qualities, never degenerating into a hippie-dippy jam session or a “hey guys, look what we can do with our instruments!” wank-fest.  Let’s be honest, pretty much every genre touched on here courts the danger of turning Murmur into a bloated, self-indulgent disaster, but the band traverse this musical minefield with aplomb.

Murmur have made something very special here, an album that’s instrumentally ornate, conceptually intriguing and relentlessly phantasmagoric, while at the same time firmly grounded in black metal’s sinister atmospheres and scathing musical attack.  This is one to get lost in on a dark night with a good pair of headphones, and one that we’ll likely spend the rest of the year trying to fully wrap our collective head around.


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