Martyn Bates & M.J. Harris
Murder Ballads (Passages)
(Musica Maxima Magnetica eee 36, 1997, Cd)

Review 1

by Antony Burnham. (Metamorphic Journeyman)

Second chapter in the Murder Ballads series – more dark, rolling tones & chillingly dream-state voices tell four tales of cruelty. A series much lauded & deservedly so. MARTYN has searched around to find a second collection of tales to chill the blood. Although the two artists are credited with “compositions”, I believe these are actually old folk songs, with the fourth piece more commonly known as ‘The Murder In The Red Barn’ and dating back to pre-Jack The Ripper times, when it was then considered to be a crime worthy of portraying in song and even a play (check out the old black and white film starring TODD SLAUGHTER – it kinda romanticises Maria Marten more than history considers she deserves, but is worth seeking out if you like these tales). MICK has created a dark screen against which the voice is set, slow, soporific, bad dream driftworks which make a perfect mood for the cold stories to unfold against. As with his LULL project, this is deep, muted and less to do with recognizable “music” than of a feeling, a mood.

The backing soundtrack on this is so far up that you need full volume to discern the words. The original demo used this as a carpet over which MARTYN’s words crept, and seemed to have a much more powerful effect. Now the soundtrack is a high wall of darkness, over which the voice stands tiptoe to be discerned. I’m not criticising this – this album has been lauded enough for it to be right, but then there can be two conflicting opinions, both correct. I guess it’s the difference between two films – say the brooding depression of 10 Rillington Place as the demo, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre as the album. Both very scary films – both effective – but with a distinctly different approach to the horrors they portray.

But all said, this is still a chilling and fairly unique listening experience. Buy the box set, if you can find it – and ‘The Bloody Gardner’, that elusive 13th track. It’ll be money well spent.