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

Musica Maxima Magnetica ‎– eee 40
CD, Album


1 The Bonny Hind 12:12
2 Sheath And Knife 12:07
3 The Two Brothers 17:08
4 Edward 17:38

Companies, etc.



Total time: 59:05

Recorded & mixed at The Box, July 97 and at A-Scale November thru December 97.

With thanks to Peter Becker at A-Scale.

Illustrations taken from books 'Happy Returns From The House of Joy', 'The Field Of Clover'.

Barcode and Other Identifiers

  • Barcode (Text): 8 020417 104025
  • Barcode (Reader): 8020417104025
  • Matrix / Runout: A0100244885-0101 14 A0 DADC AUSTRIA
  • Mastering SID Code: IFPI L554
  • Mould SID Code: IFPI 94C5



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May 22, 2012
Without a doubt the third album in this series is the most rewarding, with BATES' drifting voice layering upon itself in chilling harmonies while HARRIS's outer-world ebb and flow of passive but corrosive sonics remains further back, a deceptively simple curtain against which these four stories unfold. I feel the impact of the first album took them both by surprise - both were used to critical acclaim, yes, but Murder Ballads captured the essence of a world which remains safely in years gone by, a mysterious world predating everything we surround ourselves with in this end-of-the-pier peepshow pocket of time before we leap beyond the overblown Millennium time-marker into the 21st century. It's a pre-industrial, more pastoral time, yet no safer than our own, where people keep children close in fear of all-too-real Bogey-Men, muttering "Folk just aren't safe these days..." Well, people have never been safe - rape, murder, abduction, cannibalism and all the other things we are simultaneously fascinated and revolted by have been with us since society was born, it's just that the history-makers did it on a grander scale, leaving the small-time ghouls to become folklore and nightmare tales. If there is a weakness in this album, it is in the source material - the songwriting soon reveals itself to be very generic. The first track, for instance concerns the meeting of Brother and Sister, formerly unaware of one another's existence, who are hit with the awful truth in post-coital revelations, to suicidal response from one sibling, and self-banishing guilt from the other. There's a similarity in this tale with the darker "The Banks Of Fordie" where murderous brother dispatches his three sisters who are unwilling to surrender their maidenhead to him, neither party aware of their actual relationship to one another. The second track has Brother dispatching Sister & mutually-conceived offspring to put paid to rumours of her progeny's paternity. Again, there's a comparable story in "Lucy Wan", yet in this story the Sister seems to volunteer the demise of herself and her child. Out of all thirteen "Murder Ballads", the third track on this album is without doubt the most sympathetic and sad, where two Brothers, in sibling rivalry, wrestle for the affections of their Sister. One is (presumably) accidentally stabbed by the others sheathed knife. Unwounded Brother tries to save his Brother's life but ends burying him in the churchyard. The final track has Brother killing Brother again, this time over the destruction of a tree. In this one the surviving Brother uses a similar lie to that of the murderer from "Lucy Wan" - that the blood on his shirt is that of his greyhound. Small, petty criticisms compared with the magnitude of the songs. The ambience from the two earlier albums is somehow even colder, more chilling in this third instalment. You feel almost that any second the atmosphere might be pierced and the darkness inherent in the songs unleashed into your own environment. The talents of these two artists is catapulted into the stratosphere with these albums, and while thirteen seems a significantly apt number with which to finish the project, it would be a great shame not to hear more of the same. As I write this, one of the few sunny days we have seen this year is reaching its conclusion and the shadows of night are forming. I know the world out there isn't safe - yesterday the police were at my door asking questions about a heinous crime which had been committed a stone's throw from my doorway. Be in no doubt that, while manners have changed for our modern way of living, behind the eyes of strangers - and, more chillingly, even friends - there lurks a darkness to eclipse the darkest night.

Originally reviewed for Soft Watch.