ØXN, a doom folk quartet, comprises Lankum vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Radie Peat, producer John ‘Spud’ Murphy, and associates Eleanor Myler of Percolator and Katie Kim. Cyrm (pronounced ‘cy-rum’) is their debut album, and marks the first release on the recently revived Claddagh Records label. The project reportedly blossomed from a collaboration between Peat and Kim for Nollaig na mBan, the album recorded in Dalkey and Hellfire Studio, the birthplace of Lankum’s recent opus False Lankum.
For all the plaudits Lankum have rightfully received to date, Cyrm is an outstanding achievement in its own right, boasting a half-dozen tracks on which the collective remould folk sounds into something entirely thrilling and new.
Opening with Peat’s incomparably penetrative voice on the cautionary tale of “Cruel Mother”, the song builds slowly with a bleak guitar measure, thunderous bass sounds and near tribal rhythms, reaching almost cacophonous levels before peeling away almost completely towards the songs closing moments. This is immediately followed by “The Trees They Do Grow High”, another fable on which Kim takes the lead, her voice softer but every bit as haunting.
It comes as no surprise that these songs would draw inspiration from othered female perspectives, the former a reminder of the once standard treatment of women who gave birth out of wedlock or suffered from mental health issues, the latter a lamentation of a woman forced to marry a teenage boy who would ultimately die a year later.
True to the folk storytelling style, ØXN opt to present these harrowing tales shrouded in reverb and underpinned by bass-heavy droning sounds, with compositions that twist and lurch, creating as much unease as the stories conveyed in the lyrical content.
The group really stick the landing on the closing track, an astonishing 13 minute cover of Scott Walker’s “Farmer In The City” on which Kim’s subdued vocal seethes with quiet rage and defiance, the instrumental leaning into almost gothic, metallic territory with the layered vocals and blasts of noise in its later moments.
If False Lankum is to be considered the best Irish album of the year so far, Cyrm is more than a worthy contender. Equally as stylistically adventurous, the album is arguably an even more challenging listen, and ultimately more rewarding for it.
Undoubtedly the sleeper critical hit of the year.