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The end of an era. - 87%

Thorned_Earth, November 2nd, 2015

I am slightly out of step with the MA consensus on Keep of Kalessin. After following and enjoying the band’s first four releases (including 2003’s fantastic Reclaim), I lost interest when Kolossus hit. At the time, it felt like a lesser version of Armada. It seemed to lack the variety and the character that Armada had, being neither as extreme nor as compelling. I’m sure the album appealed to many, it has reviewed rather well, and I’ve admittedly warmed to it over time - but it never struck me the way Reclaim or Armada did. Which is why Reptilian caught me off guard when I eventually got to it. Rather than merely being a lesser Armada or Kolossus II, Reptilian moves forward with the band’s sound and contains some of its best work.

Reptilian catches a lot of flack from the more true and kvlt out there, especially for the perceived “pop” edge to Dragontower (the album’s first single and most visible track). And that track does stick out in a bad way. But in pure songwriting and performance terms, genre expectations aside, this is one of the band’s strongest releases. It’s also the best sounding album in their discography, a triumph of engineering that is especially welcome after the thin, raspy guitar tones on Armada (something Obsidian Claw himself has lamented in interviews) and the somewhat muddled, compressed sound of Kolossus. Reptilian also happens to be the band’s last album with vocalist Thebon, who joined prior to Armada and was a big part of the new sound that developed on that album, making it the final part in a trilogy of albums that make up the band’s most commercially and critically successful period to date.

Reptilian isn’t as urgent as Armada, but the songs have the character and memorability that made that album great. And Obsidian Claw still brings an army of guitars to the forefront, weaving mean riffs and impressive leads deftly into the compositions without overindulging his guitar ego. Thebon puts in a typically solid vocal performance, combining his variable mid-range rasp with the anthemic melodic singing that has characterized the band’s second period. It’s hard to top his performance on Armada, but he gives Reptilian the distinct voice it needs for the tracks to come together, moving throughout his register to deliver a variety of vocal stylings - even conjuring up Attila himself during the final track. Vyl, as always, is a beast. The rhythm section that he forms with bassist Wizziac (all of the cool names were spoken for) is extraordinary, as usual. They play with the remarkable precision and dexterity that is rightly credited to them, and have a knack for supporting and elevating the songs in a way that often goes unspoken.

The album, clocking in at 56 minutes, is the band’s longest to date. This is likely the result of the fact that it is the final evolution of the grandiosity of the Armada era. It’s one more step away from the band’s roots, which is no surprise. But Reptilian does manage to conjure up some moments that recall past albums - without ever feeling like a retrospective. And despite the tremendous production and the band’s increased profile at the time of release, Keep of Kalessin doesn’t forsake the riffs or the punishing rhythm section that their sound was founded on. They’re just tempered by an increasing array of other elements, from serene keys to massive choral accompaniments. The increased restraint and use of space that is apparent here will probably put off some listeners, but the greater variety on display allows the band to flex different muscles. The blazing tremolo riffs and anthemic choruses haven’t been discarded, but the tempo isn’t as consistently aggressive and there is more...rhythm to the rhythm section. The band works well at a slow tempo, something they have rarely explored previously. And I realize the word “groove” has a negative connotation in some metal circles, but Vyl delivers more than a few mean grooves during the album’s running time - the contrast of which serves to make the the extremity of his playing elsewhere even more impressive. And no, despite this, Reptilian is in no way “groove metal” and can’t reasonably be compared to metalcore or any of the like (unlike certain other albums in recent years, I’m looking at you Cryptopsy). Rather, this album is still an evolution of the band’s melodic black metal beginnings, just one which is closer to the progressive, thrash, and occasional death metal influences that have come into play throughout their career. It explores a variety of speeds and rhythms, makes greater use of the symphonic elements that cropped up on Armada and Kolossus, and ultimately delivers a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy of albums under this lineup.

I will spare us all a list form, track-by-track commentary, but the album’s songs contain a deal of variety and erstwhile controversy that is worth discussing. Dragontower, for example, which was released as a single and a video, earned the band a deal of angry comments from fans and critics who considered it too much of a “pop” song, one that tried too hard to be palatable to audiences otherwise unengaged by extreme metal. They saw it as pandering, a perception no doubt supported by the band’s entrance of the track for consideration to the Eurovision song contest. My reaction to the track isn’t as strong as all that. I could not care less about who “sells out” or not, I’m listening to music, not proving my worth as part of an infantile subculture. And it’s really not as bad as the hyperbole of those trolling it would suggest. It doesn’t sound like Nsync, or even Linkin Park (I can only imagine what a trainwreck those clowns attempting to play this track would be). Dragontower isn't a disaster on the level of, say, Morbid Angel's Illud Divinum Insanus. It just sounds like KoK trying to court an audience that requires them to neuter their sound. Which, admittedly, is still not great. The guitarwork is barely recognizable as coming from the guy who wrote Reclaim, sounding like an imitation of some 80s hair metal act. For those reasons and more, it is easily the weakest song in the lineup and definitely not representative of the album itself. Every other track on the album is a better representation of what Reptilian brings to the table.

The album kicks off with two appropriately epic 8 minute tracks - Dragon Iconography and The Awakening. Each delivers the scope that fans of Armada and Kolossus would expect and more, filled to the brim with tremolo-picked riffs, soaring vocal melodies and all of the accoutrements that Reptilian has to offer (including some striking choral accompaniments). In this way, both tracks are a better representation of the album itself than the bemoaned single. But it’s not all just so. Tracks like Judgement and Leaving the Mortal Flesh largely pare the band’s sound back down to something more like the leaner cuts on Armada, grinding out riffs at a mean pace to keep the album from overdosing on its own pretension. Dark as Moonless Night, with a slow tempo and more space than existed on all of Armada, brings out another side of the band. Dragontower caught not-totally-undeserved shit for departing too radically from the band’s sound, but Dark as Moonless Night is also a considerable departure - one that actually works well, and adeptly showcases the band’s strengths while giving the album some breathing room. Clean-picked guitars and ethereal keys give way to a lurching riff that brings a heaping helping of doom into the KoK sound, and an anthemic chorus adds some levity. The slow build of the song - punctuated by a final screaming melodic lead break - may not tickle all fancies, but I think it’s a great track and a welcome departure from the usual. The Divine Land, the album’s penultimate track, is the highlight of Reptilian. It is seven minutes of glorious Keep Of Kalessin riffing on par with anything on Armada, and should appeal to even the most jaded fans of the band’s previous few releases. If Dragontower turned you off, The Divine Land may just turn you back on. It’s that good. And the final track, the 14 minute epic Reptilian Majesty, delivers a little bit of everything. The opening blast beats and tremolo riffs pick up where The Divine Land left off, and the song builds to a massive crescendo accented by orchestral and choral accompaniments, as well as some atmospheric synth work.

Reptilian is the end of the band’s second era, and a fine farewell that doesn’t really get its due. The Dragontower debacle casts a shadow over an album that is otherwise stellar. It delivers the compelling songwriting, impressive riff craft, and stunning musicianship that have always characterized the band while increasing their tonal range and the scope of their sound. If you dismissed this album based on the controversial and unrepresentative single, give it a chance or two. The new elements may not appeal to everyone, particularly those longing for the band to return to its roots. But those who enjoyed Armada and Kolossus will find plenty to love here, despite the instances that stray from the sound those albums established, as Reptilian is home to some of the band’s best moments.

Kalecore - 70%

Grotulg, February 7th, 2012

I will admit I am a big Keep of Kalessin fan, and upon hearing the crappy reviews for this album I thought to myself "A terrible Keep of Kalessin album? Impossible!" So I bought the album prepared to defend it with my life. So I listened, and it's a rather okay album. Nothing too stunning, just a straight foward black metal album.

The first problem, is the overall music style. On Armada, the style was furious, fast, and almost death metal-like. Kolossus was in the same league as Armada, just not as aggressive. But this album, sounds WAY too metal-corish. One of the reasons it does is because of Theobon's vocals. He had some pretty bad ass war-like shouts in Armada, and displayed numerous vocal styles in Kolossus. Although for some reason his vocals on this album just sound too much like metal core screams rather then black metal shrieks. However the absolute WORST part of this album is without a doubt the song The Dragontower. The Dragontower is the worst black metal song I've heard in my entire life. Actually scratch that, the song isn't even black metal, it's a gigantic ass pile of dragon shit, shat out by Kalessin.

Aside from Theobon's terrible vocals and The Dragontower, this album does have some great upsides too it. The music is majestic and epic just like Armada and Kolossus despite it's corish sound. Obsidian-C plays some awesome and crazy guitar riffs case in point The Divineland (one of the more kickass songs on this album). Also Vyl's drumming is also awesome and helps contribute to the epic sound of this album.

Case in point, it's an okay album. Minus Theobon's terrible vocals and the crapiness of The Dragontower it's still a good Kalessin album. It's good, agressive, and I recommend it too anyone who's into Dimmu Borgir, or Behemoth, but if your a diehard BM fan who's into the old stuff like Darkthrone, Mayhem, and Emperor, then you should probably stay away.

Questionable Authenticity - 60%

FullMetalAttorney, December 20th, 2010

You may already be familiar with the story of black metal band Keep of Kalessin entering the Eurovision contest (something like an international battle of the bands crossed with American Idol). They went to great pains to explain that they weren't selling out. I'm inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt, because I subscribe to the philosophy of Dethklok's Nathan Explosion. When Dethklok were performing a coffee jingle, a reporter asked them if they were selling out. He responded, "We are here to make coffee metal. We will make everything metal. Blacker than the blackest black, times infinity!"

As I said, I'm inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt. But the song entered in the contest, "The Dragontower", sounds like NSYNC in corpsepaint, or to be a little more generous, perhaps a gothic Linkin Park. I have a hard time believing this song was not intentionally crafted to reach a larger audience, and as a result it is terrible.

But the rest of their new album, Reptilian, makes up for that trainwreck. At its core, this is Dimmu Borgir-style black metal, with toned-down keyboards instead of the Prague Philharmonic. The DB style is most evident on the hard-driving "The Awakening". But the sound is also clearly influenced by power metal: there are rasp/sung choruses on several tracks, like the slower "Dark As Moonless Light", and a lot of power metal style guitar embellishments on tracks like "Judgement" [sic]. Even the fantasy-themed lyrics are present throughout, and "Leaving the Mortal Flesh" has swordfighting sounds in the background.

It's a very strange juxtaposition, and works at times, like the killer opening track "Dragon Iconography". At other times, though, it seems a little disjointed and awkward. And that awful "The Dragontower" comes in at a really bad time, disrupting the album's flow.

The Verdict: Keep of Kalessin has a unique, power metal influenced black metal style, and they clearly have talent. When it works, it's really amazing, and when it doesn't, it's still pretty good. But the flow is disrupted midway through by the single, and their authenticity will definitely be questioned.

originally written for http://fullmetalattorney.blogspot.com/

Keep of Kalessin - Reptilian - 75%

ThrashManiacAYD, July 30th, 2010

Having reviewed the fourth album of Norwegians Keep of Kalessin almost two years ago to the day I find myself impressed at the niche sound into which the band have settled over the course of their last few releases. 2008's "Kolossus", impressive as it was it did not match up to its' predecessor "Armada", however it did cement the band's particular style into extreme metal's consciousness. Full of big singalong chorus, hyperspeed riffs and blasts and an all-round epic way of doing things, KoK make a good effort in being one of the least extreme BM bands but crucially, the proponents of many a good song.

Knowing not to fix something that ain't broke, "Reptilian" is effectively an extension of where "Kolossus" left off, as in songs like "The Divine Land" and "Dark As Moonless Night" the band take the epic chorus formula to the extreme, slowing down the music for extra effect to fire hooks guaranteed to stick in the memory whether one likes the songs or not. Though the musicianship is undisputed in their performance of this material, KoK skill lies in the creation of songs that sound unique to them without resorting to unnecessary gimmicks or tedium as slow, fast, and very fast, mix together with just enough breathing space to always leave the listener guessing as to what might happen next.

By this very same token however Kalessin's reluctance to deviate significantly from their fast/slow template until 14-minute closer "Reptilian Majesty" exhibits an air of songs being written on the production line, as nothing to be found here matches the majesty of "Crown of the Kings", the band's undoubted classic from "Armada". "The Dragontower", (in)famously put forward as a candidate for Norway's Eurovision entry earlier this year, is surprisingly not as dull as one would expect it to be, as it's slower pace and easier feel on the ear marks the overall direction taken on "Reptilian"; an album built upon the steady success each previous LP has brought the band and one which should translate to further attention for the band.

Originally written for www.Rockfreaks.net

Not a bad album, but still a disappointment - 60%

Roswell47, May 24th, 2010

My first exposure to Keep of Kalessin's Reptilian was through a digital single which preceded the release of the album by several months. I first heard about the single, "The Dragontower," when I learned that Keep of Kalessin had entered it in a song contest. It seemed odd that a band like Keep of Kalessin would enter a song contest, yet as a long-time fan I was anxious to hear the new material. By the time "The Dragontower" reached the chorus during my first listen, I realized the song was terrible. From that point on I was very apprehensive about the new album. After four solid blackened thrash albums, was the band losing its way?

Keep of Kalessin has always been an evolving band, but there are some pretty drastic changes found on Reptilian. That's not to say that the guys have not retained some of their trademark sound, but overall they have simplified their songwriting. The album feels bland and toned-down compared to their past efforts. I don't know if this was a "natural progression" or a conscious effort to be more catchy and universally appealing. Thebon's blackened yell is still intact for the most part. Also, on "Dragon Iconography" Thebon uses the same yelled "semi-clean" singing voice that he has in the past. However, a new form of clean singing has been introduced on songs like the aforementioned "The Dragontower," "The Awakening," and "Dark as Moonless Night." Most of the time the vocals are much cleaner than on past releases. These newly polished clean vocals are typically used during choruses and are layered with harmonies. This works to great effect on "Judgement" and "The Awakening." These vocal parts sound tailor-made for crowd sing-alongs during live performances. Keep of Kalessin even takes the clean singing a step further on "The Awakening" and introduces an entire choir for an effect that is reminiscent of Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana" or Jerry Goldsmith's score for The Omen. Despite these successes, the clean vocals fail miserably on the sing-songy chorus of "The Dragontower" and make it virtually unlistenable.

Another new aspect featured on Reptilian is the more prominent role played by the keyboards. Together with the clean/choir vocals, they create a strong cinematic feel. This fits well with the dragon theme that is present throughout the album (including the amazing cover art). At many times the album almost feels like a metal fantasy soundtrack. That's not to say that the album is all light and fluffy. "Dragon Iconography," and "Leaving the Mortal Flesh" both kick ass in a full-throttle style that's similar to past albums. These songs, like many on the album, feature blast beats and fast thrash tempos courtesy of the drums. While the drumming is especially varied and flashy on songs like "Judgement," others have a more straight-forward steady "rock" drum beat. "Dark as Moonless Night" is a plodding and catchy winner on the opposite end of the tempo spectrum. The guitars on Reptilian utilize many of the old Keep of Kalessin tricks like black metal riffs, thrashy chords, and clean arpeggios. Despite this, they usually feel overly simplified compared to the older albums.

The songs on Reptilian range from excellent ("Dragon Iconography" and "The Awakening") to just plain awful ("The Dragontower"), but for the most part the songs fall somewhere in between the two extremes. In a way, Reptilian reminds me of Metallica's self-titled "black album" because most of the songs are actually pretty good, yet they pale in comparison to the group's previous output. Like the album Metallica, this release may signal a coming change for Keep of Kalessin. They will probably lose some old fans, but they may also gain even more new ones. This album will be most easily enjoyed by newcomers who have no preconceived ideas about how Keep of Kalessin "should" sound. Reptilian will be easy enough for the uninitiated to enjoy because it is simplistic and catchy while also sounding grandiose and cinematic in scope. Having said that, Reptilian will most likely divide the old fan base. Probably only the most open-minded Keep of Kalessin fans will thoroughly enjoy Reptilian. It may be a little too "mainstream-sounding" for the rest. Nevertheless, many old Keep of Kalessin fans may have an especially negative impression of Reptilian if "The Dragontower" is all they have heard. I urge these fans to at least give the other songs a chance.

Reptilian is definitely different, but it is by no means a bad album. It all depends on how you choose to look at it. When I ignore Keep of Kalessin's past triumphs and my own preconceived ideas, I am able to truly enjoy a majority of this release. However, that is easier said than done. Despite its good qualities, it's almost impossible for me not to consider Reptilian at least a mild disappointment. I know they are capable of so much more.

Originally written for http://www.metalpsalter.com

KoK's Reptilian - 58%

MystifyXD, May 18th, 2010

(A little edit to get my facts straight)

After joining the Eurovision contest with their single “The Dragontower”, Keep of Kalessin has started to make their follow-up for “Kolossus” (the band’s second album featuring the new line-up of Thebon, Obsidian C., Vyl and Wizziac). Though most of us know that their Eurovision single could start the beginning of their demise, can they redeem themselves from what they’ve done?

It feels very weird listening to this album (especially that “The Dragontower” is very out of place in this album). It’s not the polished production that feels weird here; it’s that the album sounds just like “Kolossus”, only worse. Every guitar riff here and drum beat has been ripped off from their previous albums. Meanwhile, the vocals are worthy of my praise for having more variety that last time. Thebon does death grunts, singing, rasps and a little bit of Atilla vocals (the one that sounds like on Mayhem’s debut album, "De Mysteriis...") from “Dragon Iconography”. ”Reptilian” is less aggressive than their previous efforts, having a lot of singing parts (though I find nothing wrong about this, when used in the right way) and less black metal fury and ferocity. Holy shit, have they gone to mediocrity?!

The album’s atmosphere, generally, has gone milder too. It only sounds strong from the start since “Dragon Iconography” has a good intro that slowly gains momentum then becomes explosive with the pummeling drums and some good riffs and also some guitar virtuosity. The solo is just an icing on the cake. “The Divine Land” is the most aggressive (and also the most beautiful-sounding) song here with the pummeling drums, the atmospheric riffs and some singing. Lastly, "Reptilian Majesty" is one anthem of a song ranging at more than 14 minutes, with great riffs and atmosphere. But the rest ranges from mediocre to just garbage (the dreaded “The Dragontower”). It’s such a shame, really. They were such a great band that makes epic albums like “Armada” back then.

The band just didn’t redeem their selves with “Reptilian”, surely, and they’ll have a hard time to, I’m sure. I guess this marks the bands demise to mediocrity, along with Satyricon and Dimmu Borgir. “Mainstream music pwned Keep of Kalessin”, that’s for sure. Don’t snag this; get “Kolossus” or "Armada" instead if you want to listen to the new Keep of Kalessin.

Originally made for http://mystifymyserie.blogspot.com

A Majestic Load of Dragon Excrement - 65%

zaebangad, May 10th, 2010

Oh, how high my expectations for Reptilian were. I mean, it’s Keep of Kalessin, the creators of the two massively epic masterpieces Armada and Kolossus. Well, that was until I heard the rumors that they’d go to Eurovision. This did not disturb me until I heard the song itself. And hell, does The Dragontower suck! But hey, I thought, one bad song does not mean a bad album. I’ve heard way back (around Armada or Kolossus) that they had enough material for three albums, so I expected to see the same quality. A few subtracted points on the final review for the shitfest that is The Dragontower and things would be fine. Man, was I wrong.

The album starts with Dragon Iconography and builds up quite nicely. Some classic Keep of Kalessin riffs. Everything seemed fine. Well, just now I realize that’s just what the album is. It is fine and nothing more. The songs aren’t bad per se, but they are not Kalessin quality. The Dragontower is terrible, others phase from great to mediocre. The true jewel is the last track, Reptilian Majesty, a truly majestic 14 minute song that undoubtedly contains the best riffing on the album.

There are a lot of things that just don’t work. Keep of Kalessin have a tendency to overdo blast beats. They can go on and on for a period so long that the drumming becomes tiresome and loses energy. Sure, the technical aspect of the band can not be brought into question, but just because your drummer can play blast beats for 8 minutes does not mean he should! This makes the drumming mediocre at best. This time around the vocal work is a lot more varied. There is some added drone vocal, epic choirs, as well as clean vocals that are just way too reminiscent of pop music to work. The first time around they are annoying and deplorable, but with repeated listens close in on bearable. The guitars have lost a great deal of their impetus and atmosphere, as well as that trademark Keep of Kalessin sound. Ambiance has been largely replaced for thrash riffing. The only song that is an exception and that reminisces of the glorious work on their previous albums is Reptilian Majesty. The true ailment of Reptilian is too much experimenting. Of course, experimenting is not necessarily a bad thing, but in cases like this, it heralds the harbinger of doom – the lack of direction. While Kolossus was extremely focused and worked well song-wise and album-wise, this one just meanders all over the place. There doesn’t seem to be a concrete scheme, just a mish-mash of styles and ideas.

There is some great material in Reptilian, some good and some mediocre, a situation exacerbated by the apparent lack of direction. Overall, the album is good. But, this is Keep of Kalessin we’re talking about. They don’t do “good”. Anything short of sublimely groundbreaking is a disappointment. As such, Reptilian fails to live up to the name. I’d advise you to avoid this and focus on their better work instead. The excrement of a dragon is the perfect metaphor for this album - a great beast creates a huge, loading pile, which although majestic in the world of loading piles, is out of place amidst the treasure in the dragon's hoard.

"Missed it by THAT much..." - 50%

doomknocker, May 10th, 2010

I had to do it…after years of ignoring, bypassing, and pretty much just not giving a fuck, I had to find out exactly what the hubbub was about with these Nordic goons. I’d never heard of these guys until the woodwork they sat under was split asunder and accusations of being the “next best thing to come out of Norway” was large and in charge within the increasingly crowded metal underground. Under usual circumstances my eyes would be cast elsewhere as a result of such fan boy-esque pandering, but as time would progress that cat-killing curiosity would latch on and demand I see if these guys had what it took to usurp the mighty Norwegian metal throne.

I took a deep breath, made the Sign of the Mjollner, and dove in…

To this listener, KEEP OF KALESSIN’s poison seems to be the synth stylings and blasting of mid-era symphonic black metal meeting the palm-muted, truncated violence of vintage thrash topped with death snarls that comes off as earnest and slightly addictive, albeit overdoing it a tad. I can sense a lot of potential within these Nordic goons, mainly in the deadly riffery and darkish atmosphere they convey, but does all this come together as the “next best thing from Norway”? Not necessarily…the best way I can describe this is, possibly, not the “right” band but rather a good “right now” band; good for what it’s worth in smaller doses in this day and age, but not really having the staying power many of their blackened contemporaries exude. Sure, these guys can garner one hell of a fan base and could knock ‘em dead live, but let’s see what the next five or ten years will do for them. Will they succeed? Or will they pratfall? This album, my one and only exposure, teems with the requirements needed for a great album; potent riffs, fast tempos, gatling-gunning percussive abuse, and dramatic key noodlings that come together in a slightly confused manner, more like a mish-mash of ideas versus musical cohesion. This is shown in spades on tracks like “The Awakening”, “The Dragontower”, and “Dark as Moonless Night” (containing a halfway decent Nathan Explosion impression, in more ways than one; I swear that around 2:08 he gurgles “…and JOIN THE DETHKLOK!”), showing that head-crushing heaviness does not always a complete album make.

So in the end the hype didn’t live up, sadly. I could be proven wrong in my earlier prediction, but it would really be up to them. If they work out the kinks a little better, maybe the KALESSIN KEEPers will take the metal world by storm after all.