Murg is from Sweden. Murg shows a real dedication to black and white cover art. Based on just these facts, one can make a pretty good guess what Murg brings to the table. If you guessed “Scandinavian black metal,” then you are correct. Murg definitely plays Scandinavian black metal. Murg plays Scandinavian black metal that sounds a lot like other Scandinavian black metal that you’ve heard over the 30 year history of Scandinavian black metal. Where Murg stands out, however, is that they do great honor to the history of Scandinavian black metal, not so much in expanding or advancing the craft of Scandinavian black metal in any way, but by just getting it like few young acts achieve.
Naturally, the music of Varg & Björn would sound welcome on any number of albums since about 1992—it’s a pretty timeless style at this point. (That title, by the way, means “wolf and bear,” and isn’t a tale of love between Count Grishnackh and a guitarist from In Flames.) Riffs range from mid-tempo, driving chord progressions to cutting tremolo lines, while the drums likewise move between outright blasting and some really great 6/8 sections. Seriously, try not bobbing your head to the hi-hat in “Grannen är din fiende,” particularly when the payoff is a turn towards intimidation. But the best aspect of Murg’s sound might be their ability to achieve a huge atmosphere that sacrifices absolutely none of the violence, a characteristic that extends to the tortured, dominating vocals. This stuff is absolutely vicious. It also helps that Murg lives in The Tsjuder Zone of almost pushing the rawness too far. Right on the edge, and no complaints here.
No matter how great the sound, however, when a band finds success on such a well-trodden path as that which Murg is walking, it has to win through songcraft. Murg does so early and often. “Massvandring & blodbad,” for example, slowly builds upon one of those great mid-tempo sections until it arrives at a barrage of double kick drums and riffs that seem to be splattering out of the amps, all without losing that main thread of melody. “Farsoternas afton” later slows things down to doomy rates, upping the melodic and atmospheric factors, which only serves to enhance the renewed intensity of the final two tracks. It isn’t exactly variety, just a musical changeup that keeps you looking forward to the next track.
Bands like Murg do not lead to new scenes or musical movements, rather, they sustain such scenes and styles. Varg & Bjorn is a damn fine debut that doesn’t so much put Murg on the map as it does justify the continual existence of a long standing form of metal. The key point there is “damn fine,” which matters so much more than exactly what this album means or where it fits in the landscape or other such pompous conclusions I might be trying to draw. You might forget about this within a year, but the love of metal is often built upon such fast thrills. Damn fine, indeed.