Muscle and Marrow



by Dean M. CONTRIBUTOR (30 Reviews)
May 25th, 2018 | 8 replies

Release Date: 2016 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Feel my power/Female power/Fear my power

What space exists for the feminine in metal music?Throughout its history, the metal community has been mostly comprised of and dominated by straight male musicians making music for straight male fans, and subsequently, metal’s defining characteristics have come to be associated with masculinity: power, aggression, anger directed outward. Sure, a fair number of female metal musicians have come to prominence and earned acclaim, but they seem to have historically found greater success when assimilating to metal’s masculine standard, or at the very least not challenging it. And while many straight men in metal have found ways to explore metal’s potential to express themes and emotions outside the confines of the masculine, attempts by women to carve out a space for femininity in metal are comparatively rarer--which makes it all the more exciting when such an attempt is as enthralling as Muscle and Marrow’s Love.

Muscle and Marrow’s music fits loosely within the purview of doom metal, but compared to the rest of the genre, their approach is uniquely, remarkably restrained. Light on distortion, riffs, and screams, their sound instead maintains allegiance to doom metal subtly, through deliberate tempos, low drones, and Keith McGraw’s heavy, pounding drums. “My Fear,” the first track on Love, with its swirling synth arpeggios at the forefront, barely sounds anything like doom metal, but as the album progresses, it grows more desolate; Kira Clark’s haunting, layered vocals become more insidious, and the contrast between quiet and loud moments grows ever so slightly larger. Rather than gripping the listener’s attention by the throat, Love draws them in so slyly and gradually that they barely even notice they’re being seduced.

This sound meshes perfectly with Love’s lyrical content, which is a stunning exploration of feminine themes through a doom metal lens. Clark crafts a sort of body horror of womanhood, representing abstract concepts of female sexuality and motherhood with disembodied body parts and bodily fluids. On “Womb” and “Bereft Body,” Clark reflects on her matrilineage, yearning for the safety of her mother’s womb and seeing her ancestry in her own grin: “My teeth are my grandma”/“Her teeth are in my mouth, can’t you tell?” On “The Drooling Mouth,” Clark personifies love as “dripping milk,” a “warm, wet cunt,” and a “sad insect,” thereby interweaving the motherly, the sexual, and the alien into an uncanny scene. By breaking womanhood down to such unsettling parts and laying them over a subdued, haunting doom metal foundation, Muscle and Marrow effectively convey that femininity is something to be reckoned with. To drive the point home, the final track, “Light,” culminates in the album’s loudest and most ferocious climax; as Clark’s crooning devolves into harrowed screams, other layers of her vocals chant, “Feel my power, female power, fear my power.”

Recently, Clark and McGraw announced that they would be ending their tenure as Muscle and Marrow, rebranding as So Sensitive, and transitioning to a synth pop sound for their next album. They seem happy with and excited about this change, so it’s hard to be too disappointed that Muscle and Marrow is no more, especially since Love is such a brilliant, resounding accomplishment that they have nothing more to prove. But among the many reasons cited for the change is Clark’s need to “be around more women and femmes.” It’s easy to understand why Clark had difficulty fulfilling that need within the metal community, and worth questioning what can be done to change those circumstances, and whether the next woman who carves out a space for femininity in metal will find that space any easier to occupy long-term. If not, we risk losing out on a significant portion of metal’s potential to explore a vast range of sounds, emotions, and ideas.

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Comments:Add a Comment 
Contributing Reviewer
May 25th 2018


Album Rating: 4.5

i'm anticipating that my first paragraph is going to draw some disagreement, so to get a head start on that discussion, i'll link to Malmrose Projects' video essay about women and gender issues in metal, which goes into much greater depth on the subject than i could in this review, and with which i largely agree:

May 25th 2018


Album Rating: 3.5

Nice review my dude

This album still rules

Contributing Reviewer
May 25th 2018


Album Rating: 4.0

I've been bumping this album on a regular basis. Great review Hesp.

Digging: Joe Henderson - Power to the People

Contributing Reviewer
May 25th 2018


I suppose I disagree with the extent to which the first para suggests that ones gender and/or sexuality dictates or delimits the emotions, tones and messages one can express through metal music. And I'm a little uncertain just exactly what you mean by masculine emotions and feminine emotions (if you wouldn't mind elaborating I'd appreciate it). Sure, I see the case for the record dealing with inherently female experiences in a way that metal rarely (read: basically never) does (which you touch on nicely in the third para), but expanding that idea out to the breadth of 'emotions' seems to go too far I think.

Neat review as usual, may give this a go.

Contributing Reviewer
May 25th 2018


Album Rating: 4.5

i guess the 'emotions' bit isn't terribly relevant to Muscle and Marrow. i do think that their music is more introspective than a lot of metal tends to be, but you're right that the bigger contribution they make is the female experiences the album deals with

but in regards to metal as a whole, the point that i was trying to make wasn't that there are inherently masculine and feminine emotions and metal mostly deals in the masculine ones, but rather that societal gender norms (at least Western ones) tend to limit what emotions men and women--especially men--are allowed to express. the video i linked up top does a much better job of explaining all this, but basically, gender norms dictate that men can show confidence, anger, etc. because those are "manly" emotions, but not so much sadness, fear, love, etc. because those are vulnerable emotions and therefore "girly," and men risk being called pussies. and those same norms have carried over to metal, where straight men have mostly used the genre to express anger and power, and subsequently created a standard where if you're using metal to express the "girly" emotions, a bunch of elitists will police both your gender and your music and say that you're not "true metal." as i mention in the review, some straight men have pushed back on this standard and used metal to express grief, depression, etc., but if we want to push back further, it can't hurt to try to welcome more women (and LGBT+ people) into the scene

this is all pretty hard to explain because gender is very weird and nebulous and complicated, and i didn't want to make the review ten pages of discussion about gender in metal and three paragraphs on the actual album, but hopefully this elaboration helps. thanks for the thoughtful comment

May 25th 2018


Hate this review. Won't get into it tho. Suffice to say we do not see eye to eye

Contributing Reviewer
May 25th 2018


Album Rating: 3.0

This album was alright

Contributing Reviewer
May 25th 2018


cheers hep, I appreciate the elaboration. I think I'd disagree as to the extent to which those gender norms pervade and influence the genre (particularly due to how frequently metal grapples with depression and being open about sadness in an 'unmanly' way), but I can of course get behind the sentiment behind your line of argument - "it can't hurt to try to welcome more women (and LGBT+ people) into the scene" [2]

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