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The inevitable fallout from having written a masterpiece is that the clinging vessels of anticipation are bound to be disappointed with whatever the artist records next, and this pretty much sums up my opinion of Klabautaumann's latest. Merkur was such a beautiful and lush dichotomy of ideals, so precisely balanced upon the precipice of harrowing loneliness, metered aggression and tranquil escape that I am still listening to it on a regular basis. Surely these Germans' ears number among the finest in all Europe at coercing elements of folk, progressive rock and black metal into the same space, and that work easily furthered the already-magnificent execution of their 2005 sophomore Der Ort.
The Old Chamber, by comparison, is a mix of epiphany and heel-dragging. A few of the songs are incredibly well written extensions of the sound they were getting at with the previous album, and others are just plodding and almost hinging upon ennui. This is sadly the case for the first track on the album, "Mary's Abbey" which cruises along with a predictable swerve of chords while Tim Steffens' gravelly rasp and a stream of sad, simple melodies attempt to build a broader atmosphere. Once you transition into the far brighter, more hopeful sheen of "Bog Spawn", the album seems to immediately pick itself up off the floor and swim the same channels as Merkur, with a lovely yet dire folk break and some excellent, uplifting riffs wedged into the bridge. The ensuing "Dead Marshes" is a bit heavier, with some more mystical black/thrash melodies that are better fit to the headbanging of the audience, and "The Crown of the Wild" introduces some added dissonance with tremolo riffing and dense chords of abandon, though it's a little jilted.
Deeper in we go, and the results come out mixed. "Gloom" has a decent atmosphere as it shifts between swaggering, slower rhythms and desperate chugging, but leaves no real impression. "The Old Chamber" is an instrumental, classic/acoustic guitar piece which might have proven more effective if it flowed into a song more inspiring than "Death's Canvas", which is a 50/50 mix of quality and uninspired riffing. But then the album takes a turn for the better in the transient, dark plodding of "The Maze" and the rocking, mug pounding fervor of "Black Rain", which might just be my favorite individual track. The finale, "The Dying Night" is also quite good, with some blissful strains of spooky melody abroad its slower, marching pace.
Strangely enough, this is no stylistic departure from Merkur. The notes simply don't often arrange themselves into such emotionally engraving pastures as the harried, melodic black metal of "When I Long for Life" or the airy, eloquent "Stygian". They're using a lot of similar, almost jazzy chord techniques here, but in general the music is not so busy or dynamically bristling. A few of the tunes just lull themselves into submission, and the clean vocals used are never so sobering and effective as, say, "Der Wald ist Ein Meer". In the end, The Old Chamber does feel more or less like a series of outtakes not good enough to make that cut. This is still a pretty good album, and I wouldn't kick it out of bed for eating crackers. If you enjoyed Der Ort or Merkur than you might be content with more of the same, but it's just not the magnum opus that I and Klabautamann fans might have hoped for.