Chicago’s Murmur stretch black metal’s possibilities into outer space on self-titled record

The words progressive and experimental probably scare off as many listeners as they attract, because it seems more and more, people are less willing to take risks on what music they absorb. I say that because I know when I drop those descriptors in conversation with people, they draw eye rolls for the most part. That always makes me sad.

Well, hopefully you’re up for a challenge today, because we’re here to discuss Murmur’s self-titled new record that’s being released by Season of Mist, and if you have ears that don’t like being pushed beyond your comfort zone, you might balk at this one. It’s an odd one. But if you’re like me and relish having your mind blown, then set aside an hour or so and take on this new nine-track record from this Chicago band that is as unclassifiable as they come. They’re labeled black metal, and there certainly are some of those elements, but there’s as much prog, doom, post-metal, and fusion qualities to their sound that no one word can properly define what they do. In fact, I’ll let my summaries of these songs do the rest of the talking as far as what you can expect from the music, because I could be here all day.

murmur coverThe band has been active since 2007, dropping the massive “Mainlining the Lugubrious” in 2010, that has one of the more interesting, potentially skin crawling album covers of the past few years, and there are zero horror elements to be found. That record also wasn’t an easy one to get to know, and if you’re familiar with it, or their work on the 2011 split with Nachtmystium, then at least you have a starting point for getting comfortable with the new album. But the new self-titled record goes so far beyond the black metal territory, that if that’s a necessary trait you need from them, you’re going to be in for a little bit of a shock. It’s not correct to say they gave their sound more of a streamlined approach, because it’s still a puzzle that’ll baffle most listeners, but they definitely are a more inclusive bunch now and apparently have a knack for spreading into more of metal’s territories and not limiting themselves at all. It’s a damn ambitious statement.

Perhaps a major reason for the band’s sound transforming the way it has is that Murmur’s lineup is almost entirely different than the one that created “Mainlining.” Matthias Vogels (guitars, vocals, noise, synth) has been around since the debut, with Shane Prendiville (noise, guitars, vocals, synth) and drummer Charlie Werber (of the mighty Guzzlemug) joining up for the split with Nachtmystium. In 2011, they were joined by bassist Alex Perkolup, whose has one hell of a presence on the new record, and that lineup appears to be the strongest to date for the band. While they do a lot of chem lab experimentation and playing, their compositions sound organic and explosive, and never like they’re piling on layers just to do so. They’re one of the more interesting metal bands to come around in some time, and they could just keep shapeshifting as they move forward and get more congealed as a band. It’s a scary thought.

Opener “Water From Water” already will clue you into some things changing, as there’s an eerie calm that begins the record that eventually gets swallowed whole by chaos. Murky, muddy black metal, growls and shrieks that sound tortured, and a strange chorus that has the title sung repeated almost robotically dot the track. Some calm settles in, piano keys drop, but then the chaos rises again and heads right into the burly, tough “Bull of Crete.” This is an impressive nine-minute masher, with off-kilter melodies, howled vocals, and a pathway into brainy melodies that sound a little bit like early Mastodon. After the band meanders through the swamp, they erupt with a thrashy, but bizarre section that sounds like Primus if they specialized in death metal, keeping them foaming at the mouth all the way to the song’s conclusion. The 11:34-long “Al-Malik” follows, and it continues to up the ante musically. There are strange, cosmic keys smeared across this track, plenty of tempo shifts that keep your mind racing and wondering, and long section of progressive playing that boil and splatter. The song seems to be achieving peace at times, but the final few minutes blow that idea apart with mad chugging and metallic strength. Most of the song is music, with vocals at a minimum, and it’s a pretty exciting ride.

Following instrumental “Recuerdos,” a four-minute stretch of Midwestern-flavored acoustic playing, classic rock, and jazz, it leads to a three-song stretch that’s all weaved together. It starts with “Zeta II Reticuli” (named for a binary star system) that trickles open but eventually explodes with power. The guitar work builds and really starts trucking, making for some of the heaviest music on the whole record. The band heads into a pit of sludge, with furious growling, a high-spirited prog-style jam, and a bed of spacey keys that leads right into “Zeta II Reticuli Part 2” that starts with Rush-style instrumental interplay. The song gets mean in no time, with menacing, intimidating growling, metallic punishment, and tricky playing that’s enthralling and panic-inducing, leading toward the final segment “King in Yellow.” This is where the psychosis sets in, as manic shrieks and animalistic growls spill forth, weirdness spreads across everything, and a long stretch of banging and smashing drag you to the finish line. You might need a breath once these three cuts are over. “When Blood Leaves” changes the pace of the album again, as they veer back into the atmosphere with numbing prog rock that might remind you of modern-day Cynic, passages of clean singing, and a strange sense of dream-inducing trauma. Finally, the band finishes off with an eye-opening cover of King Crimson’s “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic Part 2,” which also is the final track on the the KC record of the same name, and they treat it with reverence and some of their own touch. The song is crunchy and chugging, with keyboards blazing, the drums kicking in and exploding, and the guys building to the big finish perfectly, leaving you out of air in your lungs.

This is a record that demands your participation, and it’s a thick, meaty, dense affair. Murmur don’t make it easy for you, but if you hunger for bands that take something like black metal and stretch it as far as they possibly can, sort of like Oranssi Pazuzu, then this might be your band. They’ve grown in leaps and bounds the past few years, and if they keep expanding at this pace, who knows where they’ll be next record. Don’t let the idea of progression and experimentation scare you. Give this band a shot and you might find yourself in a metallic world you never knew existed before.

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One thought on “Chicago’s Murmur stretch black metal’s possibilities into outer space on self-titled record

  1. Pingback: Album of the Day: Murmur - Murmur - Roadburn

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