With their 2014 debut album The Human Cry, Portland duo Muscle and Marrow established a unique musical identity for themselves. The Human Cry rested comfortably between doom, folk, Goth and ambient music, striking a balance between the four and other styles. Between Kira Clark’s haunting and jaw-dropping vocal chops and her dreary guitar playing, and Keith McGraw’s pulsing drumming and harrowing soundscapes, the band offered something that toed the line between gorgeous melancholia and intense, dark atmospheres. It set itself apart from other “dark music” albums because it didn’t rely on gimmicks and its raw, emotional expressiveness seemed genuine.
With their newest creation, Love, Muscle and Marrow push the boundaries of their sound further than anticipated. The songs on The Human Cry were fairly straightforward, focusing mostly on the dynamics between the guitars and drums. Love, however, incorporates a myriad of electronic elements into its sound, with the guitar being more of an afterthought on most of the tracks. The songs constantly morph in shape and style, always keeping the listener on their toes. If the band was hard to categorize then, it is even harder to categorize them now.
The 34-minute opus begins with “My Fear” – a hypnotic number that revolves around pulsating synths and a repetitious guitar line. Clark meticulously layers and manipulates her siren-like wails, working hand-in-hand with the primal drumming and fluttering instrumentation to create an entrancing effect. “Black Hole” follows shortly after with a wall of reverberating, psychedelic sound. The track conjures layers of shimmering, radiant soundscapes that hover above McGraw’s thunderous drumming and Clark’s simplistic yet driving guitar parts. With some added help from Clark’s volatile vocals, “Black Hole” immediately becomes a standout track on this LP.
The album’s fifth track, “Sacs of Teeth”, is one of the few moments on Love that hark back to the darker moments of The Human Cry. The track slowly builds from moody melodies to earth-shattering, reverb-drenched doom and gloom that is propelled by banshee cries and seismic, propulsive drum patterns. The heaviest track on the record is then followed by the most gorgeous one, “Bereft Body”. This simplistic track revolves around a cycling guitar melody that repeats throughout its duration. Clark scales back her aggressive vocal assaults in favor of more subdued, fluttering and heart-wrenching melodies. The song gradually adds layers of effects and erratic drum sections before ending in a cacophony of white noise. Love ends on a high note with its most powerful composition, “Light”. This six-minute leviathan is another slow-burner, which builds from somber chord progressions to massive, cataclysmic doom. By the end of the track, Clark can be heard repeating “fear my power”, which is something we should all do after bearing witness to this full-length.
Love explores loss, femininity and love in general through experimental tunes that are difficult to pigeonhole in one genre or the other. The pain, the yearning and the hopefulness, however dim it may be, can all be felt in these seven tracks. Anybody could simply write lyrics about these topics, but it takes true artistry to express them through sound and present them in such a unique way. Suffice it to say, this is Muscle and Marrow‘s crowning achievement thus far.
Release Date: May 27, 2016
Label: The Flenser
Favorite Tracks: “Black Hole”, “The Drooling Mouth”, “Bereft Body” and “Light”
For Fans Of: Chelsea Wolfe, Anatomy of Habit, Bloodiest and Wrekmeister Harmonies