Band To Watch: Lamp Of Murmuur

Band To Watch: Lamp Of Murmuur

The first official Lamp Of Murmuur show took place on October 30, 2021, at LA’s First Street Pool & Billiard Parlor. It sold out well in advance. Honestly, it was probably oversold, as black metal fans stood shoulder to shoulder alongside awkwardly placed pool tables, unable to move an inch, even as seemingly half the people in attendance were in the venue’s backyard merch area. I remember thinking this, surely, was how I would finally get COVID. (I didn’t.)

Lamp Of Murmuur played a set of songs taken from a trio of early demos, ignoring their two acclaimed full-lengths, Heir Of Ecliptical Romanticism and Submission And Slavery. It can be difficult to tell if internet hype will translate to the real world, but here was a fully anonymous black metal project whose music wasn’t even on streaming services, selling out a show the night before Halloween in Los Angeles, playing material from their pre-LP demos to rapturous response. The hype was very real indeed.

“It was actually pretty weird, because I’ve had several black metal projects in the past, and they never experienced this level of attention,” Lamp Of Murmuur’s sole member, M., says. “All of a sudden, finding this much attention, at first it was a little awkward. But then I just lived with it. It’s not something that I aimed for, you know? It was never the main goal for Lamp Of Murmuur to become a popular black metal project.”

M.’s humility is genuine. Set for release this Sunday, his new LP, Saturnian Bloodstorm, arrives as one of the most feverishly anticipated black metal albums in recent memory. But when he started Lamp Of Murmuur in 2019, nobody cared — just as he had expected. The 100 copies he pressed of Thunder Vigil And Ecstasy, his first demo tape, took months to sell. (You can get a copy on Discogs today for $70.) Within two years, M.’s world turned on its head. Entire pressings were getting snatched up in minutes. Every show he announced sold out. He played the 2022 edition of Roadburn, Europe’s premier festival for forward-thinking heavy music, and 3,000 people packed the room.

“It was a little bit overwhelming,” he says of the Roadburn experience. “And we were playing Submission And Slavery, which is my most vulnerable album of all of them. It was a weird experience, but in the end, it felt like a very empowering experience as well. It was amazing to be able to perform these extremely tricky and personal songs in front of this many people and coming out feeling victorious.”

The vulnerability M. refers to is self-evident when you listen to Submission And Slavery and much of Lamp Of Murmuur’s earlier work. His process makes it even more intense and intimate. M. likes to refer to himself as a vessel or a receiver for this music. Ideas arrive from somewhere unknown, and he obeys them.

“I think it’s something that’s completely random in its nature,” he says. “I receive the music in the most awkward scenarios. I’m walking down the street, and all of a sudden, I do not only receive a single riff or something, but I receive a whole song structure. Then, I have to rush back to my studio and try to channel that stuff as immediately as possible to maintain this urgent nature. I try to keep first takes of everything. I try to keep the improvisations as raw and natural as possible and exactly as I’ve received them.”

On the first two Lamp Of Murmuur albums, the songs that M. was receiving infused his raw black metal with classic goth, deathrock, and post-punk. The album art for Submission And Slavery nodded to the Sisters Of Mercy’s Floodland, and he covered Dead Can Dance and Christian Death. Twinkling lead guitar à la the Cure pierced a thick haze of black metal riffage and pummeling drums. (“I think it had to do with a moment in my life, where I was more attached to those genres as a whole, and it ended up leaking into the music itself,” M. says.) He had arrived at a signature sound.

Of course, because of the nature of M.’s process, no one signature sound can last for long. Saturnian Bloodstorm has almost none of the goth trappings of its predecessors, trading them for the swaggering arrogance of classic heavy metal. The decision to change sounds wasn’t entirely conscious; M. says nothing he does with Lamp Of Murmuur is. But it echoes a deliberate change in M.’s attitude toward his own life.

“I wanted to leave behind this frailty of the first two albums,” M. says. “That was linked to several conditions, illnesses, and disease that, unfortunately, I’m still going through and I’m trying to fix. But the new album, on the other side, it’s an attempt to gain control over those things. This pain, these illnesses that have been plaguing my life for the last couple years. It’s a big ‘fuck you’ to this anger and frustration. Before, it was showcased with this melancholic sound. Now, it’s arrogance. It’s might, power. I’m going to go through this and I’m going to find myself in a better place. That’s basically the whole ethos behind Saturnian Bloodstorm, is this search for inner might, inner control. A new path opening.”

The opening of that path sounds truly awesome, in the dictionary-definition sense of the word: Saturnian Bloodstorm inspires genuine awe. M. does more than leave the frailty of his previous albums behind. He transcends the shackles of flesh entirely, drawing instead from the primordial well of heavy metal power first tapped by Black Sabbath and visited in subsequent years by Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, and Dio. Crucially, it incorporates that classic heavy metal influence without abandoning the vicious black metal that lives at the core of the Lamp Of Murmuur sound.

“[The classic heavy metal bands] have this epic feeling to them, this optimistic feeling that I feel somehow is a little bit contrarian to what black metal is, sometimes,” M. says. “But I feel that it isn’t exactly a dichotomy. There is a very subtle path that links both worlds, and I was aiming [for] that. I was aiming [for] these epic songs, like Iron Maiden, these long songs with tales of might, of discovery. And that’s exactly what Saturnian Bloodstorm aims to be. It tries to be an epic statement of my own existence.”

Anyone who fell in love with heavy metal as a kid knows it can make you feel strong when you’re weak, big when you’re small, vigorous when you’re ill. That defiant power connects strongly to the foundational principles of Lamp Of Murmuur, even if it feels like a curveball at first.

“I had a lot of issues communicating when I was younger, and somehow in heavy metal I found a language of my own,” M. says. “I have been playing guitar since I was very young, and somehow, that gave me the tools to connect with other people. It was an empowering tool back then, and I feel it’s an empowering tool right now, as well.”

The band that Saturnian Bloodstorm most closely resembles is Immortal, the Norwegian trio who began incorporating triumphant heavy metal and Motörheadian hard rock into their icy black metal sound several albums into their storied career. M. wrote “In Communion With The Wintermoon” in direct homage to Immortal, and it’s not hard to hear the influence of their classic At The Heart Of Winter throughout much of the rest of the record. One way M. tried to capture Immortal’s spirit was in the production, which is neither as raw as any of his previous recordings nor particularly hi-fi.

“I think it is more akin to the early 2000s black metal albums, where more resources were made available to bands, but only the big budget bands were able to afford all these engineers and big studios,” M. says. “But then, you had this group of bands that were in-between. They were rough around the edges, but still were trying to sound huge and hi-fi, [and they] ended up with weird experiments that are not lo-fi, are not hi-fi. I wanted to thread that path as well.”

That medium-fi approach makes Saturnian Bloodstorm approachable enough for black metal agnostics to dive in but gritty enough for the trve kvlt warriors to stick around. (Most of them, anyway: Successful black metal bands tend to rile up the world’s worst gatekeepers. Those dorks jumped ship the second M. broke even on a release.) It seems likely that Saturnian Bloodstorm will push Lamp Of Murmuur to a new level of visibility and popularity, even further from the project’s deeply personal beginnings. M. is still figuring out how to navigate that.

“I think it’s still important for me to keep the anonymous thing, because it’s not about me as a person, but it’s about this spiritual process I’m going through that I’m sharing with the world right now,” M. says. “That’s what Lamp Of Murmuur is. It’s this constant exploration that I’m going through. [But] if there’s more people that are resonating with it, I’m cool getting closer to [them] to shed some light about my own process, so it may help people figure out stuff that’s going on with themselves.”

At the same time, Lamp Of Murmuur is still intensely individualistic, and it still serves a practical function for M. It’s a means of spiritual self-discovery for him as much as it is a black metal band. He intends to continue to use the music to help him figure out his place, both in his body and in the universe.

“The shape of everything that I perceive, and the energies, are shifting constantly,” he says. “Saturnian Bloodstorm is another step – and I don’t know if it’s the right one – in trying to unveil all these weird spiritual experiences I’ve been having for several years now, even before I started playing black metal.”

Saturnian Bloodstorm is out 3/26.

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