It’s inevitable, given the heritage of Kall’s members, that their debut self-titled album will be compared to and contrasted with the music of their former band, Lifelover. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. To this day, almost four years after that band’s final album, Lifelover has such a devoted following that Kall will benefit from the attention, and I have little doubt that those fans will like Kall a lot.
But if I were in a band, I think I would prefer to have my music considered as it is, rather than described and evaluated in terms of its similarities or dissimilarities to the work of a predecessor group. And so, at least here, this is the last you’ll hear of Lifelover — other than to note that the album’s final song is named “Far väl” (“fare well”).
I’ve been waiting for this album since July of 2013, when I discovered a song from Kall named “Då, nu – Jag och Du” (and wrote about it) that was then planned to appear on a debut EP. A second song and an excerpt from a third one eventually followed, and I wrote about them, too — and then instead of an EP, this album finally appeared. It was worth the wait.
Photo by Martin Strandberg
It’s a big work, nine songs that collectively last almost an hour. To these ears, there is a very conscious duality in the album, manifested in the flow of both the album as a whole — which seems tailor-made for a live performance from start to finish — and within specific songs.
On the one hand, there are plenty of light, introspective, dreamlike meditations, often accompanied by acoustic and electric guitar harmonies. The album begins in that vein with a shimmering instrumental piece (“Ingång”), and it ends in a similar musical space with the entrancing “Far väl”, a much longer instrumental work in which the band gradually add layers and volume. That final song has the atmosphere of a remembrance of brighter days, not sad, but tinged with wistfulness. The slow, drifting lead guitar melody rises and falls like a bird gliding on thermals over verdant hills. Other instrumental interludes are distributed strategically through the album’s flow, including the joinder of pulsating electronic sounds and rippling, reverberating guitar melody in “Brytpunkt” and the soft, simmering “Interludium”.
On the other side of the album’s duality are hard-driving songs anchored by rocking beats and by riffs that are dusted with a layer of fuzzed-out distortion. In those harder-edged, head-nodding pieces, the vocals are more often than not harsh and intense — gravel-throated, clawing howls, wails, and yells, full of a passion lodged somewhere between anger and anguish. The vocals come and go, not in any predictable way but as if Kim Carlsson cried out when the spirit moved him to do so. Especially because of his contribution, and because of the often depressive nature of the melodies, I think of this side of the duality as gallows rock ‘n’ roll, defiant but mindful of the long drop down.
No one song is given over completely to this kind of hard-driving propulsion. The band’s desire to create dynamic movement results in spaces within those rocking songs when the beat slows, when the volume descends, when the atmosphere changes, usually in a way that deepens the darkness and the depressive aura of the melody. But man, when Kall dial up the energy and light the torch under their riffs and rhythms, they generate some extended jams that are irresistible. For example, with the exception of one contrasting instrumental break, about the last six minutes of “En ljusare morgondag” is one long repeating section founded on a riff and a beat that hammers hard, like a mortician driving coffin nails made of lead.
Photo by Andreas Rönnberg
Such moments of contrast are also to be found in “Descending Ascension” and especially in “Varelsen”, which begins with a lilting acoustic guitar and sounds light and lifting (though perhaps not exactly uplifting) and then suddenly becomes very heavy, pierced by a high, searing guitar solo.
But hands down, the most remarkable song on this remarkably dynamic album is the 13-minute opus “Försök till förstörelse”. It starts and finishes in rock mode, but in between those sections the rhythm slows, and what follows is an extended instrumental piece with an almost jazzy bass line, a bluesy lead guitar, and sounds that very much resemble a harmonica and a sax in the mix (though I don’t know for sure if that’s what they are). When the band kick into a final, fuzz-riffed, repeating jam at the end — which goes on for roughly the final six minutes — it’s impossible not to get carried away in head-nodding bliss. It’s the same technique employed in “En ljusare morgondag” and elsewhere, but it works every damned time.
(I’ve now learned that there is indeed a sax in “Försök till förstörelse”, and it appears again during the solo in “Varelsen”.)
The production on the album gives it a lo-fi quality, vibrating with low static and subtle distortion, more murky than spit-polished to a gleaming shine. It gives the music a feeling of density, a feeling enhanced by the way in which the guitar parts are often layered together.
The album may never get a listing in Metal-Archives, and I guess by conventional measures most of it wouldn’t be considered metal. I’m not sure what the right genre classification would be; there were a few times when I caught myself musing that this was what Joy Division might have sounded like if they’d begun their career playing DSBM. But although this may not be metal, it has the kind of emotional weight and raw sound that makes it at least a spiritual sibling to a lot of heavy music. Whatever you choose to call it, Kall is an album that makes a lasting impact and is very much worth hearing, and hearing again.
Kall is available for download on Bandcamp, and it will eventually be available on iTunes and Spotify, if it isn’t already. Listen below.