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Saturday, April 24, 2010

CD Review: Keep of Kalessin - Reptilian

Keep of Kalessin - Reptilian
2010 Nuclear Blast
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

One of the best black and death metal hybrids in the world is Norway's Keep of Kalessin. If ever such a monolith of a band could be thought of as representative of the fantastical Hyborean Age of Conan, more specifically the cult of Thulsa Doom, this is your band.

What Obsidian C has accomplished after a failed launch in 1995 with Mayhem's Frost and Atilla is remarkable. Perhaps his time touring with Satyricon unleashed a capacity for finesse amidst brutality, but the later-reborn Keep of Kalessin is one of extreme metal's finest units. Their 2008 effort Kolossus may have taken their original cult of fans by surprise since the shift in songwriting was abrupt as it was triumphant. Kolossus reached for a less-strenuous, melodically-focused agitation beyond 2005's Armada and to more obvious measures, their earlier output, Through Times of War and Agnen: A Journey Through the Dark. It worked, suffice it to say.

Kolossus, simply put, was a breathtaking effort, within striking distance of the elegant artistry of Emperor, albeit Keep of Kalessin's approach is a bit different. With a tad more Darkthrone and Satyricon, Keep of Kalessin has always kept to their roots as much as they've strived to extend the sound of the genre. As of their newest album Reptilian, Keep of Kalessin shows even more moxy and stretches their parameters again.

Their blast beat inferno rhythms serves Keep of Kalessin well on Reptilian, a pounding, mythical ode to dragonfire. What's different this time around, at least for much of the ride, is Keep of Kalessin fuses more rock, power metal and prog in-between their riotous mayhem on Reptilian.

The album cover is like an entrance sign to a rollercoaster and Reptilian would be a perfect attraction ride moniker. The opening number "Dragon Iconography" weaves an acoustic intro which then strikes a series of power chord tones and swirling synths. Don't shoot the messenger, but it sounds like Dokken or Keel in the beginning. It appears strategic on Keep of Kalessin's part, because "Dragon Iconography" then roars into action like the initial propulsion of a blast coaster and swims through corkscrews of blazing speed.

Reptilian embraces the fantasy element Obsidian C and his wolf pack is enamored with, though the first half of the album employs streamlined rock gorges through "Judgment" and the mid-tempo bop of "The Dragontower." Though "The Awakening" and "Leaving the Mortal Flesh" stamp down on the bpm pedals and Keep of Kalessin begins to lavish their velocity with grandeur as Kolossus did so brilliantly, there's an overall leanness to Reptilian.

You will hear more NWOBHM and classic heavy metal strikes abound in this album ("Dark As Moonless Night" especially carries a slow-grinding Priest and Slayer vibe) until Keep of Kalessin turns things up considerable notches on their couplet of mini epics "The Divine Land" and "Reptilian Majesty." Both are equal to the opulence of Kolossus and in some ways they take another evolutionary step up with fabulous clean vocal syncopation between Obsidian C and the band. The effect elevates the primal savagery Reptilian excavates into alluring aggression, and the choruses of "The Divine Land" are stunners. Stand ready to be wowed.

The shift from direct and blunt to tapestried and refined tells Reptilian's story like a metalhead's reinvention of Homer. Keep of Kalessin dares to concoct their charbroil with meaty hooks and sizzling guitar solos before gravitating back into Emperor territory with dizzying aplomb. On "Reptilian Majesty," a hypnotic electro trance and supplemental symphonics are Floydian in nature, particularly with the John Waters-esque solo afterwards. It worked for Nachtmystium; why not Keep of Kalessin? How about the Bach fugue segment immediately following before "Reptilian Majesty" reaches its blaring crescendo? The synth-splashed outro like a Goblins score, for that matter?

Kolossus is perhaps a mightier album overall than Reptilian, but Keep of Kalessin proves there's huge transcendence beyond Stygian whispers and serpent standards which slither throughout their craft and merely inspire other bands who haven't quite figured out the charm this band has mastered. They swoon as much as they punish and Reptilian is going to turn heads. Keep of Kalessin has evolved into one of the gutsiest bands out there and they're on a roll.

Rating: ****

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