Black metal has been atomized beyond the point of recognition, perhaps even beyond the possibility of recognition. Perhaps it has always been this way. Perhaps, in fact, “black metal” exists only in the negative: an oppressive caricature inherently absent any actual characteristics, whose sole stable element is internecine discord. Even before there could be some meaningful consensus declaring what black metal was, there was obstinate contradistinction decrying what black metal wasn’t. The music scattered and stratified, mutating like a virus, spreading indiscriminately everywhere. The consensus never came.
So it’s easy to forget what this shit is supposed to sound like, especially if you were never entirely clear on that in the first place. The truth is, there’s no absolute ideal, objective or Platonic. Yet still, somehow, there is a there there. And if you were to cut through all the layers, to discard all the derivatives, to dig down to the core in search of an almost-pure experience of the hard stuff’s basic bracing essence, you would find no single bite stronger than the music made by Swedish duo Murg. This is what this shit is supposed to sound like.
Some background: Murg were included on our list of 2015’s Best New Bands, in which space I wrote the following:
The anonymous Swedish black metal duo Murg dropped out of nowhere earlier this year to release a debut album, Varg & Björn (“Wolf & Bear”), that instantly felt like a classic: not just because it was (and is) so goddamn great, but because it deals in a very traditional style spawned decades ago by the likes of Gorgoroth, Taake, and Immortal. Like those bands, Murg blend violent chaos with insanely high-impact hooks, creating an effect in the listener that mirrors a dangerous dose of pure adrenaline. There are lots of bands who fashion fine careers out of little more than replicating the music of their primary influences, but on Varg & Björn, Murg have done something extraordinary: They’ve limited their palette to a single color — raven black — and have somehow come up with something worthy of their progenitors, something that makes those old sounds feel urgent, essential, even new.
The very next year, Murg’s sophomore LP, Gudatall (“Godpine”), landed at #15 on our list of 2016’s Best Metal Albums, for which Wyatt Marshall did the honors:
Varg & Bjorn was the kind of debut that would be tough for any band to follow up on a sophomore album or, really, at any point down the line. [Yet here] somehow, lightning’s struck twice … As subgenres continue to sprout from the 20-year-old (but still-fertile) ground of second-wave black metal, Gudatall, with its stomping aplomb, is as close to perfect as we come to a pure black-metal album in 2016.
Then, just as quickly as Murg had appeared, they vanished. One year passed. And then another. And then, then turned into now. And now, Murg have returned, bearing the details of Gudatall’s sequel, along with a taste.
The third Murg album is titled Strävan (“Striving”), and it will arrive in full in April, preceded today by lead single “Renhet.” If you didn’t know all that time had elapsed, you’d never notice a trace of its passing in this music. (If you didn’t know this music was new now, you’d have a hard time guessing its decade of origin.) Strävan is a true sequel to Gudatall, just as Gudatall was a sequel to Varg & Bjorn. It’s the final piece of a triptych. As the band tells it:
Here in this final chapter, humankind as we know it with all our flaws and perversions no longer exists: a new form is created, a perfect beast born to sacrifice itself to end the entire universe. Strävan is the long audial march to the altar of cosmic destruction.
Look past the mysticism, mythology, and theatrics, and you can find some truth in that statement: Murg are indeed a “perfect beast,” and if Strävan is “the long audial march” to their chosen altar of auto-annihilation, they’re making a perfect exit, and leaving behind a perfect legacy. Listen to “Renhet” and you will hear perfect black metal. Let those gnarly riffs rip till the track hits that transition right around the 2:30 mark, and from there till the end, let the music carry you. It will. You will feel that motherfucker inside your body — your muscle and marrow — and it feels amazing. And Murg make it sound so simple, but we’ve got a seemingly infinite library of evidence proving otherwise. This thing that Murg are doing is not simple; it’s unvarnished, raw, absolute, archetypal, quintessential. This is what black metal is supposed to sound like. But man, lemme tell you, black metal never sounds like this.
Strävan is out 4/26 via Nordvis. Pre-order it here.