Rarely do two types of music meet on a level where they threaten
to cancel each other out - let alone create something even more
meaningful in their mutual vanishing. But the music created within
the seminal Murder Ballads (Drift) by Martyn Bates (Eyeless in Gaza,
& parallel solo career) and Mick Harris (Napalm Death, Lull, Painkiller,
Scorn) creates just such a world. Murder Ballads (Drift) evolves Martyn
Bates vocalisations / storytelling song-voices, by turns expressed as
labyrinthine layers, calls and responses, muted and distant echoes,
sung whispers and counter-melodies, ultimately resulting in a
mesmeric conversation of musical inferences and correspondences.
Murder Ballads (Drift) created the post-isolationist frame of reference, innovating and extemporising into a truly original dazzlingly unique form.
Mick Harris traffics in the isolationist ambience of Lull, while Martyn
Bates is the emotive voice of literate cult-pop duo Eyeless in Gaza.
The unlikely pair - one given to terminally frigid drone, the other to impassioned, bittersweet voicings - finds common ground in folk
music's most macabre tradition, the murder ballad. These ghoulish
parables are awash in blood and tears, the strands of love, hate,
birth, death, sin, and salvation entwined within like the roots of
an ancient tree. Mothers callously kill their children; suitors slay their
maidens without remorse; and fate exacts its cruel price from all.
The archaic murder ballads that leak from Bates' vocal cords are
intensely sad and carnal. They tend to leap off cliffs of hollow effects
or drone darkly, offering neither a robust delivery nor an element of
irony to take the edge off. The archetypal characters that live and
die in them give life's full tragedy back to Harris' electronically
numbed "post-isolationist" dreaming.
Passages (originally released in 1997) plays out an unbreakable and
timeless cycle of bloody folklore (people) and hypnotic soundscapes
(the god who watches). The effect is chilling yet engrossing. Where
most ambient music has barely enough courage to ring the doorbell
and run, Murder Ballads slips through the cracks of the unconscious
and does its work with remarkable ease.
All the more reason to listen thoughtfully.