“The first draft of almost everything you produce is shit. And the second draft is usually also shit. But you never wind up with anything worthwhile without producing those early drafts.” A wise supervisor once told me these words, and she was right. Whether a terrified n00b trying to avoid the perils of the AMG Skull Pit, or attempting a complicated academic research paper, the early stages of anything worthwhile are often about finding your identity and your voice. That process can be messy and unglamorous, but it’s how anything great gets made. Murdryck, from Sweden, are currently figuring out who they are. Initially pioneers of a darkly ambient sound, they matured into a black metal outfit before producing 2014’s Antologi MMXV. That one offered a claustrophobic, traditional take on Swedish black metal. It was promising enough that I was delighted their follow-up was available in ye olde promo bin. So here we are with Födelsen, which means “The Birth.” It’s an apt name, because Födelsen is bloody and beautiful but messy. Importantly, though, it hints at something very much in development.
The Burzum-type album art, and furious opener “Vålnad” might lull you into thinking this is going to be a straight-forward, no-frills, black metal affair. It’s true: you won’t find any cute sound effects or synthesizers here. The darkness is overwhelming and complete. It brings to mind the vicious sound of Der Weg einer Freiheit or Wiegedood. Unlike those bands, however, Murdryck doesn’t try to keep that level of violent intensity throughout Födelsen. Core members Skärseld and Gast are more interested in expressing a much broader sonic palette. So in addition to classic raw black metal, you’ll find sparse, frightening, depressive mid-tempo tracks (“Födelsen”), far more melodic numbers (“Sea Spirit of the Night”) and even some surprises like the clean, hard-rocking “Blood Sacrifice,” which channels the band members’ inner AC/DC. Impressively, Murdryck handles most of these different styles with aplomb. The slower numbers, like “Shadow Beings” and “Black Plague Eclipse” in particular, impress with their unrelenting intensity. This variety makes Födelsen a surprising and unpredictable listen, with each track bringing something unique to the mix.
There is a minor downside to all this eclecticism, however. Födelsen occasionally resembles an awkward teenager trying on a bunch of different outfits to figure out which one best suits them. The sheer variety on offer means that the true identity of the album, and Murdryck themselves, can occasionally be hard to discern. This is not a major issue because Födelsen is thematically consistent—an overwhelming sense of despair clearly permeates—but it feels like the band hasn’t quite found its groove just yet.
Vocalist Gast needs to be highlighted. His voice sounds like something dredged from the darkest, coldest Swedish sewer. It’s evil, remorseless and utterly compelling. When you listen to a lot of black metal, the vocals often blur into each other, and truly stand-out performances are rare. This is one of them. The band places the vocals at the front of the mix, and this is wise. While the instrumentation is perfectly competent, Gast’s voice is what distinguishes them from many other similar artists. It is the cold, remorseless heart of Murdryck. The production maintains a good balance between lo-fi and overly-clean, with enough breathing room for the tracks to play out without becoming exhausting.
Födelsen is the sound of a talented band finding its feet and identity. The musicians clearly have a surfeit of ideas, and the musical chops to pull many of them off. For most of the album’s run-time, Murdryck offers a varied and compellingly bleak vision, with considerable highlights. The only thing missing in all the stylistic variations is a solid sense of the band’s own identity. As early drafts go, their first two albums have been very promising. Time will tell if they can be converted to something truly great.