DIOTIMA: KRALLICE STEP UP A STEPPED-UP GAME
Another Krallice album, another Sammy O’Hagar review.
I considered this when Axl offered up the band’s latest for me to give my thoughts on; I briefly considered turning it down and going with, I don’t know, Emmure or some shit. But my gut told me that, even only three albums (in as many years) in, Krallice were due for a major upgrade, and I could still approach Diotima (their newest, out April 25) with a fresh perspective. Even as an atypical black metal band, they seemed to be evolving exponentially and fascinatingly. And, as almost always, I was absolutely right: Diotima is a major advancement, expounding on their already-ample potential. While not such a drastic leap as to be able to dismiss their first two records, their latest shows a sense of solidifying. The elements are still there, but there’s tinkering. While this album certainly won’t win them a lot of new fans — almost half the album is comprised of songs over ten minutes and their trademark tapestry of interlocking guitar parts is as complex as ever — it does display a confidence and swagger indicative of a band finding comfort in what they do. They sound content in being a high profile band instead of a third-string side project. However, they by no means sound complacent.
The downside — at least for the first few spins — is that this is their first album that doesn’t start off with a balls-out debut single (the wonderful “Wretched Wisdom” on their debut, the equally great “Dimensional Bleedthrough” on, well, Dimensional Bleedthrough). An untitled track does a decent job of easing you in, then “Inhume” drops you right into the shit: long winded bouts with tremolo-picked webs of guitar and blastbeats with an ample middle section to build up tension for the song’s final sprint into a densely-structured clusterfuck. The rest of the songs follow suit pretty reliably, but Krallice’s relentless forward momentum is what keeps it all from falling into black metal’s typical rut of same-sounding songs crammed onto an overlong album. There’s an arc to Diotima complete with peaks and valleys. Drummer Lev Weinstein, never a slouch behind Krallice’s kit to begin with, is a force of nature on par with Frost or Hellhammer now. Guitarists Colin Marston and Mick Barr have intense, rambling conversations with eachother before slamming together in glorious unity. Their playing goes beyond the Euronymous model and becomes what would happen if Sonic Youth’s Bad Moon Rising were made by prolifically acne’d dudes who stayed in their rooms and practiced fourteen hours a day during their formative years. Their dexterity and complexity is fairly unique to black metal, but it manages to fit well. While perhaps an acquired taste to some, it should warm the heart of even the most ardent black metal purist (well, maybe not, but fuck those guys).
That being said, when Krallice sound like they do on the magnificent “Telluric Rings,” it’s a pretty easy sell. Starting off with an Enslaved-like straightforwardness, it moves forward with sinewy, harrowing riffs until it reaches a transcendent peak about seven minutes in. Then the band deconstructs it into fierce black metal, and rides the song out for another 4-5 minutes. It reiterates what the rest of the album has done (it’s Diotima’s penultimate track) but all notched up even more. Though the record is a bold step forward for them, “Telluric Rings” is a step forward from there, as forceful and memorable as it is expansive (“Dust and Light,” the album’s perfectly acceptable closer, has the unfortunate duty of following it up). It both gives an optimistic glimpse into where the band are hypothetically going from here as well as illustrate where they are right now.
With an exception of “Telluric Rings,” this isn’t unfamiliar territory. But everything on Diotima digs a bit deeper and hits a bit harder. With Krallice’s unstable elements — their proggy song lengths, their billion-layered wanky guitar parts — one may not be unfounded in worrying if their next album will be the one where they charge off the deep end and become completely unlistenable; that danger is a small part of what keeps the band exciting. But if Diotoma‘s improvements on an already-good thing are demonstrative of anything, it’s that Krallice are only going to keep getting better for the time being, and perhaps indefinitely. Maybe once considered an interesting side project in which its members could play on their fetish for Darkthrone and Weakling, they’re now a formidable force in shaping the already diverse and complex face of American black metal.
(4 out of 5 horns)