April 17, 2015 Keep of Kalessin – Epistemology (Album Review)
While rooted in countries like Sweden, England, and Switzerland, it is no surprise that Norway produced the bulk of Black Metal bands in the 1990s and gave the emerging scene a face. A variety of anti-religious publicity stunts, including several church burnings, a handful of infamous deaths, and murders, drew media attention to this form of Extreme Metal. Acts like Mayhem, Darkthrone, and Burzum were particularly discussed in the Norwegian news, especially following the suicide of Mayhem vocalist Per Yngve Ohlin and the murder of Mayhem guitarist Euronymous by Burzum frontman Varg Vikernes. The public eye, now warily watching what they described as a terroristic genre of music, drew attention to some of the Norwegian scene’s more technical acts, such as Emperor, 1349, and Arcturus. A practitioner of this technical, yet raw form of Black Metal, Ildskjaer from Trondheim formed in 1993, and changed their name to Keep of Kalessin in 1995.
Releasing their debut LP Through Times of War in 1997 with the lineup of Ghâsh (vocals), Arnt “Obsidian C.” Grønbech (guitars), Warach (Øyvind A.Winther) (bass), and Vegar “Vyl” Larsen (drums), the quartet went on to release their sophomore album Agnen: A Journey Through the Dark in 1999, which became even faster and more aggressive. Vyl’s blistering drumming and Obsidian C.’s impossibly fast guitar playing became a trademark of the band. After the Reclaim EP in 2003 with Attila Csihar from Mayhem on vocals and Frost from Satyricon on drums, the band released Armada in 2006, perhaps their most well-known record. Armada featured two new members: Torbjørn “Thebon” Schei on vocals along with Robin “Wizziac” Isaksen on bass. The interplay between each member was so blindingly fast, technical, intricate, and tight that the music on this album breathed new life into the band. Keep of Kalessin took a turn for the melodic around this time with songs like “Crown of the Kings,” “The Wealth of Darkness,” and “Armada.” The two following albums Kolossus and Reptilian in 2008 and 2010, respectively followed a similar formula, which made Keep of Kalessin a beacon of quality in an era of contrived and unoriginal Black Metal. The odd circumstances of Thebon’s mysterious five month disappearance thereafter led the other members to continue their music with Obsidian C. on vocals. After the three-song EP Introspection in 2013, the newly reformed trio produced Epistemology which was unleashed February of 2015 via Indie Recordings.
The group’s musical growth in the five years between full-lengths is apparent on Epistemology. Obsidian C.’s guitar riffs and Vyl’s drumming are as technically on point as ever. The speed on “Dark Divinity” and “The Spiritual Relief” is blaring and the musicianship is outstanding. Where there are not colossal tremolo picked walls of guitar, there is mean riffage, particularly on “Dark Divinity.” “The Grand Design” and “Necropolis” sport tightly interlocked guitar and drum work. These, and songs like “Universal Core,” balance the guitar melodies with the vocal melodies perfectly, often alternating between the two. Much of the songwriting would remind Keep of Kalessin fans of their work on Reptilian with the fast tempos and technical prowess showcased by all three members. “Introspection,” a re-recorded version of the eponymous track from their 2013 EP has a righteous Extreme Metal groove and attitude to it that makes it a particular standout on Epistemology. Perhaps the most notable change in pace for Keep of Kalessin is the addition of epic vibes. The expansive synths and the tastefully liberal employment of the loud/soft dynamic on “Epistemology” and “The Spiritual Relief” give the album a forward thinking character that current Extreme Metal does not seem keen to attempt. The bravery and exploratory nature of Keep of Kalessin is what makes them unique in Metal right now.
Epistemology is a Black Metal record to keep listeners on their toes. It does not stay with the traditional one mode of being fast and repetitious. Instead, the album takes advantage of an array of textures and moods that makes listening to it an enjoyable and fulfilling journey from start to finish. It seem even as a three-piece Keep of Kalessin are as full sounding and vital than ever before. CrypticRock gives Epistemology 4.5 out of 5.