Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Kromlek - Finis Terrae (2011)

Much like in baseball, metal has its contact hitters and its power hitters. The contact hitters put out their albums, hoping to carve out a niche in their genre of choice. The power hitters try to shake the earth itself, tearing down their subgenre in an effort to redefine and rebuild it. Kromlek, an impressive new outfit from Germany, are the latter. This is not a bunt. This is not a single to left field. On "Finis Terrae," they have have blasted a ball so far it may never be found.

Beginning with the rather ambitious prelude, "Iron Age," the band showcase their desire to break free from the pagan mold. A triumphant mix of horns, strings, thumping drums and wailing guitar chords, the track is the epic introduction to the tale. But the majesty is shredded by the initial guttural growls of "Nekropolisae Fall." rarely do you see keyboards featured so brightly in music this abrasive and heavy, but they shine through the distortion and screeching black metal vocals. The spacey keys dart in and out of the thunderous drum beats, which have the mechanized precision of classic industrial metal. A guitar solo takes the stage, setting the neck of the guitar on fire, before breaking off into Middle Eastern sitar styled playing.

The blackest of the black comes through in "Angrliodh." Drums are lightning fast, and the guitars are equal to the task. The tempo slows a hair, allowing fluttering synthesized keys to break free. Screeches turn to growls, but neither one compares to the feeling of crawling skin provided by the spoken word passages. Purely terrifying. Leaning more to the uptempo death/folk side, "The Cocoon" is a lesson in contrast, with music that seems upbeat and lively, while the vocals remain steadfast and ominous. Brilliantly placed guitar and keyboard solos set the staged for a booming outro section, complete with double kicks and ear piercing vocal screams.

The band fire through "Mantikor," inducing a severe case of whiplash, without losing the integrity of each instrument along the way. Drums, guitars and keys share equal roles, forming something greater than the parts. "Manjushri Aus Mir" is a weaving, winding ride through the sublime. From effects laden guitar work in the opening, to the damn near abusive vocal patterns, it may brings chills to your body. The pitch perfect work of the rhythm section is to be applauded, keeping guitars and drums in check. Mark and Joris of Heidevolk lend some German vocals to "Moritvrvs Immortalis," a track that combines the dynamics of Thrash with the localized nature of folk. Complete with strings, this one is a neckbreaker.

The alternating shred and stomp of "Ad Rvbiconem" is a refreshing change to the flow, with the mystical keyboards on "Bastion" will leave you momentarily puzzled. But once guitars enter, and the drums pound away, you will remember where you are, and what you have in store. The abrasive screeching vocals steal the show this time, soaring over the top of the distorted chord work. But again, a well placed guitar solo breathes fire into the genre. "Creations Crowning Glory" starts as most power metal tracks do, before the evil, soul depleting vocals enter. The combination is a winner, heaven and hell, slammed together.

Equilibrium mainman Rene Berthiaume lends his vocal talents to "Metropolitan Roots," a track as diverse as the band itself. Clean vocals mingle with deliberate drum fills, descending into a full on assault of kicks, snares, cymbals and guitar notes. The glue remains the keys, keeping the mood light, even in the darker, heavier moments. A child's voice speak over delicate piano keys and guitar solos, in a way that may leave "Egophaneia" lingering in your mind for days. Uplifting, yet somehow sad, it will cut to the heart of you. The epic title track finishes your journey, hand on your throat. It forces you to gasp for each breath as speed increases to the breaking point, double kicks pounding your skull. This is an end, but not to the album. This track could bring about the end of the world.

We often speak of bands that defy conventional tags, that somehow manage to reinvent the genre that they have been dubbed. Dimmu Borgir, a perfect example, took black metal to places it needed to go. Kromlek have the potential and the talent to accomplish a similar feat. With "Finis Terrae," they have begun to change the conceptions of what pagan metal is and can be. I won't dare try to annex enough adjectives to describe what they do, but rest assured, it deserves some attention.


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