Musk Ox – Inheritance Review

We talk a lot here about stagnation, of bands and of styles. Metal is full of self-referential subgenres: OSDM, rethrash, endless Nightwish wannabes, prog bands that don’t progress. The problem isn’t so much the adoption of an existing style as it is blindly aping genre tropes in the absence of good writing. There are plenty of great bands in all these subgenres. Musk Ox are three guys with acoustic string instruments playing folk music: not exactly a new idea. But their pedigree as composers and musicians is impeccable. Musk Ox‘s previous album, 2014’s Woodfall, was great. Cellist Raphael Weinroth-Browne’s solo record Worlds Within was one of my favorites last year, while guitarist Nathanael Larochette and violinist Evan Runge play in The Night Watch and released the excellent An Embarrassment of Riches the year before. Fortunately, Inheritance fully lives up to all this promise.

Musk Ox play a gorgeous, evocative, contemplative instrumental chamber folk music. Never hurried, Inheritance picks up themes and melodies, explores variations, flows into new ones, and circles around to re-reference them again. At times wistful, at times insistent, the three instruments balance and play off each other, sometimes sharing melodies, sometimes in counterpoint. The band’s metal cred is briefly on show, with furious martelé bowing producing percussive, djenty basslines (“Inheritance (Part 2)”), or a beefy chug referencing distorted power chords (“Ritual”). But this is not a metal record by any means. These moments are brief and over-emphasizing them would be an injustice to the beauty of the rest of the album. In a sense the 25-minute two-part title track is building up to its thunderous crescendo, but the ebb and flow of the build-up is masterfully executed and here the journey really is the reward.

Inheritance is not a domineering listen. If you put it on in the background, it’ll happily remain there being vaguely pretty. It rewards attention. Many of the things that make it such a satisfying experience reveal themselves with close listening: the callbacks and variations as each piece develops, subtleties of the instrumental interplay, or just how insidiously catchy the whole thing is. On my first listen, I was working and I liked the record. On my second, I was on a quiet drive through a cloudy Oxfordshire1 and I loved it. If it has a weakness, it’s that it lives so much in the explorations of the longer tracks. The shorter ones (“Memoriam” and “Weightless”) are just as pretty and bring highlights of their own (e.g. the whimsical theme in the second half of “Memoriam”), but they’re more constrained.

Every musician here is an integral part and a great performer. Both Weinroth-Browne and Runge are distinctive and their playing styles are immediately recognizable to fans of their other work. Larochette’s guitar is subtler but provides the framework the other instruments work from. There’s a maturity and confidence to the composition notable in comparison to Woodfall: the intervening years have clearly been well spent. The production is great as well, as it must for a record like this to work. Dynamic and airy, all three instruments are given space to shine.

There’s a sense of nervousness that comes with listening to—and reviewing—a new record following so many successes. I needn’t have worried. Musk Ox rise admirably to their own challenge. I’ve hardly stopped listening to Inheritance since I got it a month ago, and when I do its themes and variations wander through my head unbidden. Beautiful, confident and rewarding, Inheritance is a quiet triumph.


Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 10 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Self-Release
Websites: muskoxofficial.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/MuskOxOfficial
Releases Worldwide: July 9th, 2021

Show 1 footnote

  1. Musk Oxfordshire? Eh?
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