In the first volume of Alan Moore’s 1984 comic Swamp Thing, the titular character is forced to cope with the loss of his humanity. He realizes he wasn’t a human after all, just the absorbed consciousness of scientist Alec Holland into his plantlike form. This causes him to spiral into a sort of depression, rooting himself into the green ground.
“There is a red and angry world. Red things happen there,” Swamp Thing says of our world. “The world eats your wife, eats your friends, eats all the things that make you human. And the world just keeps on eating. I couldn’t take that, being eaten. I couldn’t take the red world, so I walked out and left my body behind and I’m somewhere else now.”
As Merso worked on its latest record, Red World, the band members explored this idea without ever explicitly talking about it with one another. They did, however, do plenty of work perfecting the record’s arrangements and sonic palette, self-recording the entire thing through ProTools so they could fuss over tone and beats-per-minute of specific sections of songs before they ever set foot in Bear Creek Studios. But the themes were all internalized: “I wanted somebody to experience what it feels like to become a monster—I feel like that’s one of the great themes of Swamp Thing,” vocalist and guitarist Tristan Sennholz says.
The record itself is a behemoth: eight tracks covering nearly an hour. Within that time frame, Merso explores everything from hooky prog-rock homages in punchy songs like “Reunion Show” to the post-rock vastness of opener “Astoria.” The three-part title track alone spans a wealth of sounds—part of Sennholz’s insistence that “genres are stupid.”
“I think what we’re trying to do with this band is to use these certain archetypes, these sounds, these textures, that gets you ready to expect something, and then you don’t get what you expect,” guitarist Taylor Romoser says. This is exemplified not just musically, but also in Red World’s general concept. The album deals with addiction, something Sennholz says all the band members have dealt with in some form in their lives. He says he realized early on that life doesn’t end like a Disney movie with good always triumphing over evil—a narrative Merso tries to subvert in Red World’s structure, starting with brighter tones progressively building to heavier ones.
“If you look at [Red World], there is one giant slope down into darkness,” bassist Evan Anderson says. But even that isn’t so simple. Instead of a steady descent into oblivion, Anderson describes the record as being filled with “bumps” and “false starts”—moments when the record will briefly brighten or change course before heading back to inevitable bleakness. It’s not the most optimistic look at the human condition, but it’s a remarkably honest one—with some beastly riffs.
Out Fri., Oct. 21 on Good to Die Records.