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Kall - Brand

by Kira Schlechter at 03 August 2020, 3:14 AM

Metal as a base genre or point of reference lends itself well to experimentation, which is a good thing. Is it always pleasant or does it always make sense? Or does it always have a reason to be? With Stockholm’s KALL (Swedish for “cold”), formed from the band LIFELOVER, those questions are unresolved on their latest, “Brand” (Swedish for “fire”). It follows their self-titled 2014 debut. Their Bandcamp bio says the band has “elements of post-punk and depressive suicidal black metal” (I had no idea that was a thing and it’s kind of sad that it is). The bio also says the album is “a call to overcome suffering by facing it right on.”

Lofty goals, and it’s hard to tell if they’ve achieved them personally. Listening-wise, it’s definitely difficult to grasp any sort of concept from “Brand.” “Rise” starts with a single guitar full of fuzz and reverb, then swings into a rather catchy groove with lots of cymbals (almost too many) and a twangy riff. Screaming vocals go anti-tempo, with no real way to determine exactly what’s being said, then it goes into a weirdly tuned section and slows to a grinding chug. A pleasant-enough dark guitar riff takes over, and then the melody of it is expanded – it fades away into some nice bass work for a moment, then goes back into the main groove. Toward the end, that groove slows down and there’s more tortured yelling, and it slows to absolutely nothing before it just ends.

“Fervor” – a weird title since there’s nothing exactly crazed about it – has a much gentler start, with vaguely DOORS-like light guitar (it has that ‘60s shimmer), easy drums, and whispered, barely-audible vocals. It heavies up then with a strummed riff and gravelly vocals and shifts to barely-there bass and drums with that first guitar part just drifting along underneath. A solo is moody with a simple evocative melody, another higher-pitched one floating above it from time to time. I really need to look into how KENNY G’s instrument of choice became metal, because there’s a hefty section of improv saxophone work (it drifts out on that, in fact, and the remnants of guitar).

The title of the album relates to the song “Eld,” which the bio calls a “tale about a violently cathartic experience at a forest fire.” It too starts quietly, the guitar burbling along in a sweet melody, another whispered vocal, like an overheard conversation, accompanying it. The melody then distorts briefly before it goes back to the initial one, making for continuity, and the drums play to the rhythm and more quickly against it at the same time. Back to the distortion again, then into a more propulsive, less lazy tempo. The bridge section is a bit chaotic, but there’s a rather sparkling guitar solo in its midst. Halfway through, the guitar morphs into a sitar-ish tone and you can hear crackling, like flames. More hushed vocals, more saxophone, and some dribbles of guitar that sound like a voice before everything fades out on the guitar and the crackling and wafts of more sitar.

There’s structure in these shorter pieces but there isn’t at the same time. Two very long tracks midway through wander and lose focus, however. “Fukta Din Aska” (or “moisten your ashes,” which is a logical transition after a song about a forest fire) is a whopping 17-plus minutes. The band talked on its Facebook page about KING CRIMSON being a sonic touchpoint on this, but that’s a tough stretch. After the first third – a mix of primitive drumming, atonal guitar, phlegmy, imperceptible vocals, and more saxophone – it meanders, with just bass and drumming and guitar effects, to no real purpose. It changes yet again about halfway, but again for no real reason, except to create eerie washes of sound, and the sax is overused throughout. It’s wandering, noodling – it’s like moderately interesting parts strung together with the purpose of making them more interesting but it doesn’t achieve that result. The ending is just one guitar melody repeated ad infinitum with drumming and faint screaming added to confound things – it fades out on that and you’re really ready for it to end when it does. It builds no excitement or anticipation – after 17 minutes, it winds up not really saying anything.

“Hide Below,” at 12 minutes, is hypnotic in its way, with hushed, soulful guitar and tribal, low-end drums. Everything builds slowly in intensity, the drums growing more complex beneath, but again, it’s drifting, and it’s super undermixed when it breaks out into just walls of strumming, the drums playing against it. It changes completely then to decidedly unpleasant distorted guitar before it resolves into a straight-ahead rhythm and a pretty mainstream melody. This section has nothing to do with the first half; it could be a whole separate piece, in fact. Later, a frenetic part with more sax (I was done with it by this point) and a back-and-forth guitar melody that’s nearly deadening brings it to an end.

“Fall” starts with a slow and sinuous melody. I did like being able to hear the bass frequently, here as throughout, and the drums are again cymbal-heavy, but it’s not bad. When it thickens, it makes sense, because it’s kind of echoing the initial melody, and those minor-key riffs are somehow bitterly pleasing and enjoyable. But I was really, REALLY done with the sax, and I didn’t understand why there are vocals here at all when there’s no way of understanding what’s being said (although I did catch the line “you are left to fall” at the end). The shorter pieces do make sense in their way – they don’t go off track, they stay with an initial mood or instrumental pattern and build around it  – although trimming wouldn’t go amiss in them either. I’m sure it’s all very emotional and cathartic to KALL but I didn’t feel it – it’s like an inside joke that some people get and find funny but others don’t.

Songwriting: 6
Musicianship: 8
Memorability: 6
Production: 6

3 Star Rating

1. Rise
2. Fervor
3. Eld
4. Fukta Din Aska
5. Hide Below
6. Fal
Phil A. Cirone
Record Label: Prophecy Productions


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Edited 01 October 2020

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