With the AMG promo bin positively bulging under the sheer weight of obscure one-man black metal projects nowadays, whenever I’m tasked with reviewing the work of an unfamiliar BM outfit, I’ve almost begun taking it as a given that it’s going to be a solo affair. When Gudatall—the latest effort from mysterious Swedish black metallers Murg—landed in my inbox, I almost choked on my caviar when I cued up a promo photo and found there to be not just one individual behind the name, but two. A black metal band with multiple members! Whatever next, pigs flying? Hell freezing over? Slayer finally admitting they’ve been living off past glories for the last two decades and actually releasing something worth listening to? The world’s gone mad, I tell you.
Hailing from the Bergslagen district of central Sweden, Murg use the medium of black metal through which to evoke sensations of loneliness and mankind’s ultimate insignificance in the shadow of Mother Nature. While Gudatall is their second studio album—the follow-up to 2015’s impressive Varg & Björn—they are a band who prefer to keep to the shadows, and attempting to find definitive information on them is like trying to track down the Holy Grail. With very little in the way of background details to go on, therefore, I was initially unsure of what to expect from Gudatall. Fortunately, it all turned out rather well in the end.
The album opens with a dark, brooding introduction before launching into a wall of distinctly traditional-sounding black metal that couldn’t scream Gorgoroth any louder if Infernus himself crawled out of the speakers and beat the listener to death with his guitar. Much of the record really does feel like a nod to their storied Norwegian cousins; tracks such as “Sorgeblot i gångarna” and “Midnattsmässan” would sound right at home alongside anything from the Pentagram or Antichrist eras, and this gives the record a pleasingly vintage feel. The band also have a knack for crafting simple but satisfyingly pensive guitar refrains, and in a genre in which it’s laughably easy to write boring, unimaginative music, in this regard, Murg manage to stand out from the crowd in style.
Murg aren’t a church burning, Satan worshipping kind of black metal band, instead preferring to take on a more atmospheric approach to the genre. As their abundant Gorgoroth-like qualities would suggest, however, they clearly do derive considerable inspiration from their more overtly blasphemous brethren. While Gudatall certainly does have its calmer, more reflective moments, the record doesn’t really focus on building up enormous soundscapes, as has become typical of many other bands saddled with the “atmospheric” prefix in their genre description. Instead, electing to keep things loud and aggressive, it feels much like a traditional black metal record, but with an added depth to its character that gives it a distinctive and unique feel.
At no point does Gudatall ever feel stale or repetitive, however one minor weakness it does have is the manner in which some of the slower songs, such as “Mästarens resa i mörkret” and the snappy-titled “Djupt ner, där frosten inte biter,” don’t have quite the same kind of gravitas as their slicker, faster counterparts. Now that certainly isn’t to say they’re bad—far from it—but they lack some of the more traditional energy of the rest of the album. Fortunately, the production has enough depth and vibrancy to inject life into the less pacey material, and this goes a considerable way to keeping the record sounding fresh and engaging throughout.
Murg are an enigmatic duo. Not knowing who the band members are or what they’re really about can sometimes be a bit of a nightmare for a reviewer, as it’s difficult to provide a great deal of context and background for the readership. What it also does, however, is free the record up from predilections and biases, providing a blank canvas upon which the music can be allowed to paint its own picture. Gudatall thrives off this approach. It’s a well-balanced and enjoyable album—one that is raw enough to please the corpsepaint contingent but manages to retain enough measure and intricacy to avoid falling into the trap of oversimplification. With enough to enjoy for both traditional black metal fans and their arty-farty atmospheric counterparts alike, Gudatall really is well worth getting acquainted with.