There are albums that find their homes burrowed in the dark, deep recesses of our minds. No earworms, no bright, catchy melodies, just a profound sense of disturbance. That’s Cyrm, the first album from Irish quartet Øxn, taking the music about as dark as it can go. No redemption, no light and shade, nothing but shadows and fleeting ghosts. Listen to their take on the traditional song “The Trees They Do Grown High,” and the bleakness is obvious from the first piano chords. It’s Lear’s blasted heath set to music.
Made up of Lankum singer Radie Peat and the band’s producer, John Murphy, Øxn comes from a band renowned for its intensity. Add singer-songwriters and instrumentalists Ellie Myler and Katie Kim and you have a group that never lets up.
It all opens with a version of “Cruel Mother” (taken from Andy Fenstermaker’s arrangement, but which also seems to owe a debt to the American version that the Warners collected) that offers only punishment and death for the woman’s sins – and the emphasis is very much on the sin. Hope has long since been abandoned. The only moment of brightness comes with a small, repeated guitar figure, but even that becomes lost in the voices that mass near the end like a devil’s choir. But even that is spare and doom-laden. Like the rest of the album, the instrumental accompaniment to the voices throughout is never more than a framework for the words.
“The Wife Of Michael Cleary” from Maija Sofia’s pen, might be recent, but it sounds as in this take, it sounds as if it was hewn from ancient rock, majestic and full of foreboding, stretching out like a road you have to follow.
None of the six tracks here is short (four-and-a-half minutes minimum) but they all seem to be inevitably leading to Cyrm’s climax, their epic, apocalyptic vision of Scott Walker’s “Farmer In The City.” The original was a difficult, obtuse piece, and they don’t attempt to untangle it, letting the song turn and build, gradually rising into chaos propelled by Myler’s frantic drumming. After it ends, it’s a piece that requires a minute for the mind to recover. It’s emotionally overwhelming and draining, especially on top of all that’s gone before.
Cyrm is an achievement, a super piece of art. The question is: "where can they go from here?"