(Here’s Andy Synn‘s review of the new album by the Icelandic band Kaleikr, which is being released today by Debemur Morti Productions.)
If there’s one thing that sums up just how inundated with information we are, and how overwhelming that can be, these days, it’s the fact that I didn’t even know that Icelandic Black Metallers Draugsól– whose debut album, Volaða land, we were all pretty damn impressed with here at NCS – had broken up until I received the promo for Heart of Lead, the debut album from Kaleikr.
Although, perhaps “broken up” isn’t quite the right term, as not only is Kaleikr made up of two of the three members of Draugsól – namely drummer Kjartan Harðarson and guitarist/vocalist Maximilian Klimko – but there’s also some ongoing contention and debate as to whether it constitutes an entirely new band, or simply a name change for an existing entity choosing to go in a new direction.
Either way though, it’s very, very good.
Some of the early reviews for this album have referred to the band as “Icelandic Opeth”, and while that’s not necessarily an inaccurate comparison, at least in part, it definitely feels a bit reductive to me, as although there are several moments scattered across Heart of Lead – such as the cinematic riffs and imperious growls that characterise striking opener “Beheld at Sunrise”, or the roiling metallic maelstrom of “Of Unbearable Longing” – which strongly recall the work of Akerfeldt and co in their earlier days, specifically the pre-Blackwater Park era, there’s a whole lot more going on here than that.
“The Descent”, for example, takes several cues from turn-of-the-millennium Enslaved (including some suitably nifty and progressive bass work, as well as an array of eerily atmospheric lead parts), yet also manages to take these influences in a much darker, more dissonant, and more extreme direction, while there’s a few shades of latter-day Emperor/modern-day Ihsahn colouring the churning riffs and kaleidoscopic drum work of “Internal Contradiction”.
And although, if we’re being honest with one another, it’s probably true that Harðarson and Klimko have yet to fully realise their own original, authentic voice with this album, they’re both clearly budding masters of their craft, and the ways in which the intricate, often labyrinthine arrangements of songs like “Neurodelirium” (which, again, recalls a more overtly blackened and subtly discordant take on Ihsahn’s iconoclastic solo work) and “Heart of Lead” (the album’s shortest, but arguably most densely packed, number) manage to not only stimulate your senses but also remain stuck in your memory is a real testament to just how much blood, sweat, and passion has clearly gone into the composition of every track.
Closing with the majestic, multifaceted strains of “Eternal Stalemate and a Never-Ending Sunset”, which effectively encapsulates all of the influences outlined above, as well as a few more that I haven’t even got around to mentioning, into one impressively cohesive, intensely cathartic, whole, Heart of Lead is one of those albums which, despite its nascent flaws, is likely to make an extremely strong and long-lasting impression on the right sort of listener.
Not only does it feel far shorter than its 48 minute run-time – which is no bad thing, I have to stress – but it’s the sort of album that practically demands to be replayed immediately so that you can take another look, another listen, to its many different angles and aspects from a new perspective.
And that, my friends, is the sign of a very good album indeed.
AOTY! (Nice review)
Yeah, at least it is going to be a strong contender!
What we have here is another striking case of softened metal, replete with brooding atmosphere and sentimental melodies. It’s not exactly Astronoid -yet- but it leans heavily in that direction. For the sake of clarity, I believe Astronoid has a lot going for them, despite the godamn awful dreamy vocals (but that would be my personal taste). Unfortunately, there is much less to love about Kaleikr, a band that seems focused on delivering an essentially harmless version of Icelandic BM. Instant gratification is the key. No need to make any “effort” to get accustomed to “weird noises”, no need to feel threatened by the unknown or to have to stand up to criticism. This is music designed for easy consumption like Slugdge, Sulphur Aeon, Funeral Mist and hundreds of others. Music that “caters to the needs” of an audience by ticking their boxes, following the trends etc. Of course, there will always be a majority of people willing to be flattered). These people who “demand” music suited to their tastes providing “pure unadulterated pleasure” will always outnumber the few willing to open up to new and sometimes a little scary artistic experiences. I understand that. That is human nature.
I’m cool with Kaleikr until you try to sell it to me as great metal, or, worse, as some new variety of great icelandic BM. Kaleikr is to icelandic BM what Coke is to fine wine, an easy to consume and eminently forgettable sugary commodity. A watered down version of the real thing. Fans will rave endlessly about the technique of the drummer, the awesomness of the production and so forth. Well, coke is a great product too, but still essentially sugary water with some mildly complex flavoring added to it and the sparkle.
Kaleikr is sugary metal, with a little icelandic flavour and not much sparkle, designed to provide a brooding, sentimentalized experience, with an agressive edge to set it apart from easy listening material. Ha. Big fucking deal. Selling this as “Icelandic Opeth” is both ludicrous and accurate, ludicrous in the sense that these guys are nowhere close to Akerfeldt in terms of songwriting and compositional abilities, accurate inasmuch as Opeth is also a watered down, over-intellectualized take on the raw power of metal. It is also revealing of the whole cynicism of the project, that it is trying to cash in on both a vital metal movement (the icelandic BM surge) and a well-established band among the target audience (Opeth). This is very basic yet effective manipulation.
Now, if you will allow me, I’m going back to Svartidauði, Guðveiki and Carpe Noctem. If someone can convince me that Kaleikr is even remotely operating along the same lines as these titans, I’m all ears. If not, well maybe it is time to dissociate these guys from the whole “icelandic” tag and judge them on their own merits. Looking forward to that.
Ha, good one!