If you somehow managed to miss Murg’s frost-bitten and pretty fucking stunning debut, perhaps holed up in your wintery forest domain wearing corpse paint and living only on food you caught and strangled with your bare hands, I can only recommend cranking up your lunar-powered inter-web machine and ordering yourself a copy. Not only was the cover of Varg & Bjorn (featuring a silhouetted image of a ‘Wolf & Bear’ on it, obviously) something close to pagan black metal perfection but the album itself was a cool blend of chilling melody with an intensity that was very much of the second wave, Darkthrone variety but with its own undeniable black attitude. This anonymous Swedish band’s follow-up Gudatall (‘Godpine’) was also impressive even if it never quite managed to scale the same heights, slipping only because it felt a little bit too much like it was trying to repeat the same trick twice. Hardly a cardinal sin in metal circles, especially if the finished product is worthy, but Varg & Bjorn had set expectations pretty high. What was needed next was a slightly different tack that still held sacred the credibility the band had so successfully distilled in the first two releases.
And so we turn to Strävan (‘striving’ or ‘endeavour’) so see how that might be achieved, and achieve it they do. Murg’s third album has set out to be the doom-laden closer of the trilogy coming as it does at the end of the existence of life. Accordingly, it doesn’t so much howl at the moon with clawed fist raised so much as damn it spitting from the sky pitched in searing white flame. At times deceptively simple, almost casually allowing the pressure in those cold calculating riffs to build while tormenting souls with flickers of light and building melody. This is a world where martial pagan stomps are twisted into new forms. Where addictively sinister winds sweep through now deserted villages, like Kampfar at its best but yet more impenetrable and with a few extra sharp teeth glinting out from the black night. But while all the signposts clearly mark this as pagan, the bear skins and short swords are wrapped laced so tightly into the waves of black sound that it’s not really necessarily recognisable as such anymore. The title track arrives pretty soon in, instantly stealing the show with its gigantic, swirling sound while Renhet or the even darker Korpen are so all consuming that the gaps between the tracks leave you feeling a little bereft.
Murg are undoubtedly aiming for an even more unforgiving black metal sound this time round even if Tre Stenar harks back to the heady days of Varg & Bjorn and that it is sometimes betrayed by its acoustic flirtations. While that means some of the evil, screaming charm and high-octane nuance of the debut feels like it has been put to one side it feels like a darker beast has now been released. More single-minded and focused on producing a truly black art. The final few tracks mix what’s left of Murg’s pagan sound with driving grooves as the band seeks to demonstrate that its latest incarnation has matured to more thunderous and pulsing levels as closer Stjärnan homes into view like the shadow of a giant mountain peak blotting out the sun. Murg may not be reworking the black metal weapon so much as sharpening the blade into a razor sharp form. Excellently done and, three albums in, the band has undoubtedly signed its own signature – probably using the blood of all humanity – into the annals of black metal.
(8/10 Reverend Darkstanley)