Rarely do two types of music meet on a level where they threaten to cancel each other out - let alone create something even more meaningful in their mutual vanishing. But the music created within the seminal Murder Ballads (Drift) by Martyn Bates (Eyeless in Gaza, & parallel solo career) and Mick Harris (Napalm Death, Lull, Painkiller, Scorn) creates just such a world. Murder Ballads (Drift) evolves Martyn Bates vocalisations / storytelling song-voices, by turns expressed as labyrinthine layers, calls and responses, muted and distant echoes, sung whispers and counter-melodies, ultimately resulting in a mesmeric conversation of musical inferences and correspondences. Murder Ballads (Drift) created the post-isolationist frame of reference, innovating and extemporising into a truly original dazzlingly unique form.
Mick Harris traffics in the isolationist ambience of Lull, while Martyn Bates is the emotive voice of literate cult-pop duo Eyeless in Gaza. The unlikely pair - one given to terminally frigid drone, the other to impassioned, bittersweet voicings - finds common ground in folk music's most macabre tradition, the murder ballad. These ghoulish parables are awash in blood and tears, the strands of love, hate, birth, death, sin, and salvation entwined within like the roots of an ancient tree. Mothers callously kill their children; suitors slay their maidens without remorse; and fate exacts its cruel price from all.
The archaic murder ballads that leak from Bates' vocal cords are intensely sad and carnal. They tend to leap off cliffs of hollow effects or drone darkly, offering neither a robust delivery nor an element of irony to take the edge off. The archetypal characters that live and die in them give life's full tragedy back to Harris' electronically numbed "post-isolationist" dreaming.
Drift (originally released in 1994) plays out an unbreakable and timeless cycle of bloody folklore (people) and hypnotic soundscapes (the god who watches). The effect is chilling yet engrossing. Where most ambient music has barely enough courage to ring the doorbell and run, Murder Ballads slips through the cracks of the unconscious and does its work with remarkable ease.