Within the genre of metal (writ large), the musical hybridization of sub-genres is more common than it used to be. Even the inclusion of musical ingredients from beyond metal altogether is no longer rare. In fact, we might be somewhere near a zenith of cross-breeding and experimentation within our beloved genre.
As we all know, this doesn’t always work out well. Sometimes it produces music that seems bolted together without much regard for the ultimate effect, or lacking any apparent reason. Like the sight of Frankenstein’s monster, we can still see the livid sutures, and would rather turn away with a shudder than embrace it.
But when genre-splicing does work, when the disparate ingredients are harnessed together according to a well-thought-out design in order to create a richness of emotional impacts that would be difficult to achieve in a different way, given the particular interests of the musicians, the results can be unusually powerful and engrossing. The new album, Kenoma, by the Belgian band Sons Of A Wanted Man, is a prime example of that kind of success. With great pleasure, we present a full stream of it today, on the eve of its release by Les Acteurs de L’Ombre Productions.
photo by Lies Gaethofs
The label describes this particular hybrid of sounds as one that “incorporates the melancholic atmosphere of post-metal, the rhythmic intensity of black metal, the layered approach of shoegaze and the ethics of hardcore punk”. And that’s not an exhaustive list, as you’ll find out.
And you’ll find that out very quickly, because Kenoma begins right away with its monumental 11-minute title track. It launches with an immediate assault of blasting drums, thunderous bass, racing tremolo’d riffing, and incinerating shrieks. When the rhythm section becomes less murderous and more measured, strummed chords channel a kind of dreamlike gloom, but then they pulse and push with a blood-rushing urgency, setting the stage for the lead guitar to flicker and soar, which in turn sets the stage for the vocals to morph into vicious serrated howls.
The song continues to transform, with changing rhythms and mutating moods. Jagged, jolting riffs are intertwined with heart-swelling melodies delivered in shimmering tones. Gravel-chewing bass lines and neck-cracking, gut-slugging drum-work give way to quieter moments of beleaguered introspection. The music inspires feelings of despondency and despair, but also spawns visions of unearthly wonder (particularly near the end).
Yes, it’s a monumental way to begin an album, presenting the kind of dynamic and multi-faceted music that’s staggering and mesmerizing, remarkably intense and also wistful and forlorn. It might make you wonder how the band could possibly follow it without letting you down. Rather than beginning this way, they might have started with something less jaw-dropping and instead building toward “Kenoma” as the album’s finale.
But it turns out that the album remains consistently jaw-dropping. Every song is its own remarkable journey. Every one of them is packed with dramatic emotional power of different kinds — melodies capable of holding you in thrall as they pull your heart down or send it to grand and glorious heights — or ravage you with brazen savagery. The rhythm section (bassist Josse Theunkens and drummer Kevin Steegmans) repeatedly prove themselves capable of razor-sharp transformations, pushing and pulling the energy of the songs but also doing much more than that, providing fills that are inventive enough to seize your attention while guitarists Didier Boost and Pieter Jans and vocalist Jan Buekers are weaving their own spells — and shattering them.
Special mention should be made of “Canine Devotion“, not merely because it contains some of the most beautiful and entrancing music on the album, but also because it includes ethereal, haunting female vocals by Isa Holliday (in addition to a panoply of abyssal growls and caustic shrieks). The lyrics of the song are also intriguing, with suggestions that they are exploring man’s destruction of the wolf, perhaps a tale being told from both perspectives.
“Canine Devotion” isn’t the only song whose lyrics provide eloquence and intrigue — that’s true of all of them. Kenoma is one of those uncommon extreme-metal albums where it’s well worth reading the lyrics carefully; they’re worth contemplating wholly apart from the music.
But of course lyrics alone can’t ensure the success of an album such as this one, even when they’re expressed in such an impressively wide range of harsh vocal timbres (though there’s more singing to be found on the magnificent (and mauling) “Under A Lightless Sky”). The album’s power is necessarily more dependent on the musical compositions and the instrumental performances, and here their intricacy and dynamism make the music consistently gripping. So much happens within each track that they seem like audio kaleidoscopes, their colors and shapes constantly shifting but always falling into place.
And so, the “riskiness” of beginning the album with its monumental title track turns out to be no real risk at all. Where SOAWM might have chosen to end the album with that song, they instead end it with “Pieroma“, the album’s shortest track, and one without drums or vocals. And it makes for a sublime, spellbinding conclusion.
photo by David Hart
Kenoma was mastered by Magnus Lindberg at Redmount Studios. Les Acteurs de L’Ombre Productions will release the album on February 7th in digipack CD and gatefold LP vinyl editions (which feature the wonderful cover art of Cold Mind /// Simon Chognot), as well as digitally.