Timing is a weird thing with record releases. It seems like a miscalculation for Musk Ox to release Inheritance in the middle of summer as it feels like a record designed to provide a musical accompaniment for the gradual turn from autumn into winter. As Premonition, Part 1 of the two part title track eases into view, you can quite easily close your eyes and picture yourself driving a country road on a grey day somewhere, ragged leafless trees hanging down from hedges either side, as the rain beats onto your windscreen, and by the end of the second (longer) half Hindsight you’ll be secretly longing for such inclement weather to come along so you can truly appreciate this record.
Even on the less brooding moments that open final track Weightless, it feels like Musk Ox convey a hint of sadness in everything they do, but in an elemental way – in that very song, there’s a gradual shift in pace and tone from that mellower mood into a more urgent feeling. It never becomes too intense or feels like an attack, it’s more of a gentle turn in intensity.
Comprising violin, cello and acoustic guitar, Musk Ox‘s filtering of their collective classical backgrounds into a sort of sombre incidental music, one might refer to as ‘chamber folk’, possesses the head of the former and heart of the latter in that particular description. There’s an earthiness to the tone of the instruments that you forget about when you’re so used to listening to loud distorted music; the materials the instruments themselves are made of, ring through with a purity. Were I feeling cheeky, I might also perhaps suggest this is acoustic music for people who own a Neurosis record or two, such is the overall aura of melancholy and unease that underscores their music. It has an air of restrained foreboding, calm before storm or perhaps a slow burning anxiety to it that fans of the apocalyptic will appreciate. It’s always understated however.
The orchestration is undeniably fantastic…
It does tend towards the monochromatic at times. It doesn’t get too dark, or collapse into complete gloom, and to be honest, you kind of wish it would at times. That’s clearly not the dynamic that Musk Ox are opting for, and while clearly there are heavier sensibilities here that will allow fans of metal or goth to connect with, the sounds at work don’t engage directly with those genres – and why, after all, should it? But listeners of those genres, which, let’s face it, constitute most of The Sleeping Shaman’s readership, will hear Musk Ox through those filters and perhaps feel the end result, while ornate and impressive, is a little too restrained.
The orchestration is undeniably fantastic but after a while the album does perhaps become background music, which takes me back to that initial paragraph about timing. There’s something about the contents of Inheritance that’s just built for times of introspection and bleaker environments, where the music can wrap you up entirely. Listening to it on a sunny afternoon feels wrong, look, it should be put away until October to be dragged out with the winter wardrobe.
It’s strange to hear music that evokes so clearly a specific season to the point where it feels like it actually relies on the turn of nature’s cycles to really come into the focus it needs. That is, in a way, a deeply impressive trick to pull off though, proof that Musk Ox have the ability to communicate something through their work, rather than simply provide a bunch of ambient sounds.
Scribed by: Jamie Grimes