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“Hipster”. Never has there ever been a more conveniently dismissive term for black metal genre purists to throw at any band who dares to take their precious little niche genre too far from the sonic and philosophical themes of years past. Granted, bands like Liturgy (featuring the noxiously pretentious dweeb Hunter-Hunt Hendrix) unfortunately substantiate that stereotype, but fellow New Yorkers Krallice make beatnik black metal music that’s experimental, without sacrificing vital passion and intensity (and without crumbling under it’s own obnoxious, self-indulgent weight).
I’ll be honest, this is my first attempt at giving the American experimental black metal band Krallice another chance, after being resoundingly disappointed by their previous release, last year’s Diotima. That release struck me upon first listen as suffering from excessive long-windedness, and having a surplus of technical acumen in place of a compelling atmosphere or engaging songwriting. Fortunately, Years Past Matter is a record lacking none of the above, even though it took roughly 7 listens before its truly glorious nature was revealed to me.
Like the unnamed song titles (irritatingly titled as a series of lines), the songs on the album tend to blend together as if the entire disc was one epic, sprawling piece. The opaque, heady songwriting requires many, many listens before any amount of understanding can be gleamed from the music – for the first 3 or 4 listens, a good 95% of the album goes in one ear and out the other. It teases the listener with fleeting promises of some sort of revelation of understanding that ultimately disappear as soon as they appear. Indeed, this is not something to listen to passively. This is not meant to be a knock to the band – it’s as challenging and intriguing as it is somewhat baffling.
Some of the more legitimate criticisms of the band take aim at the somewhat monotonous and aimless songwriting; metalheads who prefer their black metal cold, grim and hateful with an emphasis on riffs will find little to enjoy here – the production is warm and lush, the mood spacey, contemplative and minimally aggressive. Songs like the second track take you on a ride through the infinity of the cosmos, but this is no Darkspace or Thorns. Blastbeats and tremolo picking take the listener on a cosmic journey through gaseous celestial bodies and nebulae, swelling and shimmering and bursting with color. All of the stylistic tropes are intact (repetitive high pitched tremolo picking, mid-paced blast beats, shrieking vocals, illegible band logo, etc.) but seemingly done to an opposite emotional effect. Years Past Matter could even be seen as an atmospheric antithesis to that of traditional black metal of yore – black metal that’s positive and empowering (without sounding hammy and forced).
Love or hate these polarizing New Yorkers, it would be misguided to dismiss such passionate, ambitious and unique black metal as quickly as many metal fans have (including me at first listen). Given the right attention, Years Past Matter reveals itself to be a rewarding, evocative experience.
(originally posted at http://freeassociationnonsense.blogspot.com)
The other day, I watched Cosmopolis, the latest film from the brilliant director David Cronenberg, one of my most admired filmmakers. I wasn't crazy about the movie. The dialogue was often awkward and didn't make a lot of sense, and the point of the movie was difficult to grasp. But since it's Cronenberg, I feel that this is mostly my problem, not the film's. I have to work hard to understand some of his movies. This isn't casual, breezy entertainment.
Krallice make me feel a similar way. After a more straightforward (but still fantastic) debut, the songwriting has become less traditional, the structures more swirling and wandering even further away from the mainstream, and this time around with their fourth album Years Past Matter, they aren't even providing any standard song titles to help us understand their work. This album is like a sheer rock face the listener is trying to climb, and only once in a while does Krallice offer an easy foothold to stabilize your position.
Due to the lack of song titles and the similarity of the tones between the songs, it's hard to single out individual tracks or moments that stand out. Diotima's "Litany of Regrets" and Dimensional Bleedthrough's "Monolith of Possession" were unique tracks on their respective albums, but Years Past Matter plays more like a single long piece to me, for better or for worse.
The performances, as Krallice fans have grown to expect, are flawless. All the instruments are clearly audible and Mick Barr & Colin Marston's intertwining riffage is as fantastic as ever. Most of the vocals are bassist Nick McMaster's lower growls this time around, as the band has mostly abandoned Barr's higher shrieks. I liked Barr's vocals quite a bit on the first record, but McMaster's are still strong and give the music a different flavor.
Like David Cronenberg, it seems like Krallice make the art they feel inspired to make, audience expectations be damned. And while some of their works are easier to digest than others, I'm happy that uncompromising bands like Krallice are making records like this for when I feel like a challenging and engaging listen.
After the promising Diotima, Krallice have sunken once again with their 2012 release, Years Past Matter. It’s more or less a continuation of Dimensional Bleedthrough, using the same formula of complex melodies with the occasional dissonance here and there.
Of course, it still retains the same spastic songwriting, leading to the same issue of forgettableness and irritation. Every few minutes a section that makes you go “hey, this is pretty neat” appears, only to fade away and quickly devolve into yet another messy and unmemorable passage. The fluid polyphony so masterfully utilised on the debut is often nowhere to be found. Also, I can only recall Mick Barr’s shrieks appearing a grand total of two times; the rest solely consists of Nicholas McMaster’s throaty howls. Since I vastly prefer the former to the latter, this only serves to add to my disappointment.
Their biggest failing, though, is that they seem to have simply forgotten how to create a climax. They either truncate the song abruptly, break into guitar feedback for 2 minutes, or worse still, lazily throw in an aimless, uninspired ambient section that serves absolutely no purpose. It’s like they’re not even trying anymore. Track 5 doesn’t even do fucking anything, aside from playing around with cymbals and pointless dissonance. On Diotima, they at least had some interesting progressions, as well as a generally warm and misty atmosphere throughout. Years Past Matter contains no such progressions, and certainly no atmosphere; only a never-ending volley of mediocre riffs.
Admittedly, there are a handful of impressive standalone sections to be found in each track. In particular, track 4 starts off with a devastatingly heavy, almost death metal riff, which of course vanishes after a minute or so. Track 6 seems to have the most of such sections, but only because of its almost seventeen minute running time. While each section is rather impressive on its own, they’re all strung together poorly.
Yet, track 6 this is where the absolute highlight of the album lies. About two minutes before the end, it suddenly withdraws into a slightly ritualistic, tom-heavy segment, before morphing into a straightforward but grandiose passage, complete with a return of their beautiful polyphony, and finally exploding in a frenzy of synths and blastbeats. Granted, it’s pretty much a climax without a buildup, but it’s an extremely powerful one nonetheless. It’s a brief glimpse into the magic that they used to be.
Though Years Past Matter is quite possibly Krallice’s worst release so far, those with short attention spans may still be able to get a kick out of this. If anything, just head over to their bandcamp and listen to the closer to witness the sheer immensity of its climax. Seriously, it’s THAT good… it just isn’t good enough to warrant listening to the other 58 minutes of the album.