You and everyone else you know will eventually die. This inherent fact of life is the motivation for much distraction, including art. An obsession or anxiety over our own demise can render life unlivable. Whatever the listener’s relationship with death and the body, Muscle and Marrow invite all to face anxiety and dread with their sophomore album, Love, released May 27th on The Flesner.
Before an in-depth textual analysis, one should address the album purely as a piece of music. It is a cohesive, uncomfortable, and difficult listen. Music writers are having a tough go of it, thrashing about with adjectives like metal, industrial, doom, drone, or unhelpful word-salad concoctions in attempt to capture the sound. There is hefty use of a cacophonous buzzing added to the background to put listeners on edge (industrial?), and the tempo is a constant, steady dredge (doom?). Many of the drum compositions are either linear or quasilinear, with standard rock beats nowhere to be found, replaced with sparsely placed crashes, tom, snare and bass hits delivered with gravitas. Imagine music that one would use to introduce a new listener to heavy music. Now imagine an approximate opposite. This is music to get lost in, but more because of a fundamental disorientation, not foggy euphoria.
The success of the album textually, is not debatable. Kira Clark’s dark vocals and somber delivery in combination with the ethereal musical compositions outline a philosophy that’s as coherent as many narrative existential sketches. That philosophy is centered around death, the termination of the physical body, and the loss of self and consciousness. There is no metaphysical salvation here. In one song, Clark observes “We are sacs of teeth… we are sacs of blood…we are sacs of bone…” The body and its parts feature heavily throughout the lyrics. Every song has reference to either the body as a whole or specific parts. However, the traditional “metal” value of violence is shunned. Clark doesn’t sing of the blood of enemies spilled in glory, but her own blood which will one day stop flowing. After the song begins with death and anxiety, “My Fear” ends with a powerful self affirmation: “No one needs to love me…Earth itself will hold me.” “Bereft Body” is a touching remembrance for Clark’s grandmother. “Light,” probably the strongest and most traditionally heavy song on the album, ends with a witchy incantation, “Fear my power.”
Love seems to defy categorization, and while it may be a difficult listen for the faint-of-heart, true fans of dark music will appreciate it as one of the most cohesive and successful works of art this year.
See Them Live: Catch Muscle and Marrow at the Doug Fir Lounge on July 5th for their unofficial release celebration for Love, along with Marissa Nadler and Wrekmeister Harmonies.