Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Keep of Kalessin - Agnen, A Journey Through the Dark

Keep of Kalessin - Agnen, A Journey Through the Dark
1999, Avantgarde

Keep of Kalessin play in a style that may not be the most original or groundbreaking of all black metal formats, but they are slowly adding more and more to their sound in order to distinguish themselves from the other Scandinavian bands that play in this way, and on this, their second album, I think they have moved significantly further down the road towards originality. I wish I had the lyrics (I only have a promo copy) so that I could read just exactly what it is they are singing about - I have read in two places now that this band is highly influenced by the writer Ursula K. LeGuin and often base their lyrical 'world' on her novels - especially her beautiful 'Earthsea' trilogy. That is at least an interesting concept to base one's music around...

I hear death metal influences creeping in here and there on this album, and it mainly appears in the massive pounding of the drums or the shorter catchy thrash riffs that the guitarist(s) will use to break up the tremelo-picking. The guitar sound is a little heavier than in most black metal bands, reminding me at times of Sweden's Naglfar or even of recent Satyricon, and the vocalist keeps his voice low in guttural screams and moans of the damned. The bass is also very prominent, rising in some songs to match the guitars with its thick serpentine swaying. The last song, the title track, shows the band at their best, mixing a variety of tempos and riffing styles into an epic journey before shifting into a caustic blur. For the most part, however, this is blasting hyperspeed insanity all the way with grinding tempos, clicking snares, twinkling cymbals, and the swirling lightning of the guitars that paint the inside of your eyelids black with their cauterizing acceleration. The first song in particular ('Dragonlord') is especially unrelenting - it must be one of the fastest and most scathing black metal tracks ever recorded. This is black metal war, with all the modern artillery at hand...

What really sets Keep of Kalessin apart (in addition to their seemingly effortless brutality) are the slow little melodies in the songs that just seem to rise out of nowhere, beneath the main riffs, slipping and sliding in and out of the rhythm work in a nice counterpoint to the faster guitars. They add thematic density and/or depth to the songs, and also give each song a viable identity.

This is a quality release from Keep of Kalessin, I look forward to hearing more from them in the future, and I think they can only get more original in their melodic approach as they search for their own unique take on modern black metal. If they keep exploring I think their next album might just be breathtaking...

* Adding this a few days later after writing this review: this really is the sort of album that grows on you. After the fifth listening session or so I began to pick out melodies and sections that I had not caught before - melodies that I feel are completely original in their own right. Maybe this is just my own personal experience, I am actually not listening to a lot of black metal anymore, but I feel this band has captured on this album something that is really special - a breakthrough for them, perhaps, a new sense of melody. I recommend this record heartily.