Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Krohm - Slayer of Lost Martyrs

Krohm - Slayer of Lost Martyrs
1997, Self- Released

Most of the black metal demo tapes that I receive here to review for Erebus follow a 'traditional' style or approach of sound or delivery, and I can't say that I really come to the 'critiquing' of this kind of material with that much enthusiasm. There is only a limited number of times anyone (except maybe the few really diehard reviewers/journalists out there who write extremely short and dogmatic reviews) can type into the keyboard the adjectives 'raw, seething, ferocious, blasphemous, brutal' etc. without feeling a little weary. On these shores, especially, the 'standard' set of criteria that go into making the typical US black metal band have been very rigidly defined, and it doesn't seem like there are that many bands who either have the courage, talent, or enthusiasm necessary to break out of the mold and write something original. A large amount of love for the black metal scene, artistic/emotional fervor, and legitimate anger (no matter how self-righteous, it would seem) are all good starting points for new bands: it is only when those first inspiring motivations are shortchanged by being forced to bear average or even 'substandard' music that the movement loses it power, focus, and energetic edge. Black metal is an artistic style that I believe can only benefit from more freedom in compositional standards and principles - that is, its edge can only be sharpened with the expansion of expressiveness, the increase of artistic license. For some of you, intent on making a 'Legion' or 'Horde' (you know who you are) of the US black metal bands, having them all turn around a central pivot that is planted in the stripped-down aesthetics of Judas Iscariot, Thornspawn, Krieg, Profanatica, etc. this might seem like a paradox...'how can we fight the good fight,' you will say, 'when we are divided amongst ourselves?' The questions I have are these: why are you fighting, what are you fighting for, and which of you really has the talent, charisma, and true artistic legitimacy necessary to lead? Why are you, as artists (born creators), fighting through anything but your music? And if you are dedicated to your music, why limit it in any way from growing, expanding, and taking on new life?

So it is with a great deal of pleasure and enthusiasm on my own part that I am writing tonight about this black metal band, Krohm, the brainchild of Dario Derna, the keyboard player for Evoken (easily one of the best doom bands in the scene), who plays all the instruments on this recording, as far as I know, and who also wrote all the music, lyrics, etc. I am excited about this band because it completely breaks from US black metal tradition, and forges a path on its own - a new stream, a novel harvest of sounds, an original passageway into a completely personal take on black metal aesthetics.

There are a few important influences that can readily be discerned on the first couple of listens, as you would probably expect from a 'new' band or a band that has just begun to define their own style. The two main influences that I can hear, or that this music evokes, for me, are: Manes, that most obscure and the darkest/strangest of the Norwegian black metal bands; and the atonal, cold, harsh world of Burzum. Even without talking to Dario and receiving notice of his admiration for Manes, as I did earlier before this material arrived, I wouldn't have any trouble hearing it on this release. It is everywhere, from the slow, mournful arpeggios that cascade through the listening space to the intense use of reverb and harsh distortion, from the slow, meandering pace of these songs to the necro production on this tape, which mirrors Manes' 'Maanens Natt' and 'Ned I Stillheten' perfectly. But notice: I said influence merely, Krohm definitely has its own style and/or idiosyncratic arrays of powerful melodic expressiveness. The tints of Burzum (meaning: dissonant shards of disjointed melody) that I hear are mainly in the first song, 'Gone Astray', with its sometimes atypical choking, stuttering, atonal riffing, shedding or raining crystals of freezing rain into the listening sphere, drowning everything in sorrow, bewilderment, and a morbid, searching melancholy. This is only what I hear, however. You may see it differently.

Krohm's music unfolds slowly, with a doomed lethargy, in a pessimistic mood - somehow sullen, private, personal, or not ready to fully disengage itself and offer insights as readily as more 'obvious' music. These songs nestle down securely in your head, razing the shriveled undergrowth and building a world for themselves as they open wide spaces for the growth of their melodies. They unfold at their own pace. Shreds of melody float down from the sky - or in and out of your notice steadily, they swirl about like new-driven snow, and then disappear only to further coalesce and put themselves back together later in the course of the songs. A droning, slow-picked electric guitar echoes and stirs the icy water of beautifully isolating patterns of notes or is strummed faster to build misanthropic walls of grim, blackened sound; the drums are simple, effective, at times almost forgotten in their wild meandering; the keyboards construct maelstrom layers of ether, mist, and funeral shadow, the air in labyrinths of forgotten passageways; the vocals - truly the voice of The Lost - float eerily from ear to ear, as if they were rising from a deep well, or from cracks in the surface of frozen Winter earth - they come from underground, from the soul, from deep within. All of these elements form a unique landscape of frost and a withered, almost powerless sadness. This is truly a unique listening experience.

It is interesting to me to note that Dario, who regularly only plays keyboards for Evoken, is here featured on every instrument, and writing, playing, and recording music that is much darker and colder that what his 'main' band usually features. It must have been a great experience for him to put this together on his own, to strike out into original territory without the fear of censorship, solicitation, or nay-saying that comes with being in a band. It is because of that independent search of his, I think, that this music is so important to him, and thus to the rest of us. It is because he travelled towards this music alone - and created songs that he wanted to write purely for himself - that this material has so much power and immediacy. I look forward to hearing more from Krohm in the future. It certainly establishes again my faith in the fact that there are vital artists here in this country (with something to say) who have legitimate, powerful, and original voices. Recommended.