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Album Review: LAMP OF MURMUUR Heir Of Ecliptical Romanticism

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Is straightforward, raw, second wave-inspired black metal still worth making, listening to, and celebrating in 2020? Isn't it all played out? Why should we care about Lamp of Murmuur's debut full-length album, Heir Of Ecliptical Romanticism? Hasn't it all been done, and overdone, so many times before?

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While this is true in a sense, it has a few problems. First of all, if you're old enough to remember the early-to-mid 90s, the style may in fact be played out for you, because you really have heard it all done too many times before. But for a new band trying out the style today, this indictment doesn't hold much water. It's not a musician's problem that you're tired of whatever style they play, and it should be none of their concern. Second of all, think of a younger listener, or someone your own age listening to black metal for the first time. That person is discovering Darkthrone, Mütiilation, and Immortal at the same time they're discovering the new wave of raw black metal that's emerged in the last few years.

It's not new in an ontological sense, but it's new to them. That's the key distinction. And there's not much reason for them to care unless they're trying to prop up a mask of superiority over other people (in which case, get a life). Finally, with any established style of art, there's always room to imprint your own soul into the work, making the stale fresh again, the staid thrilling again, and the tired vigorous once more.

The last decade of metal history has seen various revival genres arise out of the headbanging aether: neo-thrash, new old school death metal, and this year I've even seen signs of an industrial metal revival. It's true, there can be a tiresome element to these new-old-but-kind-of-just-old explosions. After all, if Left Hand Path and Like an Everflowing Stream already exist, there's no need to reinvent them. What's important then is to take those stylistic markers (the gravelly vocals and HM-2+DS1 pedal combo in this case) and make them your own. Add something unique to the guitar tone, apply a different filter to the vocals, use a tempo that's not common to the classics, throw in some clean vocals in an unusual place, try out a weird synth setting.

Remember, even Fenriz has said that when Darkthrone made the switch to black metal on Blaze in the Northern Sky, they were paying homage to early Bathory and Hellhamer/Celtic Frost. And sure, when you listen to A Blaze in the Northern Sky, it shows. But it wasn't a rip-off operation, no, it added something meaningful, colder, darker, and more refined that distills the inspirations into something fresh.

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Yes, there's lots of boring black metal out there, lazily tossed together to try and recreate the early-90s grim aesthetic, or the mid-to-late-90s always-blast-beating aesthetic (God knows why), and so on. But there's a lot of great bands that strike that wonderful balance between homage and exploration: Nocturnal DepartureThy Dying LightAkasha, and the mysterious project by the name of Lamp of Murmuur.

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<p>Little is known about the project, but what the gentleman behind the lampshade has told us is very illuminating. Apparently, his creations all originate from improvisational songwriting, in which he lets his imaginative spirit take him wherever it wants to go. He clarified this in <a href=a recent interview:

Basically, all of the project's tracks are spontaneous improvisations of guitar melodies that I record in a single take and finish whenever this subconscious influence decides that the musical labor is completed. The times I've modified any of these spontaneous ideas, being melodies or structure, have been kept to the bare minimum to capture the urgent and feral essence of the moment these creations.

Sometimes you can't overthink it. And as you can tell from a listen to Heir Of Ecliptical Romanticism, the music here has a palpable sense of excitement and inspiration. The riffs are catchy and memorable, the vocals are distorted and ferocious, and the drums are varied enough to keep you engaged and interested. The man knows his way around a synthesizer as well (or at least the relevant VST plugin, but honestly, who cares?). But again, he's not just using melodic and melancholy riffs to rehash Vampires of Black Imperial Blood. His approach to synths isn't to mimic what Gehenna achieved on First Spell. When you hit play on the fantastic opener, "Of Infernal Passion and Aberrations," you know who it is.

This can be both a gift and a loss, of course. It means you're either in love with it, or you'd rather listen to the hum of fluorescent bulbs. In this case, the projects heavy use of the chorus effect can take a lot of getting used to. If you're not attuned to this sound, it can make you feel a bit seasick after. But if you're willing to stick it out beyond a cursory listen, you'll get your sonic sea legs soon enough. The other jarring element is the song titles: "Bathing in Cascades Of Caustic Hypnotism." As opposed to really soothing hypnotism? Again, this form of grandiose expression comes with the territory with this wave of black metal artists. If you think castles, ghosts, vampires, and candelabras are rad, then you're in luck. If not, well… nobody's perfect.

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Of the album's seven tracks, the highlights include "Of Infernal Passion and Aberrations" and "The Scent of Torture, Conquering All," two tracks that do great honor the Scandinavian second wave, the French LLN-scene, and a variety of other circles. But the record's real accomplishment comes with the album's title track. The song combines a clear adoration for 80s post-punk and deathrock, blended seamlessly into the raw black metal template. This is what I was referring to earlier about pouring your soul into something old and thus giving it a chance at rebirth. It's undeniably a raw black metal song, but it adds that compelling "something else" that makes you remember it, and gives you that inevitable urge to slam that replay button. It's quite dance-able in parts too, in a dour, eyeliner, and black nail-polish sort of way.

It's rare that a form of music can capture the essence of ghostly shadows and death, and yet feel so alive! And, at its best, that's what this style of metal accomplishes. And Lamp of Murmuur does so in dazzling glory.

Favorite songs: "Of Infernal Passion and Aberrations," "The Scent of Torture, Conquering All," and "Heir Of Ecliptical Romanticism"

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