In the first minutes of the opening song “Of Being“, the Athenian band Kevel lay before the listener a blueprint of what will become the foundation for the imposing and wondrous edifice of their new album Mutatis Mutandis, which we’re premiering today. In that opening, a riveting drum solo is joined by heavy groaning chords and shrill discordant arpeggios. In one fell swoop, the music hybridizes primal physical punch, dismal and depressive moods, and spine-tingling sensations of flaring madness.
The band’s ability to create teeth-on-edge tension and earth-quaking heaviness comes to the fore again and again over these 50 minutes. The nuanced yet persistently skull-cracking drum performance repeatedly threatens to steal the show, both amplifying the songs’ most intense moments and creating fascinating contrasts within all of the band’s other richly multi-faceted movements. The bass tone possesses the heft of granite but the nimbleness of larks. And the guitarists are highly adept at creating tension and turmoil.
But it turns out that all these riveting contributions really are just the foundation, and what Kevel have created around it is a gnarled, frightening, yet shining tower that reaches into the stars, almost as astonishing and awe-inspiring in its visions as it is shattering in its impact.
I, Voidhanger Records, which will release the album on October 23rd (this coming Friday) makes comparative references to such bands as Blut Aus Nord, The Great Old Ones, Neurosis, and early Mastodon, while also dropping hints of the music’s winding pathways through sonic realms of sludge, black metal, post-metal, and progressive metal, as well as to its spacey soundscapes.
The label further describes the album as an “uncanny cosmic journey, spewing growls of reason and madness,” moving from “fission to fusion, from humble beginnings to interplanetary domains, from birth to death”. The album hammers at “the question of what it means to exist and whether, if given the chance, humanity will be able to dominate everything across its path, while still not knowing what it really is. A life of body eternal, an eternal death of the mind”.
Momentous and harrowing subjects, to be sure, but the music is equally momentous and harrowing, and does seem to traverse time in great leaps. And for this album, in addition to evidently ambitious song-writing and carefully crafted execution, the band also bring both vocals and synths into their creations for the first time.
That gripping opening to “Of Being” segues into a staggering and nerve-racking stomp, just as the howling vocals emerge from their dark lair. The dissonant wailing tonalities and frenzied buzzing chords will indeed put your teeth on edge, functioning as the backdrop to a spoken-word sample, and the music boils over in a fusillade of hammering drums, plundering bass mania, and vicious acid-bath riffage.
The album as a whole does indeed have the quality of a narrative, but the longest track, “Terraforming“, is an epic narrative all its own. It seems narcotic at first, thanks to a slow, fuzzy, psychedelic guitar melody, but that’s just a prelude to tumbling drums and a grief-stricken lead that becomes more intensely distraught as the drums thunder and blast. Again, Kevel deliver earth-excavating heaviness from the bass and knee-capping belligerence from the drums, as well as the disease of skittering fretwork and cold-hearted vocal proclamations. And within “Terraforming” the band also provide the first sustained glimpse of their interests in musically exploring the cosmos.
The song becomes an amalgam of jolting rhythms and reverberating notes on a long, eerie glide-path. Grievous and grand, the music spawns visions of cosmic wonder that are simultaneously frightening and mesmerizing. There’s a great mix of contrasts here between the gleam of astral ambient sounds, the pulse-popping effect of the drum progressions, and the heaving heaviness of the bass. A fever bursts out, through frantic fretwork, mercurial arpeggios, and blasting drums, culminating in flaring melody and spine-shaking rhythmic blows.
Kevel follow that mind-blowing, otherworldly epic with a pair of high-octane tracks. “The Apophatic” is explosively extravagant and highly addictive, marrying hook-laden rhythms to adrenaline-fueling guitar work. Doses of high-caliber percussive artillery and grim, drilling pulsations are in the mix, along with anguished flickering tones, fanfares of brazen melody, and brilliant shimmering tones high above. The song is a neck ruiner and a mind-expander. It’s so electrifying that it seems joyous, though maybe it’s just the thrill of facing imminent calamity.
“Arecibo” is also a thriller, but it takes a dark turn before it ends. At first it’s a hard-charging rush of blasting and hammering percussion and riffing that wildly flickers and rapidly scissors. But it moves into an exotic panorama of strange sunburst chimes and sweeping keys, both fearsome and awe-inspiring, as well as weeping melodies and maddened screams. The entire, multi-textured tapestry of sound proves to be magnetically gripping and deeply chilling, pulling the album away from the exultant highs of “The Apophatic” and back into an atmosphere of desolation.
With an initially mid-paced beat, “Cosmic Domination” suffuses the listener with whining and glimmering sounds and peals of nebulae-like wonder. It creates a feeling of mystery but also packs a jolting punch as well as passages of unnerving dissonance, whose mind-abrading qualities grow increasingly intense until the building tension overflows in tides of seething and slashing guitar and turbocharged drumming. Yet, true as ever to Kevel’s attraction to change and contrast, the song also becomes beautiful and beguiling.
From the boisterous finish of “Cosmic Domination”, the band ease back on the throttle, allowing alien notes to ring out over increasingly blood-rushing rhythms in the album’s almost entirely instrumental closer, “Utopia Planitia“. Once again, the band send out streamers of glorious, otherworldly sound above a panoply of body-moving rhythms in the low end. It spins us through eye-opening soundscapes while allowing the rhythm section to put on one more gripping show of strength. The guitars razor the senses with sharpened claws and snap at the neck with bared teeth as the rhythm section engage in feats of acrobatic daring-do, manifesting an intersection of ebullience and despair.
But as they are want to do, Kevel also fly toward a perilous summit, creating am extravagant, whirling blaze of all-encompassing sound as the song’s last crescendo — and it could hardly be a more fitting way to end this extravagant album.
Mutatis Mutandis was mastered by James Plotkin and beautifully illustrated by Kuba Sokolski. I, Voidhanger will release it on 12″ vinyl (black or silver marbled) and in a Digipack CD edition, in addition to digitally. The CD and digital album will be out this Friday, while the LP edition will be out next month. Everything is available for pre-order now.