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 cu
nt,” 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.