Life in your teens, your 20’s, your 30’s, maybe after that too, maybe it never ends, all these things happen:
You step forward, you fall down, you’re bruised, you get up. You face life, you shrink from it. You exult in the day, it kills you. You believe in the future, you dread it.
You look at yourself, but never see yourself as others do. You like yourself, you hate yourself. You rage, you laugh, you cry, you shout. You’re restless, you’re rootless, you’re rooted and happy where you are.
You work hard, you wonder why you do, you feel like it’s all a waste, the work makes you feel alive, it imprisons you. You focus, you can’t focus, your head spins, the world spins.
You fall in love, because that’s what our kind does. You go crazy with the feeling, it strikes you down. It completes you, it sacrifices you. It’s reciprocated, or it’s not. Either way, you’re helpless.
You try to control your life, and the ones you love, and the ones you detest, because that’s what our kind does. You seek order, security, safety, or you seek anarchy and chaos because you believe that will come, eventually, whatever you do. You believe you can change your future, you surrender to whatever will come.
You’re stronger than you think, you misjudge your strengths. You admire strength in others, you misjudge where strength lies that’s worth admiring. You resent authority, you try to impose your will on others. You’re generous, you’re selfish, you learn from mistakes, you repeat them over and over. You need friends, you give your friendship to the wrong people, you’re befriended by people you may not deserve. You trust when you shouldn’t, you’re suspicous at the wrong times. You’re fearless, you’re fearsome, you’re fearful.
The triumph and the failure, the remorse and the satisfaction, the loving and the hating, the despair and the absolute fuckin’ good times, it all teeters in the balance. The scales move up and down over time. You may look back, at the end, just before the scales freeze, and which side will then carry the most weight? And how much will you have to do with that balance between now and then?
So, what do these ramblings have to do with Ära Krâ? Just this, and only this: As I listened to their debut album, Ferne Tage, from start to finish, these were the thoughts that started running through my head. Not because of the album’s lyrical content, but because of the emotional feelings the music triggered, for some reason I can’t quite explain.
I can tell you very little about the members of Ära Krâ, or their history, despite my trying to worm it out of them, because they’re willfully secretive. They don’t publicize their names or their backgrounds. I only know they’re from Germany. But maybe that’s as it should be, because it requires that the focus be on the music.
The music is a genre-bender. It strongly reminded me at times of Darkest Hour, but that reference is only a general map of the landscape, and it doesn’t tell nearly the whole story. It features impassioned vocals that do remind me of John Henry‘s, and, like Darkest Hour, it succeeds in combining a slashing aggression with formidable melodies. But black-metal influences also permeate the soundscape, as do quiet interludes, prog-metal instrumentals, and metalcore rhythms and song structures. That combination may not sound like it should work, but it does.
The opening tracks, “September” and “Odem”, are fast-paced and the first flows seamlessly into the second — they almost sound like one song divided into parts. They’re often riven by blast-beats and staccato riffs (and there’s even a bass-drop enhanced breakdown in “September”), but both songs also include quiet passages and the shimmer of tremolo-picked guitars. “Odem” sounds more like black metal than anything else, but nothing that would pass as trve in kvlt circles. It ends with a melancholy, guitar-driven outro — and that down-tempo passage proves to be a bridge to the rest of the album.
The remaining five songs are slower, mid-tempo affairs that at times still rage, but also drift into pensiveness or sorrow. There are moments of searing intensity and moments of beauty that make your head swim, that make you think of heartache and the ephemeral nature of pleasure.
Nothing on this album sounds like the product of musicians beginning to feel their way. It sounds polished, accomplished, formidably assured. And that goes for the song-craft as well. Despite the mix of styles, the songs are cohesive and satisfying.
As self-assured and capable as all the musicians are, this is music that rides the guitar. Because I see only three shadows in the photos of the band, I assume there’s only one guitarist, but the guitars are double-tracked on the album, usually playing off each other, though sometimes in harmony. The guitar tones are varied, as are the picking styles, and the combination of melodies and rhythms, the movement from slow to fast and back again, the emotional resonance produced by all that, is vastly more impressive than we would have expected from a debut album.
Each song is distinctive, and each one has weight and substance. It’s the kind of music that has an appeal which lasts beyond the first listen or two. To my ears, Ferne Tage is one of the most impressive, auspicious debuts of the year.
I don’t have to pick just one song for you to hear, because Ära Krâ have made the whole album available for streaming and as a “Pay What You Want” download on their Bandcamp page (here), or you can have a listen via this widget:
P.S. If you’re a CD-lover like me, you can order a CD version of the album at this location.
P.P.S. “Ära” is a kind of word for “era”, and Krâ” is an old German word meaning “crow”. So, the band’s name means something like “Crow Era”, but you’ll have to give that your own interpretation.