Merlin, Electric Children: Night Creep Crawling

merlin electric children

A sense of drama is nothing new in Merlin‘s sound. It’s been there since their 2013 self-titled debut from which came the single Execution (review here) and it certainly took a step forward on 2014’s Christkiller LP (review here). Their theatrics have come to be a part of what defines them and sets them apart from some of the modern and classic influences they distill in their material, some of it frontman Jordan Knorr‘s mastery of the ceremonies at hand, but Electric Children meets him head-on with more patient songwriting and an expanded palette.

While cuts like opener “Bad Trip” (premiered here), the shuffling “Electric Children” and more aggressive “Night Creep” are in line with what Merlin have offered to-date, two interludes, “Interlude” (2:28) and “A Reprisal for Julia” (1:40), bring the keyboard work of guitarist/backing vocalist Carter Lewis more forward than it has been in the past, and the consciousness that drives the Goblin and John Carpenter-style cues those brief sojourns show, respectively, is an important progressive move. That’s not to take anything away from what Knorr, Lewis, bassist Joey Hamm (since replaced by Chase Thayer) and drummer Caleb Wyels are doing on the more straight-ahead material, just that they’ve grown enough as a band to make the decision to shift the context in which their material appears even more than the intro “Overture” did at the start of the last album. This, in combination with their four-part, 23-minute closer, “Tales of the Wasteland,” and the facts that they’re nodding at classic prog by subtitling Electric Children as “An Understanding by Merlin” and that it was recorded at least mostly live, and Merlin are making clear efforts to back their style with substance. Their third record offers plenty of both.

At eight tracks and 51 minutes, the 4one8 Records (vinyl may or may not be through Poisoned Mind Records) release is substantial but not entirely unmanageable, and Merlin demonstrate throughout a clearheaded presence through their immersive and atmospheric songs. For those who’ve encountered their darkened paths before, not much has changed about their root influences in bands like Uncle Acid, Pentagram and Floyd, but their own sonic personality continues to develop and it’s more of a factor here, whether that’s in the crisp efficiency of “Bad Trip” thudding to introduce the album while also providing its first hook, or “Tales of the Wasteland” stretching beyond traditional structures to purposefully wander in the space it’s created. Between those two, songs like “Will o’ the Wisp” and “Warbringer” indulge psychedelic impulses while “Night Creep” mirrors the thunder of the opener, tempos fluctuate fluidly and ambience remains consistent despite swaps of mood and intensity.

Part of that is down to the recording itself and the depth of the mix, credited to Bret Liber and Merlin, but spaciousness isn’t something Merlin were lacking before, even if they’ve brought it to new levels here. Their craftsmanship on cuts like “Bad Trip,” “Electric Children,” “Will o’ the Wisp,” “Night Creep” and “Warbringer” — which is each of the album’s chorus-minded tracks — isn’t to be understated, but the songs feed into a linear flow as well, deepening in the second half of the album post-“Interlude,” as “A Reprisal for Julia” and “Tales of the Wasteland” push Merlin beyond the point of willfully breaking the rules that they seem to have set for themselves before. That mindfulness is essential to understanding what Merlin are doing on Electric Children, as it’s a key element of their growth. Recording live, spacing out, all of this is directed toward a conscious push ahead of where they were on Christkiller, and the new ground they cover, stomp on, dwell in, etc., is malleable to whatever they want to make it.

It will be interesting to see/hear how they develop with Thayer on bass in place of Hamm, since low-end is a considerable factor throughout Electric Children in shoving the material ahead along with Wyels‘ drumming, but in these songs an essential dynamic in Merlin‘s sound is highlighted between Knorr and Lewis. Not just in the two coming together on vocals on “Bad Trip” or the early verses in “Tales of the Wasteland” before the languid instrumental roll takes full control of the proceedings, but in the sense of challenging each other that seems to play out across the Mind Control-esque “Will o’ the Wisp” and more raging solo and finale of “Night Creep” as well. I don’t want to leave the drummer and bassist out of that dynamic, as if to relegate the rhythm section to some corner, it’s just that vocals and guitar/keys take charge of the atmospheres throughout Electric Children, and Lewis and Knorr seem to be in direct musical conversation in a variety of actual sonic contexts, as on the title-track, which departs from its hook early in order to flesh out a psych jam that only recalls its chorus in its final instrumental moments.

Merlin, three albums in, have established a multifaceted approach to high-grade songwriting, and Electric Children — a recording process from which they’re already nearly 18 months removed — finds them at a crucial stage in their evolution. It’s worth noting that that’s a process I don’t think is over, and while Merlin have made clear and successful efforts to come into their own across this material, there’s still growing to be done and new ground to explore, be it in further incorporating elements of “A Reprisal for Julia” into songs like “Bad Trip” — which “Night Creep” does briefly at its start — or in playing with the balance between heavy psychedelia, heavy rock and doom that has brought them to this place. Perhaps most encouraging of all is that the band make it so plain they too realize this, and among the easiest things to read into Electric Children is a commitment on Merlin‘s part to keep pushing their limits. One hopes they do.

Merlin, Electric Children (2016)

Merlin on Thee Facebooks

Merlin on Bandcamp

4one8 Records

Poisoned Mind Records

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