Murmur begins with the lush, rolling guitars of album opener "Water from Water," lulling the listener into a an ambient soundscape of ethereal melody before suddenly dropping the floor out from under their feet and blasting ahead with a frigid blast of blackened metal. I'd seen Murmur described as either "avant-garde black metal" or "experimental black metal," and while either of these descriptions work, neither really describes Murmur (or Murmur) completely. Murmur is a free-flowing beast of an album, featuring proggy guitar licks ("When Blood Leaves"), jazzy, soft drum interludes ("Zeta II Reticuli"), and simple acoustic guitar ("Recuerdos"). That the band feels comfortable crossing genre lines like this is admirable, and the incredible way they blend everything together is easily Murmur's greatest strength. My favorite track is "Al-Malik," an eleven-minute voyage that begins with riffs that bring to mind gladitorial fights in the coliseum of ancient Rome before becoming a battering ram of pounding riffs and a thundering rhythm section for a few minutes before moving into far more spacey territory complete with synthesized bells underlined with a growling bass line and dueling guitar riffs. Eventually the parts become more and more dense, bringing the song back from the stratosphere and plummeting toward the earth with ferocity of an impending comet strike.
Of course none of this would work if the musicians weren't up to the task, and Murmur's quartet knock it out of the park. Guitarists Matthias Vogels and Shane Prendiville share vocal duties with bassist Alex Perkolup, while Charlie Werber handles percussion. I honestly have no idea who's playing which guitar parts, but Vogels and Prendiville do a great job juggling styles throughout the album, dancing in and out of riffs with enough dexterity that would make a gymnast jealous, while Werber's drum part on "King in Yellow" is one of the album's many highlights. Perkolup's bass is perhaps the most pleasant discovery of the entire album; when it shines - such as in the aforementioned "spacey" part of "Al-Malik" or the in the underlying groove on "When Blood Leaves" - it's among the best and most intersting bass I've heard on a metal album. Meanwhile, the shared vocals give Murmur a terrific dichotomy of shrieking harsh vocals and nuanced near-whispers.
I have a feeling that Murmur is going to propel Murmur into the forefront of metal fans' collective conciousness; it's simply too great an album not to. Murmur is hardly the first band to blend genres in an exciting way, but very few bands do it so subtly. I wrote earlier that I don't feel describing Murmur as "avant-garde" or "experimental" black metal really does the band justice, and while I stand by that, I honestly can't think of any genre that works better than those two. Every genre convention that Murmur weaves into the eight tracks on Murmur (nine if you count their solid cover of King Crimson's "Lark's Tongues in Aspic, pt. 2") is done so flawlessly that you could categorize the band under that genre and no one should bat an eye. If anything, Murmur is a sterling example of the problems of trying to categorize an album or band into a tidy little sub-genre; it contains too much to do so, and requires far more work than is necessary. Whatever you want to call it, Murmur is the first great metal album of 2014, and a brazen, gigantic leap forward for Murmur. Neither Murmur nor Murmur should be taken lightly; this album is not to be missed. Check out the embedded album below, and head over to Bandcamp to pick it up for yourself.
Special Note: Murmur is confirmed to be the local opening band for Decibel Magazine Tour's Chicago stop April 5th at House of Blues, where they'll be opening up for Carcass, Black Dahlia Murder, Gorguts, and Noisem... in other words, no one you've probably ever heard of. I'll see you there.