You might already know this, but In The Elder Scrolls (online games, my lovelies!), The Dark Brotherhood and Morag Tong are two rival assassin guilds that operate differently, but both commit murder for coin….however, this Morag Tong are a stoner doom /psych-doom quartet from London. They’ve been around since 2014, releasing a debut EP Through Clouded Time that same year, followed by 2018’s critically acclaimed debut LP Last Knell of Om. Distorted Sound awarded the latter an 8/10 and described it as “An exemplary record” as well as “one of the best debut stoner records in recent memory“. Wonderbox Metal called it “an expansive and compelling listen” and Ghost Cult said it showed “admirable versatility within a staple diet of rhythm and titanic riffs”.
Which brings us up to date with the band’s second full-length release, Grieve. Upon listening, the band immediately struck me as being from the “same school” as the wonderful Mountain Caller, also from London, and indeed Morag Tong have been the support for Mountain Caller in the recent past. Another band they remind me of are Dawnwalker, for those huge riffs allied to an almost orchestral sense of song construction.
The new album sees the band signing with the excellent Majestic Mountain label (home to Grand Cadaver, Sleep Moscow, Saint Karloff and Devil’s Witches among many others) about whom the band are quoted as saying: “We’re delighted to partner with Majestic Mountain Records for the release of Grieve, MMR are one of the most exciting labels to emerge on the scene in recent years and their dedication to quality releases is second to none, so we couldn’t be happier to join a roster that’s already brimming with new talent alongside some true legends!”
Vocalist/Drummer Adam Asquith says that “we wanted to create something huge and heavy, but also gorgeous, textured and atmospheric. Incorporating both massive, aggressive wall of sound sections and more pensive, stripped back ambient instrumentals I think we have hit that sweet spot – something anguished and anxious, crumbling and dangerous, yet eerily beautiful and oozing with a love for life itself.“
The album only has four tracks. It opens with At First Light, the first (and probably the only) single to be released from the album. It serves as a useful microcosm for the band’s style, it gets pretty loud, but across the seven minutes worth there’s always a sense of skilful control behind the slabs of riffs, with carefully constructed layers giving context. The guitar work also has a surprisingly melodic, soulful mix on the lead licks, this works really really well, adding an extra element to the composition – and Adam’s vocals eerily remind me of early Wire in their impassioned first two albums. Good stuff!
Passages, is the shortest of the four new tracks, and to be honest I’m thankful for that. Without the benefit of the lyrics, Adam’s vocals come across as background ranting and no more, while the overall sound is quite simplistic and monochrome. Sorry lads.
A Stem’s Embrace is better, 9 minutes of quite slow-paced doom-sludge, again Adam is baring his soul or looking to bare someone else’s! There’s some great fuzzed lead licks in here, the whole coming together to give a massive sense of foreboding, imminent evil, this band is taking us to some dark places, towards the end it’s truly bad news for someone or something!
No Sun, No Moon is last but certainly not least, it’s a real monster, clocking in at just under 21 minutes of careful multi-layered composition. It starts softly and slowly (as these things often do), a cinematic feel from the outset, lurking echoes of sound backed by mesmerising cymbals. The first “movement” feels like it’s an atmospheric scene-setter, the second movement at around five minutes then begins to build shape with more body to it and majestic riffs emerging alongside some impressive percussion and sustained fuzzed lead guitar…followed by truly tormented vocals. You fear for the man’s larynx! A third, gentler and very melodic, movement emerges after that, almost bluesy in its dreaminess, before the Chords Of Doom re-appear for the final segment of full-on Sludge-Doom before a gentle fade-out. And breathe…
Morag Tong do differ from the majority of the stoner brigade in their sense of subtle switches between riffery and gentility! Hypnotically engaging melodies blend with organically constructed compositions that build and build – again like Dawnwalker and Mountain Caller. It’s quite a cinematic landscape that they paint, although singer Adam infuses the whole with impending doom and drudgery. A compelloing listen!
The album will be released by Majestic Mountain Records on Friday 6th October 2023 and is currently available for pre-order on Digital, CD and Vinyl formats.