Friday, February 22, 2013

Kongh - Sole Creation (2013)

Those who are completely immersed in music of any kind are a separate breed. You want to know where it all began, where the band members are from, what the name means; this is to say, you want to know everything there is to know about a band. It takes dedication to be a fan in this way, but the main reward is profound. You get to watch evolution take place in front of you. When you trace back the roots of Sweden's Kongh, you find two men, David Johansson and Tomas Salonen, who just wanted to make music together. There weren't any firm plans, just a few simple criteria: it had to be loud, it had to be heavy, and they had to have a good time. That was an eternity ago, in the spring of 2004. In the nine years since they got together, things have changed. They are now a touring band, playing shows in Europe. They are critically acclaimed, having released two full length efforts in 2007 and 2009 respectively. But after all that, "Sole Creation" has a familiar ring to it; loud, heavy, and a good time.

Wasting no time, the title track cascades through your speakers with ringing feedback and blaring distortion. Surgically precise and equally lethal, the crushing drum beats shake you to your core, bolstered by a catchy, albeit scary, guitar riff. With Johansson handling the vocal duties, both clean and harsh, you get to experience both sides of his voice. There is a darkness to the overall mix, a ghostly appeal throughout that has the ability to not only create a mood, but highlight some of the technical prowess. Whether it is the chanting vocal lines or the bone snapping blast beats, each element gets a share of the spotlight, balanced and flowing. The sheer weight of the guitars is enough to throw the entire foudnation off, but they are continually kept in check and offset by the rhythm section. In one of the more fittingly titled songs, "Tamed Brute," Salonen himself finds restraint in his playing. With the low end dominating the mix, you find yourself in the midst of a bass heavy doom masterpiece. The imperfections in the clean vocals have a home here, before being overwhelmed by deathly growls. There are bits and pieces of psychedelic influences floating around, only occasionally breaking through. Their sparing use is a benefit, sometimes providing contrast before or after a heavy passage. The massive breakdown just past the seven minute mark is as heavy as they come without being nonsensical. That cohesion becomes key both here, and in the outro.

Clocking in at a meager nine minute, "The Portals" may fall short in run time, by Kongh standards, but is packed full of distortion and weighty riffs. With a wealth of bruising kick/snare combos, Salonen keeps your expensive subwoofers pumping, but without needless fills and rolls. His skill is in his timing and musical IQ, knowing when and where to assert his dominance. The result is a stomping affair, one that has a familiar sound to it, even if you can't place it. It is just short of the six minute mark, however, when chaos reigns supreme. The shackles torn off, every individual piece comes together as one massive wave of sound. While it is exhilarating, it is also muddling for a mix that was, to this point, nearly flawless. Only the main guitar riff stands out here, with the rest sounding clouded beyond recognition. The band rescues themselves, coming out of that section stronger than before. With a touch of atmospheric musicianship, "Skymning" is possibly the most thought provoking track on the album. Rather than  bludgeon you, Kongh go for a more subtle and subdued approach. By no means have they removed the aggression from their music here, but instead have supplemented it with melodic additions. If anything, these pieces become the focal point, allowing for the heavy elements to be a foundation rather than a starring role. There remains plenty of doom and gloom riffing, and even moreso in the drumming arena.

For those who were fans from the beginning, or those who adopted them later and worked backwards, "Sole Creation" is the next step in a stunning evolution. For Kongh, the initial goal was clear. Nine years later, their music is just as heavy and just as loud as it ever was, with no signs of slowly down. They continue to move forward without ever losing site of the things lingering in their rear view mirror. It is that link to their past that keeps them grounded enough to remain true to themselves and their music. Johansson and Salonen need only look back to those first jam sessions to see how far they've come, with a third album waiting to join the rest in the acclaim of listeners the world over. Whether or not they are still having a good time is a question only they could answer. But I suspect that nine years and three full lengths albums later, they are doing exactly what they wanted to.


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