The din of our outermost cosmic meeting-pit awaits us with a low Tartarean hum, an inverted sound pulsing through terrestrial portal to the kingdom of the dead. The sustain of each bowel-shaking note intensifies to a roar at the precipice. On the other side the portal snaps shut, the walls of the pit entrap us within the hidden half of the soul’s existence, a slow wandering cursedness. Bound by the wonderment, the flesh-wrenching bite which comes in realization that even in death no grief is forgotten, we audience of bloodless ghosts anxiously weeping in the dark are readied to explore this fourth full-length album from multi-national funeral death/doom metal quartet Mesmur. On the back of the colossus, our seated-yet-shaking glide through the dissonance of the netherworld becomes the phosphorescent radiance of ‘Chthonic‘, a cinematically lumbering feat of classic funeral doom influences and majestic death/doom metal aggression in captivating, utmost meld. Though their signature is upheld in these works they are yet inarguably venturing into a distinct realm, a setting which offers its own set of possibilities as the greater delve of this fine record perpetually reveals in descent.
From their depiction of doomed-by-design existence as a tormented phenomenon of all creation to their scaling up to the chaotic dementia of the cosmos in ceaseless whorl, and back down to apocalyptic terra firma more recently, the last ten years of sullen existential drift from Mesmur accumulates as they proceed to the endless dirge of the netherworld, addressing the final realm with equally vast and imaginative work. This is a funeral doom/death metal project who take to heart the more lush, deathly shades of the sub-genre as bands like Evoken, Lycus and Mournful Congregation had in the sense that they’d presented fuller, fleshier and grand works which addressed death/doom metal’s pacing and occasionally melodic voicing as a path less dictated by minimalist sound design. Their signature lies in a certain ratio of doom-shaped death metal influences, a fraught atmospheric register heightened by celestially set keyboards/organs all arriving in some manner of indulgent dramatic fashion fitting for the funeral doom metal headspace, which has just as much to do with wonderment as it does ominous and/or depressive tonality.
As a longtime fan of Mesmur since their self-titled debut (‘Mesmur‘, 2014) found its way onto my mentions per my Best of 2014 there is some distress felt on my part in realizing how few and far between truly exceptional funeral death/doom metal releases have become in the years since. This’d manifested a cycle of heightened appreciation for their work as the opportunity to revisit their second album (‘S‘, 2017) when I’d reviewed their third (‘Terrene‘, 2019) pinged in mind a more urgent thumbs up, prompting my suggestion that: “There is a tendency to see an artists progression in time as a gathering of ‘lessons learned’ but I’d rather measure the way forward with idiosyncrasies and emboldening musical personality, and that is the greatest thought fueling my vision of ‘Terrene’ as a great success.” It isn’t for the sake of a perceived drought of sub-genre acts that I’d appreciate this band’s work so much as value a singularity of ideal forms in thriving evolution appropriately and, sure, in hindsight to some degree. In this sense I’ve been greatly anticipating ‘Chthonic‘ but well-assured by their prior output that it wouldn’t arrive unless thoroughly considered and worthy of their consistently high standards.
The first thing I’d noticed upon stepping into the lethe here with “Refraction” is that guitarist Jeremy Lewis‘ tone has eased on the crisp of its mids and now burns with more striking layers, losing the baritone guitar “direct from the bridge pickup” feeling that’d given prior records a slightly round percussive touch during their more active sections. This guitar sound rings and writhes better folded into the greater mass of Mesmur with quite a lot of character coming from the warped shapes of its longer held moments of sustain (on “Petroglyph” in particular, though.) But of course that isn’t what they’d intended to spike up in mind to start since this song uses modulated synth in escalating layers to add a bit of a flickering flame to the upward ringing gloom of the piece, building a sea of buzzing souls as vocalist Chris G. (Orphans of Dusk) steps into frame with a distantly spoken proposition. It is very easy for death metallic vocals to ring false, forced in funeral death/doom (and any sort of melodic or gothic death/doom in general) but this fellow has just the right register to match the growl of the guitars and doesn’t indulge in strained excess.
It may very well sound ridiculous to the non-funeral doom metal obsessive but one of the perks of each Mesmur release is that there are readable guitar progressions and melodies which do not interfere with the solemnity of any given piece’s key pacing, if anything these folks excel more than most at building up the tension for each not that hanging on every bit of an eleven minute song feels entirely natural, captivating even. “Refraction” does ultimately feature a lead guitar hook, a melody which first strikes around ~5:22 minutes in (or, roughly halfway) and this October Tide-esque flit is soon met with an equally dark stab at dissonance, each only striking once in the moment. This is a testament to not only the beauteous momentum of the piece and its many-tiered resonances but also to the efficacy of such a subtle hook that it can feel like such a huge part of the piece even when it is the only truly naked point of motif on the song overall. What they’ve done with keyboards/synth on this opening piece sets the tone apart from anything done before, especially to kick off an album, and this bodes well for ‘Chthonic‘ feeling like something new from Mesmur rather than a plainly cumulative hunkering down, which is typical as fourth album phenomenon.
With “Petroglyph” we are past the waking death, away from the night terrors of the first act and for their second major piece Mesmur present the steady reveal of the void’s dissonance, the crest that reveals the view of the world below as the band close out the first half of the record. No doubt if you are a fan of the perfection that is the gloom-toned “clean” guitar sections of 2000’s Evoken (esp. ‘Quietus‘ or ‘Antithesis of Light‘) and the surreal tension it’d create then the introduction to this song offers a bit of that feeling from Mesmur‘s point of view, with pooling synth and slowly folded-in death/doom metal riffs which come to a head around~2:38 minutes in. I’d read this moment as beautifully classic with its distant, grainy string synth in the background braced by choral reveal and plenty of frothing reverb to widen the space for their reveal. I think when I’d been given the chance to premiere the song I must’ve listened to it for about four hours that day, stuck on the cello parts from Brianne Vieira as they served to deepen the tragedian tone of the piece which arrives in more-or-less three acts which are spaced by ringing dissonant chords. There is such a presence earned within that piece that I’d been unsure what glue together this record in three (main) pieces when the first two read as separate but equal threads. Of course the key comes with the descent, the aforementioned downward-facing sojourn atop the back of a crawling giant.
The giant as it were is “Passage” a full ~19 minute piece and the major second half, or, Side B of the experience. This piece speaks to a lot of the same traits introduced on the first two main songs but grants a heightened sensorial state, hitting the heavier death metal parts harder and leaning into the dissonant dragging of others so that the undertow is more deeply felt. It isn’t that we’d not heard movements and notions along these lines on previous Mesmur albums but the spectacle here is that it all comes together in one grand piece which is representative of ‘Chthonic‘ and its gloom-stricken yet surreal atmosphere. In fact without the heavier hits of dissonance applied to a few movements herein I’d almost have begun to argue that this record feels almost more celestially set than ‘S‘ had. “Passage” feels like a hellish limbo, a withering suspension that drags on and on but still delights the senses with so many curious layers applied to every moment. That’d be a key point in setting these folks apart from most funeral death/doom metal groups, each piece is so active that complaints of dragging speed or wide-open unadulterated space don’t factor into their craft.
Funeral doom, even with death/doom metal as a major component, is typically very taxing and patiently suffered music as part of its captivating appeal but I’d argue that in Mesmur‘s hands there is something invigorating that comes of this combination and not only because they’ve lit their underworld with an ocean of dark and out-of-reach synthesizer layers but for their dictation of complete thoughts which are easily read and appreciated in a single setting, they’re nowhere near crossing the line over into all-out death metal at any given point but there is a knack herein for holding ones attention and for worthy narrative moreso than spectacular sonic features. I still stand well behind my suggestion that ‘Chthonic‘ is the best yet work from Mesmur but I’d qualify that with the notion that all of their work meets a similarly high standard of quality and consideration, the major difference here being that the change which does occur within the imaginative graces of this fine record make good on a building legacy of brilliance. A high recommendation.
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