Then a trio, Amsterdam-based tonal weightlifters Mühr made their debut in 2010 with the two-song, 24-minute Shepherd/Blood EP (discussed here), which cobbled together pyramids of heavy stone from molten riffs, the thickest I’d heard come from the Netherlands since Toner Low. The follow-up full-length from the now-foursome, titled Messiah and released in a limited edition of 200 white 180 gram LPs via Canardian Records, finds them a decidedly more complex outfit. Messiah is a single-song, 47-minute outing (the vinyl splits it into two sides, obviously), that proves stylistically cohesive and breathtakingly ranging, relying chiefly on patient, progressive builds that emerge gradually and naturally over the course of the title-track’s hypnotic run. It is an album to entrance, and Mühr — bassist/vocalist ZA, guitarists IJV and GW, and drummer HH, plus guests LX (vocals) and FA (keys) — seem to revel in the undulations of it, whether they’re crashing in heavy for the first time just past eight minutes in or letting atmospheric soundtrails wind Messiah to its exploratory finish. When they want to, they’re still able to conjure the unmitigated crush of Shepherd/Blood, but the idea on Messiah is different and the intent is geared as much toward establishing a dynamic as it is pummeling when the time comes for it. That naturally changes the appeal somewhat — it’s a much less simple sound than it was two years ago — but Mühr do a stellar job of immersing their audience in the fog of their quieter stretches and it’s far more satisfying to be carried off by the record than not. A linear listen is available digitally since there’s no CD version and provides a different experience than having to turn the LP over, but either way one approaches Messiah, it is hypnotic, complex and gorgeously executed. The full realization of a post-metallic scope that owes little to Neurosis and more to an earthier version of latter-day Ufomammut.
What works best about “Messiah,” the song, is that when it’s quiet, you’re not just waiting for it to get loud. Granted, Mühr tease the initial entry of the full-bodied tone early on with the initial arrival of vocals, swelling once or twice before really kicking in, but by doing this, they’re teaching the patience that the rest of the track/album requires. That, as noted, is about eight minutes in, and before that, Mühr set the atmosphere through ZA‘s rich bass and relatively minimalist guitar accompaniment. Not quite drones, but as the beginning unfolds, drums arriving gradually amid the psychedelic sprawl, there’s a tension that arises through repetitions the bassline. Vocals hit cued by a foreboding rumble, and they’re no less an instrument of ambience than anything else, however much of a psychological landmark they might provide. Human contact! The next two minutes unravel themselves with fitting grace, and by the time “Messiah” gets heavy, as it were, Mühr have done well to effect a change in expectation of time, to lull not to sleep, but to a passivity of consciousness, so that they’re free to push on as they will. Layers of guitar swirl rise through thickened crash as “Messiah” spaces out, stretching arms wide like some statue come to life, and continues in this fashion until the HH rests on the drums after 10 minutes in. Mühr have entered a new stage of the build — a kind of post-apex that continues for the next several minutes until they’ve taken it all the way back down to the ground from whence it came — the distorted bass rumble, airy guitar effects, slow, subdued drumming all signaling the change. Shortly before the 16-minute mark, they’ve gone as low as they’re going, and the process of bringing “Messiah” back up begins with due subtlety, a flourish of lead guitar a couple minutes later adding depth and character to what’s already been a trench-to-mountaintop excursion.
Full swelter comes on even more lurching the second time around. Right around 21 minutes in, a layer of lead guitar surfaces and pulls Mühr back to louder reaches, but the vibe is still laid back, ultra-slow, peaceful in its way with a wah-soaked solo and swirling effects behind. At high volume, it is consuming. On headphones, it surrounds. What sound like ambient screams pepper the background — it might be amp noise, hard to say — but a marching progression takes hold and “Messiah” moves, YOB-like, through its momentousness, the wash of noise and rhythm operating together to form a kind of flowing chaos. This second peak continues longer than the first, or at least it feels that way, but begins to dismantle between 26 and 27 minutes in, dropping minimal ambience again. The difference this time around is that vocals return, more forward and melodically conscious — they’re soulful, insistent, religious, chanting — and though Messiah never surges to the same volume again, there’s an emotional release at hand to complement the sonic payoff earlier as guitar solos intertwine and disperse to answer them, paring down over time to a bed of quiet rumble and wisping effects, no more drums, that takes hold with more than 10 minutes still to go and stays steadfast until “Messiah” concludes. This conclusion, though easily summarized — on the most superficial level, it’s 10 minutes of noise wash, slow churn and psychedelic atmospherics — is beautiful and essential. Without it, Mühr‘s trance would be incomplete, the feedback and drones serving as the last unwinding of everything that’s come before. They’re hardly a sonic triumph unto themselves, but in the context of the whole work, they’re as necessary as any other movement in Messiah in serving to make the work whole. And it is nothing if it’s not that. Especially considering Mühr are a band making their first album, Messiah is staggering in its complexity, diversity and patience, and the creative leap the group has made in three years’ time is done little justice by a measurement of the days. There are few bands who’ve thus far approached a cosmic dooom aesthetic and been able to bring anything to it other than tonal largesse and longwinded execution. Mühr succeed in reshaping genre expectation in their own image. Recommended.