The lines are so blurred now. To a large extent, gone are the days when you could look at the geographical location of a band and know exactly what they had in store for you. Simply put, Norway catering to the serious side, Sweden supplying melodic metal caked in corpse paint, America brought the shoegazy neo-folk tree hugger out of hiding and France delivered the unexpected. Nobody made the death of this old order clearer to me than an obscure band operating out of the rural mining areas of Bergslagen, Sweden going under the chic moniker of Murg. Despite technological advances, trying to find info on the duo proved damned near impossible. Save to say they have a sound reminiscent of the early to mid 90s that’ll have you flipping through your dusty collection of oldtimey Gorgoroth and Enslaved vinyl and maybe even spinning some long forgotten Leviathan. I can’t say I had any real expectations for Varg & Bjorn, but Murg offered me a harrowing and contemptuous blackened journey and thus they got my attention.
In line with their concept of man’s failure to live in harmony with earth and nature playing the role of punisher and executioner, “Vindarna luktar rök” has you wondering whether the band members left their mic in the soupy remains of a dead body, recording the chomping and decomposition as nature takes its course. It’s a vile and grisly precursor for what will ultimately lead into the mix of Pentagram era Gorgoroth, The Tenth Sub Level Of Suicide and Tentacles Of Whorror days of Leviathan and a smattering of epic Marduk melody swooping in at the tail end of “Vindarna luktar rök,” continuing through into “Nejderna brinner” and beyond.
In addition to more Gorgoroth and Leviathan worship, the rest the album continues with the brooding yet pretty guitar soloing of Ulver or Frost era Enslaved, their familiarity punching its way out of the chaos of “Nejderna brinner,” “Farsoternas afton” and “Ett slut, ingen början.” Moments of Taake‘s Noregs Vaapen quirk materialize with smoke and mirror subtlety in “Grannen är din fiende” and “Den starkes rätt” and they borrow Windir‘s folkiness as the backbone of “Massvandring & blodbad.” All of these streams are tightly brought together by vocal stylings akin to those of Wrest (Leviathan). I have no idea who voices these enveloping, cold blackened rasps and whispers nor can I understand much of what’s croaked out, but no matter, they hit their mark nonetheless. Being that this is Murg‘s first release and the large majority of Varg & Björn is a grab bag of metal greats, it’s tough to gauge the band’s uniqueness and what makes them Murg or whether their next release will see them heading down the road to staledom. Time will tell.
The biggest surprise, and I guess disappointment is the right term, with Varg & Björn is the production. It starts off strong, walking that very fine line between sounding new and modern and having an element of gritty warmth that gives it some authenticity. What Murg failed to do though was to shy away from crushed dynamics. Unfortunately Varg & Björn hovers dangerously close to this big black precipice and tracks like “Nejderna brinner,” “Farsoternas afton” and “Ett slut, ingen början” suffer for it. Thankfully the album is short, and barring the 8-minute opus tacked on the end (which would have sufficed at being a 6-minute semi-opus) the album hits like a furiously short sharp shock to the system.
“Do you remember the days of old? If not, then Murg will definitely MAKE you remember!” – that’s Murg‘s tag line. Does Varg & Björn live up to that statement and is it worth the expense? The short answer is yes. The long answer is that Murg have stepped beyond their Swedish stereotypes and predictability by marrying a blend of great Norwegian and American black metal traits, delivering an album that’s got the familiarity of home with just the right amount of sure-fire fun.
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Nordvis Produktion
Websites: Shuns Internet Presence!
Release Dates: Out Worldwide: 03.30.2015