Album Review: Munruthel - "CREEDamage"

Every now and again, I’m faced with an album that I don’t quite know how to decipher, or how to react. It is a bittersweet experience to be sure; the joined sensation of exposure to something totally new which also makes you consider how much you’ve ever really known about music.

Munruthel’s “CREEDamage” is one of those albums. It is an album that tries to be all things and damn near succeeds. I suppose this is what people refer to as ‘beauty and the beast’ metal, but that not only trivializes what Munruthel has composed, but is among the stupidest things I’ve ever heard that doesn’t begin with the words “Today, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman…” It is both beautiful and terrible, a confirmation and a confrontation, something placid and destructive all at once.

“CREEDamage,” mostly to its benefit, is an album that is as much a performance piece as a metal record. Equally at home either in the House of Blues or the stage at The Met (or at least the Kodak Theater,) this album ties together incredibly disparate elements, pulling on strings from opera, classical, djent and power metal alike. It is an album of big moments and profound discovery, an excellent treasure trove of both new ideas and curious concepts.

Notice how I said “mostly.” There’s a complication with “CREEDamage,” though the not the one you’re thinking. One would expect that the wrinkle arises in attempting to assimilate those pieces, but that’s not exactly it. Certainly, the borderless, three part instrumental saga “Krada” is testament to the band’s skill for putting puzzle pieces together. Rather, Munruthel’s issue is trying to color inside the lines; “CREEDamage” comes off as an album that can’t be contained in a recording studio. It’s a sensation similar to watching an HD program on an old standard definition TV. You just know you’re not getting the whole picture. Still, is this really a problem? Yes and no. Part of the fun is trying to get in the artist’s head to see how a project of this magnitude could have been imagined.

It is hard to find an analog to what Munruthel has composed, and that is a high compliment. “CREEDamage” is both bigger and more reckless than the lofty records of Stratovarius, and too wild (in concept) to be put up next to anyone else. The only possible comparison is Turisas, and Munruthel is way less arena-rousing and take themselves much more (possibly too much more,) seriously. It is a clumsy metric, but it’s the closest reference point for those looking for one. For example, Turisas’ awesome “End of an Empire” is at least on the same plane as Munruthel’s remarkable epic “Rolls of Thunder From Fiery Skies.” “CREEDamage” is a difficult album to define, and maybe that’s the point, or at least a fraction of it.

If the listener expects a conventional listening experience, he or she will instantly turn a cold shoulder to “CREEDamage.” This is why it’s critical to stress that anyone interested in this album come prepared with a blank slate. There are flaws to be overcome, as the sections of growled male vocals are thrown haphazardly at the mix, ignoring the ideas of cadence and timing, but beneath those things is a wonderfully detailed and ornate musical sculpture. No one would have expected the simple, peaceful guitar work in the center of the title track, but it works. It just does. Similarly, the very serene “The Age of Heroes” appears in between a bombastic symphonic metal song and a Bathory cover, and even though “The Age of Heroes” is totally out of place in its spot, it functions just fine as part of Munruthel putting all their cards on the table and taking the listener on the journey.

It probably says a lot that I’ve written all these words about Munruthel’s album, and I still don’t feel like I’ve totally captured it for you. I’m excited and intrigued by this album, but am having difficultly trying to elucidate those points, which should, I hope, shed some light on the kind of totally different project that the album is. I’m barely sure what “CREEDamage” is, and not at all sure who it’s intended for. But shit, I don’t know if I’ve ever been as sure that a record is something. What that ends up being is in the eye of the beholder, but it’s an experience, certainly. If for no reason than to see the rules of metal broken and the boundaries willfully ignored, don’t let this expansive effort get by without trying it out. Win, lose or draw, in an era where true creativity is rare indeed, Munruthel deserves healthy acclaim.

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