Written by Kirk
Mesmur – Chthonic
> Funeral doom
> International (US/Italy/Australia)
> Released April 14
> Solitude Productions / Aesthetic Death
It’s fascinating to me the range of riffs that exist within the microcosm we generally refer to as “heavy metal.” They come in styles such as—but not limited to—traditional, thrash, speed, stoner, doom, death, and black, and then these categories have their own separate sub-categories with their own distinct style of riffs. With so much innovation and creativity, it’s what keeps the global metal scene as vibrant as it’s ever been.
If you’ve read some of my reviews, you probably already know I’m a big stoner and doom guy. Something about those slow, heavy riffs that threaten to shake the soul from your very body and turn your bones into jelly hits some kind of sweet spot in my brain. I don’t know what that’s called, I just know I like it. The slower and heavier they are, the more I like ‘em; give me that Windhand and Behold! The Monolith level of intensity, and I’m a happy camper. But if that’s not slow enough for you, you can always go slower. And you can’t get much slower than funeral doom.
Funeral doom is, roughy speaking, what happens when you give a death-doom band the A Clockwork Orange treatment and force them to listen to hours upon hours of Pink Floyd without any breaks: the song structure gets pulled like salt water taffy and layered with atmospheric elements like keyboards and synthesizers to create an almost dreamlike atmosphere. Hard to say if Richard Wright would be proud or appalled by this, but his influences can be heard all over the new Mesmur album, Chthonic. The album opens with the brief two-minute instrumental intro, “Chthonic (Prelude)”, that is driven largely by a slow, melancholic guitar riff over a looming, ominous drum beat, cymbals crashing like distant thunder and soft, rich textures provided by guest organist Kostas Panagiotou of Pantheïst. It’s not until around 1:30 that Jeremy Lewis’ synthesizers really come into play, like a cool breeze teasing the hairs on the back of your neck.
But things really begin to open up with “Refractions,” Lewis’ guitar riffs largely taking a backseat to his synth work. As the song progresses, they weave in and out of each other, creating a nightmarish psychedelic hellscape filled with otherworldly monsters too terrifying to imagine. Vocalist Chris G.’s anguished gutturals rasp and growl fleetingly, matching the dirge-like trudge of the song, coming in going in waves like icy black waters crashing upon a barren shore. Here there be monsters!
“Sightless visions / Clinging hands / Moonlit fear / Refracted glow / An inversion of light / Unbound by time”
So if you’re not up to speed on your Greek, you might not know the album title, Chthonic, relates to the “underworld” in that language. The word gets thrown around a lot in the world of heavy metal, and it’s a pretty safe bet you’ve heard or seen it somewhere before, but you may not know its meaning. If “Refraction” is the beginning of the album’s exploration of the spirit world, then “Petroglyph” is the heart of our journey. We find ourselves deep in a world of endless, undying horror:
“Approaching walls of indifferent stone / Come to life with images / A collage of shared dreams / Lost artifacts of memory / A living petroglyph / Carved by centuries / Persistence of vision, ignis fatuus / The misshapen consciousness of ghosts”
Joining Mesmur on cello is Brianne Vieira, adding a new and eerie layer to our night terror already in progress. Normally, I would say these elements wouldn’t work together, yet Mesmur thread them perfectly into this tapestry of sonic fear and anxiety. The vibe of this song is outstanding.
As our journey into the nightmarish underworld approaches its climax, “Passage” asks that which cannot be answered: “…why are we here?”. Once again, Mesmur is joined by Brianne Vieira (this time on viola) for easily the most haunting song thus far. We have reached the end of our journey, the dwelling place of ageless horrors lost to time and memory.
“Ever present is the void / An eternity unknown / At the crossroads betwixt life and death / Lurking on the fringe of insanity / A formless demonic presence / Exudes from the earth / Suffocating all that remains / Endless misery / Mourning the dead, among the dead / Yet we remain”
Lurking beneath the surface, living in the space between the dreams, are horrors beyond our comprehension. They lie in wait, ready for a chance to escape their prison and once again return to the world that has forgotten about them. Indeed, here there be monsters.
Closing out the album is another instrumental track, “Chthonic (Coda)”, and Mesmur is once again joined by Kostas Panagiotou on organ. This is a continuation of the opening track and perfectly bookends this record. Kostas’ organ and Jeremy Lewis‘ synths weave together beautifully, accented rather tastefully with minimal accompaniment from John D.’s cymbals and Jeremy’s guitar. If this one doesn’t hit you directly in the feels, chances are you’re dead inside.
THE BOTTOM LINE
I love how diverse heavy metal is. It can borrow so many disparate elements from so many different genres and make them work. I’m still relatively new to funeral doom, but what Mesmur have created with Chthonic is more than just an album. It’s an experience. A journey. It’s something that you can’t just listen to, you have to actively participate in it. And that’s what makes this a truly immersive record. It may not be your “thing,” but there are some albums that transcend their respective genres, and Chthonic may very well be one of them.