Murmur - Murmur

My first encounter with Murmur was in the summer of 2012 when I happened to see them in Chicago as part of a bill topped by Nachtmystium and Krieg. I was impressed enough by their set of kind-of blackened/kind-of sludgy/slightly proggy metal to stop by the merch table and pick up a copy of their debut CD, 2010’s Mainlining the Lugubrious. Much to my disappointment, the opiate-hazy black metal of that disc bore so little resemblance to the band I had seen on stage that night that at first I thought I had bought the wrong album. After a couple of listens, I ended up filing it away and pretty much forgot about Murmur. Even if I hadn’t, though, there’s no guarantee I would have listened to Murmur’s new self-titled album and realized it was the same band; there’s very little on Mainlining (which I listened to again before starting to write this) that could have possibly prepared listeners for the massive—and massively successful—stylistic leap the band makes on Murmur.

The single biggest difference between the two albums is that on Murmur most of the black metal elements in their sound have given way to a full-on prog skronk. The heavy jazz fusion of early King Crimson is probably the most obvious point of comparison, and not just because they cover “Larks’ Tongue in Aspic, Pt. 2” as a bonus track. This is particularly true of Charlie Werber’s drumming, which adds a polyrhythmic complexity to songs like “Bull of Crete” and the stunning “Al-Malik” while also sounding completely organic and not even remotely showy. Werber wasn’t in the band when they recorded Mainlining, so I’m curious as to how much of the change in Murmur’s sound can be attributed to him.

It’s nearly impossible to pick a standout track since the album is so strong from start to finish, and the tracks flow so seamlessly together that Murmur is probably best experienced as a single 50-minute suite of music. If I had to single out one song, though, it would be the aforementioned “Al-Malik.” The longest and most musically adventurous track on the album, it features a Middle Eastern-sounding main theme and electric piano accents sections that call to mind some of Miles Davis’s albums from the 70’s with Chick Corea on the Fender Rhodes. The track segues into another of the album’s high points, the acoustic guitar and keyboard interlude “Recuerdos,” which wouldn’t have sounded the least bit out of place on Pink Floyd’s Meddle.

The most remarkable thing about Murmur as a whole is that it’s dense, complex music that also happens to be very easy to listen to; it's fifty minute running time feels more like fifteen. Because of this, it invites multiple listens and continues to reveal new elements with each successive spin. It also manages to make reference to giants like King Crimson and Miles Davis without ever sounding derivative. Simply put, Murmur is a stellar album and, even though we’re only a few weeks into 2014, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see it near the top of a lot of best-of lists come December.

- Clayton Michaels