C.B. Murdoc‘s claim to fame, as anyone who has heard of them will tell you, is that Tomas Haake called them cool once. And they’re cool in a groovy, idiosyncratic way, as telegraphed by their grungy ’50s bop album artwork both here and on their Spinefarm-released debut, The Green. But cool doesn’t get you very far with a guy who cares not for Deafheaven and ignored the mirrored-aviators-wearing shenanigans of the last Shining album. Kronos may not be cool, but he is more brutal than you, and Here Be Dragons is just about brutal enough for him.
It’s hard to say exactly what Here Be Dragons is, and the opener “Debt of Guilt” doesn’t help place the band. Striking an unlikely juxtaposition between Isis and Amorphis1, it most resembles a deep-fried Meshuggah album closer with wistful, almost spoken lyrics and does a damn fine job throwing you off the trail for the rest of the album. Upon its cessation “Brood and Roaring Fires” stampedes off immediately, with heavily distorted but – gasp – unabashedly major-key riffing, playing off a ton of tapping with major groove. While it’s a bit disorienting at first, “Brood and Roaring Fires” turns out to be a pretty killer song suffused with a subtle progressiveness, one that’s ever-present in Here Be Dragons.
“The Green” and “Diamonds” keep things moving through the middle of the album with simple but interesting arpeggiated leads that serve as a sort of reductionist form of melody. They produce some harmonic interest over riffs that are often built of low-end chugging and tight snare and tom accents, but never become comfortable. “Diamonds” ends with the lead falling apart over an improvised accompaniment that recalls Meshuggah‘s “Elastic.” The very-not-brutally-titled “Everything is Going to be Okay”2 follows with an even more Chaosphere-esque riff that sounds like a V8 failing to turn over on an icy Swedish morning, and “Dither” continues the clever strangeness with its titular use of downsampled-to-shit electronic tones.
The biggest weaknesses of Here Be Dragons turn out to be synonymous with its greatest strengths. It’s a weird album, for sure, but it’s weird in a weird way, and unless you pay close attention to it, that weirdness can come off as a lack of finesse or good ideas – which it certainly is not wanting for. The performances on this album are subtly skillful, especially Carl-Gustaf Bäckström’s drumming, which pairs the grooviness of Haake with a hint of energy from Converge‘s Ben Koller. Like the rest of the album, it’s not flashy, but its subtle technicality becomes more and more obvious as the album goes on, ending in the feedback-and-noise-overlaid drum solo of “11.”
This is an album very focused on exploring and expanding on the sound that C.B. Murdoc tried out with some success in The Green, a sort of progressive metal that’s not like other progressive metal. It’s something of an anachronism, hearkening back to just before Djent really took off and bands like Car Bomb and The Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza were making irreverent tech metal with thick distortion and few rules. Both The Green and Here Be Dragons slide C.B. Murdoc into the interesting but largely unexplored style – though it’s a style not without other modern practitioners, as Fronteirer‘s Orange Mathematics from last year demonstrates. And to the end of exploration, Here Be Dragons proves both effective, and of course, aptly titled.