Mur – Cut the Rivers Vein (Early Premiere & Interview)
Minnesota’s Mur has managed a remarkable fusion of classical and avante-garde. Masterminded by artist and multi-instrumentalist Cam Sather, Mur has released four full-lengths since 2012 that have increasingly shifted from fuzzed-out black metal to, on new release Cut the Rivers Vein, a post-everything esoteric opus that runs the gamut from Inter Arma-style dissonance to deconstructed folk music.
The record’s length suits its weighty subject matter. Taking cues from William Blake, Sather seeks a reclamation of Romanticism from the grips of toxic nostalgia. The record is deeply tied to the Romantic Era’s naturalism, touching on themes of nature and its despoilment, but on Cut the Rivers Vein, Sather also seeks to decouple nature from hierarchical structures. This LP is more of a contemplation of Earth’s qualities and grey areas than it is a throwback to some grand order—as Sather growls on the title track, “Gold Cloud/Morning fog/No self-evident truth/Of the sun on your back.”
For all these heady themes, Cut the Rivers Vein is also a vivid journey through different metal and non-metal textures that is exhilarating for those interested in post-metal and impressionistic extreme music. There are sludgy riffs, reverby blasts. Songs such as “Lowered Cloud” are worthy entrants into the growing pantheon of Americana-tinged metal. While not a record for the impatient, Cut the Rivers Vein is meditative yet immediate, a record to sit with. See for yourself on our early album stream below, a week ahead of its formal release:
Intrigued by the record’s content and mesmerizing soundscapes, I reached out to Cam Sather to talk about Cut the Rivers Vein and Mur’s underpinnings. Our interview below has been lightly edited for style and clarity.
Theophrastus Bombastus: This is far from a conventional metal record, with acoustic instrumentation and a wide variety of riffs and passages. What influenced this record sonically? What non-metal influences did you marshal for Cut The Rivers Vein, and what’s the process of blending extreme and acoustic music?
Cam Sather: Well, like you already pointed out, it is unmistakably a metal record. Having said that, I think there aren’t that many explicit metal influences on this record. Probably 80 to 90 percent was written over a month long-ish period, and I didn’t want to (and still mostly don’t) fixate on those tropes too much. They’ve obviously still manifested themselves, but I didn’t want to focus on the usual structures, themes, etc. I think everyone recognizes that the really exceptional music in this community put out in the last 5–10 years ha[s] definite non-metal influences.
For me, [the non-metal influences] were really all over the place. Probably the biggest single influence was the more experimental Mount Eerie (Phil Elverum) albums. There’s such a colossal, crushing weight to his music. It’s really inspiring to hear something so natural and starkly honest. To a slightly lesser extent, there were a few other main aural influences: some of the deeper King Crimson prog cuts, euro electronic music (Jenny Hval, Tettix Hexer), and some more unconventionally structured folk (Will Oldham, Daniel Higgs).
Is this entirely a solo project, and what has the process been for putting together Mur LPs to date?
Yes, I perform all the music for Mur and create all the artwork—besides the incredible cover for Cut The Rivers Vein by Erik Newberg (Merle Pines).
I also decided that all the instrumentation on this album would be actually, physically performed and recorded live with minimal extra overdubs. It’s so tempting with today’s technology to sample drums, guitar tones, use tons of post processing, etc. (and that’s all great), but I think more organic, lush , well-produced sounds benefit the themes of the album. It keeps me honest, too—I can’t blast at 280 bpm non-stop, and I think there are a lot of people who don’t want to hear that anyway.
This album was also largely written in a very linear fashion. Like I said earlier, it didn’t take long to write the majority of material and at a pretty consistent rate, so hopefully that makes it more cohesive from front to back as well.
You allude to William Blake in this album’s description, specifically his words. Talk to me about the way Blake features in this work.
Well, it’s kind of like how I think music should be conceptualized—the actual music first and then the themes, philosophy, and politics should crystalize after.
Blake’s… language, meter, and subject matter are immutable. [His work] contains some of the most deeply esoteric subject matter in a very “classical,” Romantic, Old Testament kind of tone. But I was also heavily influenced by the book Witness Against the Beast: William Blake and the Moral Law by E.P. Thompson (1993), which I think made a very explicit case for a political reclamation of Blake and Romanticism at large.
There’s a really harmful reactionary trend in heavy music (and larger society) when it comes to Romanticism, Nihilism, Absurdism, etc. At some point these ideas were claimed by some disillusioned reactionary political actors—even though, historically, there is a strong argument that in Blake’s case they were rooted in a deeply anti-religious and radically antiauthoritarian belief.
I wanted to represent the latter more thematically in this album.
Your previous two releases were much more ecological in nature. What are the environmental underpinnings of your music? In what ways did your surroundings influence Cut The Rivers Vein?
I think the more ecological nature of the previous releases was me pinning down my own identity connected by the flora and fauna of the region I grew up in. There is a lot of powerful symbolism there, and it still means a lot to me. That stuff is also heavily Romantic.
I think Cut The Rivers Vein brings it to the next level, though. There’s a heavily trodden tradition in black metal to revere the natural world—and that’s great. But in the same way that Romanticism has been in part coopted by regressive, right-wing elements, the natural world has in part become an allegory for a “justified hierarchy” in some sketchier black metal communities.
Hopefully this album occupies some version of a post-Romantic, post-natural world space.
What else can we expect from Mur in the future? Are you working on anything to follow Cut The Rivers Vein?
I’m already flung into a new round of writing for a new release—whether that’s an EP or album, I don’t know.
The style and substance for future Mur releases will surely change. I think there’s a lot of exciting room for experimentation and growth – specifically with electronic textures and overgrown atmospheres (in moderation though – this is still heavy music after all).
Cut the River’s Vein will be released independently on Bandcamp January 28th.