Merso – Red World
Good to Die Records
By Graham Isaac
It might be an exaggeration to say Seattle’s heavy/loud/punk scene is going through a renaissance, but there’s no shortage of various contortions of loud sounds coming through the pike these days, at an impressive rate and quality. Frequently at the forefront of the intersecting scenes that make up Seattle’s new rock pantheon is Good to Die Records, so when they announce a new signing, it’s worth taking note.
Formerly known as Leatherdaddy, Merso are GTD’s newest signees and both play to and expand Seattle’s hard rock strengths with Red World, a behemoth of a record that inverts the down-tuned Sabbath riffage of their former project into something more expansive and otherworldly. The heavy riffs are still there, but where they used to dominate, they now punctuate. The album – and this is best experienced in full – opens with “Astoria,” and singer/guitarist Tristan Sennholz crooning about “heroin dreams” over dreamy riffs that soothe like a math rock lullaby for the first half of the song until drummer Taylor Carroll’s rhythms shift and guitars crash hard; the song goes full on nightmare mode until the end, where the soaring riffs and tense drumming reconcile the first and second halves of the song. It’s a hell of a way to start a record, followed immediately by the phrase “home. . . sweet home,” on “Reunion Show,” Red World’s poppiest jam, with it’s refrain of “Whiskey and sweet fernet,” giving way to a rhythm section workout that never quite explodes.
The songs on Red World are layered enough that this could be a very long review indeed – Merso avoid the trap that prog-influenced bands sometimes fall into – where by each song follows the same swell/climax/breakdown/shift pattern; “Ten Years in a Juvenile Fantasy” is largely instrumental until some of the record’s most metallic riffage kicks in, while single “Serial Killer” tells it’s sordid (and disturbing, both good and bad) tale largely over clean guitars. The album comes to a satisfying conclusion with “Red World Part 1” and “Red World Parts 2 and 3” hammering home an epic conclusion. Not that the band never falters; if your patience for this sort of thing is thin, you may find that both “Ten Years. . .” and “Librium” wander around too much before getting to their payoffs, and whether you find the narrative of “Serial Killer” awesomely or distastefully creepy is going to depend on what sort of day you’ve had and how much news you’ve been reading.
Ultimately though, this record succeeds in ways that few such ambitious debuts do; while classic prog like King Crimson is a solid reference point, so are the swirling expanses of Explosions in the Sky, or the spaced-out post-grunge of ’90s rockers like Hum or Failure. The result is a remarkably self-assured trip into Merso’s tightly crafted other world, perfect for stoned immersion and blacklight staring or intent headphone listening and analysis. – (8/10)
Merso celebrate the vinyl release of Red World October 21 at the Black Lodge in Seattle with Serial Hawk and Post/Boredom.