M.J. Harris* • Martyn Bates ‎– Murder Ballads (Drift)

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May 22, 2012
referencing Murder Ballads (Drift), CD, Album, eee 26d, eee 26
First chapter in the "Murder Ballads" series - dark, rolling tones & chillingly dream-state voices tell four tales of cruelty. A series much lauded & deservedly so.
The 'tune' to "Polly" is perhaps the most distinctive among these first four of unlucky (for the characters concerned) thirteen. With is scrawling metal claws scratching the stratosphere. As with all in this series, the songs come from times gone by, bringing murderers and their victims out from a darkness thankfully distant enough to at least let us sleep at night. BATES - angel-voiced as someone once suggested to me - here lurks in the stygian shadows of HARRIS's noise-scapes, following the acts of dark minds, in the case of this collection, probably fictional.

The success of this series is little to puzzle at - no one had gone quite this far in the field of dark ambient music - oh, CURRENT 93 suggested some dark, mysterious, slightly occult goings on, and the likes of CONTRASTATE has woven imaginary lands where evil seemed to lurk ever present, ever near. But no-one had managed to combine the wicked deeds which invariably ended up with one character in a shallow grave (and usually portrayed as an innocent) and usually the other hanging from a gibbet, with such a doomy, funeral pall backdrop of sound.

The second track, one of probably only two in this series where a certain sympathy lies with the murderer, the Fowler in question mistakenly (we are led to believe) shoots his 'true love' mistaking her for a Swan. Here MICK HARRIS creates a structured backing which could be a loop of bones moving around in an ossary, scapula scrapes against femur disquiet at the injustice of early death.

The third, an escapee from the third "Incest Songs" collection, has brother Geordie finding out his sister Lucy is with child and he is the Father. He quicky covers this fact from the world with help from his 'broad sword'. The sounds behind MARTYN's voice churn and swirl slowly like a gentle but final maelstrom which will right the wrong done on the girl's Father's doorstep.

The final track here is by far the strangest of the entire collection concerning a character called Long Lankin who mysteriously enters the house of a Lady and, with the help of the 'False Nurse' and a needle to torture the Lady's offspring, lure her to her bloody death. This story reminds me of the gruesome tales you used to find in the old PAN Horror books. This is set to a peristaltic roar, churning with foul dread, perfectly portraying the dark tale, adding deep shadows at the bottom of the stairs where the two murderers lay in wait.

Dark and dreadful, this first album seems a logical starting point for your journey through the Murderous past, to witness the blood spill and smell the freshly turned soil from each shallow grave.

Originally reviewed for Soft Watch.