Merkstave: Merkstave

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Merkstave: Merkstave
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Merkstave: Merkstave
Drone, Funeral Doom Metal
Pesanta Urfolk
August 16th, 2013
Release length: 44:03
Merkstave is an entity that, even after its death, is still a strong force in the underground, often coming up in the most, even least likely of places when addressing modern Doom Metal acts. Originating out of Salem, Oregon, this Funeral Doom Metal and Drone collective is more like a supergroup, containing members from a number of groups from that region, such as Total Darkness, Elu of the Nine, Hell, and Abysmal Dimensions just to name a few. In 2011, they issued two demos, then literally faded into the shadows until recently, when Pesanta Urfolk picked both demos up, reissuing them on standard and limited edition vinyl pressings under the title Merkstave. So, is this the chance to hear something stunning, or are these recordings better left unheard?

First is the nearly thirty minute long Lament for Lost Gods demo, which is cut into two different parts. “Lament for Lost Gods, Pt. 1” trudges along from the very start with a rich buzz from the guitars that are matched by the drum kit, focusing more on the cymbals to give them a little extra bang. There aren’t many empty spaces, as some additional drumming appears from time to time, and the remainder of the note strummed, meshed with the deep hum of the bass help fill the gaps. The mixture of depressing singing and lower growls give the performance a truly remorseful sound for the entire nearly twenty-one minutes of existence, even when things speed up to a short, yet brutal assault around eight minutes in. Surprisingly, it’s “Lament for Lost Gods, Pt. 2” that is the most moving. While still crushing with the deep bass, the guitar gives off a melancholic melody that is absolutely depressing. For the first six minutes, you will feel as though you were standing at the grave site of a loved one, mourning the recent loss until the pace picks up, becoming more glorious thanks to the complex riffs, all the while keeping with the tone of the performance, but, sadly, not having the same impact. The only fault is that the song fades away starting at the last minute minute, literally thinning out the bite of the actual conclusion.

Next is “Spawn of a Lower Star,” kicking off with grim, cleaner chords that set up more of an aquatic trench vibe before crashing in with down-tuned guitars and a throbbing bass presence. The audio sounds a little richer, and a lot deeper, making the impact of the slower notes a lot more intense. The cleaner leads add an unsettling hint of sorrow when used, making some transitions to richer drumming, or returning to the suffocating nautical sound in the riffs much easier to embrace. The closing, however, is beautiful on a whole other level. After the last chord of destructive force fades out round the twelve minute mark, a slower piano piece kicks in. While a bit muffled, it perfectly suits the various saddening atmospheres littered throughout this song, as well as those from the Lament for Lost Gods demo, offering closure to not just this track, but the entire compilation, and a suiting final note on the unfortunately short lifespan of Merkstave.

Merkstave is a stunning piece of Funeral Doom Metal that is as depressing as it is powerful. The rawer analog quality of the original cassette pressings are captured perfectly, preserving both of these once lost and rare recordings on the vinyl format they so rightly deserve. While not the most spectacular examples of the style, these clearly show a band that had plenty of potential to make a bigger impact in the Metal world than they already have. If you missed out the first time, or even if you’re a long time fan with both original tapes, this pressing is definitely worth owning, if not for the quality, then as a time capsule of a band showing off what could have been…

01. Lament for Lost Gods Pt. 1 – 20:41
02. Lament for Lost Gods Pt. 2 – 8:50
03. Spawn of a Lower Star – 14:33
Initial Pressing Score: 8.5/10

Merkstave

Digital review copy of this release provided by Pesenta Urfolk.