Chthonic by MesmurRelease date: April 14, 2023
Label: Aesthetic Death
If there’s one thing that can be said about Mesmur, it’s that they never disappoint. The globe-spanning collective have kept up a steady output of hypnotic funeral doom since their inception and album number four only sees them explore the abyss deeper still. It’s a lightless journey across alien landscapes and sprawling mausoleums, bestial roars spinning yarns of the madness that forms when paranoid visions become manifest, and even if hardened doomsters will have heard all of this and more before, it remains an eerily effective example of doom as a tool of immersion.
Following the brief punch of the album’s title track, a two-minute instrumental that ticks all the boxes of what makes doom so very doomy – funereal organ passages, drums that strike like thunder and guitars that are simultaneously elegant and crushingly dense – ‘Refraction’ picks up the torch and runs with it. While undoubtedly adhering to the ‘less is more’ school of composition, they manage to maintain a sense of constant pressure throughout the song’s myriad ebbs and flows. Jeremy L’s riffs are strikingly minimal, often letting sustain and distortion bear aloft much of the drama, but he shows moments of genuine flair. The spry runs are rare but pleasing to the ear, and as they pierce Chris G’s guttural bellows, they are like strange artefacts piercing an otherwise inhospitable sky. It almost feels like a kindred spirit to John Carpenter’s Prince Of Darkness, a world’s end tale of sci-fi, cosmic horror and introspective terror spun out with no trace of a happy ending in sight.
The subterranean gloom of ‘Petroglyph’ follows, doubling down on the heaviness with some primal riffing worthy of early Pentagram but without the noticeable swagger and Chris G injecting more bite in his bark. John D and Michele M really come into their own as a rhythm section here, not simply in terms of their impeccable timing but also with their ability to create an impenetrable wall of sound, locking in the darkness and creating something that at times feels overwhelming. The addition of Brianne Vieira on cello affords a certain elegance but as it collapses into swirls of ghastly choirs and ripples of distortion, it’s never quite a comfortable listen.
Taking up much of Chthonic’s 50-minute runtime, the sprawling ‘Passages’ not only serves as the album’s de facto centrepiece but also delivers its most introspective, and its most monolithic, moments. In length alone, it’s perhaps the closest in spirit to Mesmur’s earlier output but it also brings into play their skill as storytellers, sinking into near silence when a breather is necessary but punctuating lines like “An eternal suffering / Blinding is the light” with a flurry of double-kick and furious guitarwork. Jeremy L’s soloing almost provides a sense of levity, a brief spark of energy amidst the gloom of the tomb, and Chris G’s spoken word interlude is an intriguing diversion in its own right, but it’s his agonised cries of “Why… father, why are we here?” at the song’s climax that truly hammer home Chthonic’s raw emotional heft.
A brief coda brings the curtain down, a celestial swirl of organ and synth that seems disconcertingly lovely in comparison to the subterranean crawl through mire and misery and preceded it, yet it’s perfectly in keeping with Mesmur’s approach. Chthonic isn’t the sound of a band seeking to reinvent themselves or their genre but it does show their ability to tap into what makes this music work. They understand how to create drama and emotion without cheapening their art, and within these songs they have summoned worlds that are as vividly realised as anything page or screen could deliver.