REVIEW: MESMUR – “S”
Of all genres of music, metal may well have the most sub genres; even sub genres of sub genres, for that matter. At times it can seem a bit absurd. A point of pride for much of metal is its inaccessibility, often delighting in forcing a listener to go through an album or genre repeatedly in order to “get it.” And of all these genres one of the least accessible is funeral doom, perfect for when regular doom just isn’t sad or depressing enough. With its lengthy songs, glacial speed, and overall mood, it’s a sub genre that even many metal fans are turned off by. However it’s also a highly atmospheric and often quite beautiful and immersive genre as well. Into this field of sorrow comes Mesmur and their upcoming album ‘S’ and it’s an album that funeral doom fans really should hear.
Drawing inspiration from Evoken to Ahab and even Neurosis, they have created a highly atmospheric and often inspired piece of funeral doom. The members hail from two different states and three countries; none of Mesmur’s members have met one another but still have formed a very unified sound. Led by guitarist/keyboardist/lyricist/primary composer Jeremy L, and grounded by the deep growls of Chris G, they eschew the usual topics of the genre: Death, sorrow, despair etc.; and instead focus on the vast emptiness of space and the abyss. This cosmic approach has a very H.P. Lovecraft mood about it, though direct mentions are absent.
The first track is “Singularity” and starts with slow, heavy riffing and the steady, solid drumming of John D. The growls come in after about a minute and, while deep, have a distant almost hollow sound to them, like they were coming from inside a cave or the depths of a black hole. Just after the 2:30 mark, the guitar playing picks up speed and the lead floats on top of the riffing. It’s a fairly simple melody, but the effect is striking and works remarkably well moving the song forward. As most funeral doom songs, the track is long, clocking just over 15 minutes, but the keyboard use keeps it from ever seeming as slow moving as it could, and it is never overused, simply sprinkled throughout to add to the mood. The track ends in a slow atmospheric manner, the last minute or so descending into dark ambient territory, including what sounds almost like a field recording of insects. I appreciate the effect and slow dwindling of sounds; ambient music does not work for everybody, but I have a hard time imagining the song without it.
This is followed by “Exile” which begins in a very different fashion. The first sounds are a slow drum and organ-like key work, before adding some clean picking of the guitar. It is very melodic and sounds in some ways like an outro rather than an intro to a song, which is a quite effective way to go against the listener’s expectations. The vocals don’t kick in until several minutes into the song. But continuing to go against the grain, the vocal addition does not mean an increase in heaviness or volume. Instead the motif repeats, with the vocals being more an addition to the music, rather than the focus. It’s not until you’re 10 minutes into the track before things start to really change, and the tempo picks up. Granted it is still slow by most other standards, but fast tempo and funeral doom do not always go together. The increase of speed and heaviness, however, adds a sense of urgency to the music and makes the journey through empty space described in the lyrics all the more harrowing.
The third and longest track (at over 16 minutes) is “Distention” and the transition from “Exile” to it is smooth enough that I wasn’t sure where one stopped and the other began the first couple times I listened through the album. After half a minute of ambient sounds a lone guitar is heard playing single, warbled notes before the eventual addition of minimal drumming. The effect is rather eerie and unsettling as it is not rushed, but repeated, slowly building a tension before the heavier sounds envelope it. The bass of Michele M is a bit more apparent on this track. As is often the case with this genre, the bass blends in a great deal, but the more open nature of the music allows it to be heard more clearly. Despite its running time, the track moves organically in the now well established style that Mesmur has developed over the preceding 40 minutes. As for much of the album, the atmosphere and tone seems more important that crushing heaviness, which is something I prefer. Plenty of bands go for extreme heaviness, and the album is certainly very heavy, but the atmosphere created adds to the emotional effect of the songs and that added time and dimension elevates the album higher than most.
The final track is the instrumental “S = k ln Ω.” I haven’t the foggiest notion what the title means, but that detracts nothing from it. It begins with more of the dark ambient key work and distorted sounds that add so much to the overall mood, and feel of the album, and its general theme of a cold, indifferent, chaotic universe which surrounds us. The shortest song at under 7 minutes, it is mostly all ambient music with drums, and some distorted guitar added flavor to the sound rather than dominating it. Your enjoyment or opinion of the necessity of the track will undoubtedly have to do with how much you enjoy such things. As I’ve said, I think it’s an important element to what the band is doing and the theme and approach of the album.
With ‘S’, Mesmur have crafted a dark, often beautiful vision of a dying star in a less than traditional funeral doom style. The album is as slow and heavy as a glacier, but also often melodic, and the atmosphere creates a palatable feeling of cosmic isolation. It has been said that if you look long into the abyss the abyss will look back. ‘S’ is the sound of the abyss looking back. Highly recommended.