Ah, the seventies. An excellent decade for wanton sex, drug abuse and consequently, psychedelic music. In the common mindset, the foremost psychedelic band is of course Pink Floyd, and with good reason. But another influential band that tends to get overlooked, is Hawkwind, who had a bit more oomph than the aforementioned space rock colossus, using experimental timbres and textures to accentuate their otherwise fairly straightforward proto-metal. The influence of Hawkwind (who, amazingly, are still around) is clear on the debut of the trippy Swedish quartet Katla in their mix of old school stoner rock, surprising guitar textures and warbling synthesizers. But have no fear; they have more in store for you than a cardboard copy.

For one, vocal duties have not befallen another hairy manperson; instead, a woman (only known as Lisa) infuses the disc with her voice, and does so admirably. Her timbre brings to mind a younger version of Elizabeth Blackwell (Castle), but her delivery is more airy and haunting, sacrificing some punch for a more mysterious and atmospheric take that works especially well on the quieter tracks. Some lyrical awkwardness like the occasional ad-lib or unnecessary vocalization doesn’t take much away from this either, although her pronunciation edges into ESL territory at times. The only real shortcomings break through some of the heavier tracks, like “Eat Sleep Die” when her range proves slightly more limited and she just can’t muster enough punch.

That little minus comes wrapped in a big plus: Katla perfectly manages to balance a great deal of musical variety without ever sounding like anything but themselves. From the throbbing hooks of opener “Horsehead” to the surprising major key punk riffing in “A Black Slimy Smooth and Tongue-shaped Form,” the band makes sure you’re never bored. Along the way there are forays into jangling blues guitars on “Circles,” The Sword-like riffing interspersed with atmospheric interludes on “Eat Sleep Die,” and a slow build from hazy country rock into a peyote-filled tidal wave on album standout “Endless Journey.” The sound doesn’t rely on heaviness to carry it across but employs strong hooks and a good sense of atmosphere, accomplished by layered guitars, warbling Hawkwindian synths and occasionally the tasteful and appropriate addition of cello. None of the songs overstay their welcome, with the exception of “Illusion” which lacks an end-goal and drifts on too long.

katla-embryo-01

Production-wise, “Embryo” is full tilt seventies worship. The guitars and synths have a typical sound that retroifies the album, especially when reverb or mild flanging are employed. The master is a tad compressed, not given full room to breathe, but not in a brickwalled sense – rather, it increases the feel of an older album, created in the time of 4-8 tracks instead of 128 tracks. It’s a stylistic choice that works best for the atmosphere-laden cuts. It doesn’t support the heavier songs though, which sound alright on earbuds or a car stereo but lack depth and punch on higher quality systems or headphones. Coupled with the minor vocal issues these cripple the heaviness, thus the stompers are among the weaker songs. The mix puts the vocals too high and the bass too low as well, which exacerbates the problem. Better balance in the levels would certainly improve the low-end and help the foundation of the overall sound.

If the heaviness had been the focus of the album this might have been a dealbreaker, but thankfully it isn’t, and so it remains a small mark on a promising debut. It’s not an album that will win any awards or blow any minds, but it’s a solid debut that will still get an occasional spin from me. If their sophomore effort shows some improvement in the production, Katla has what it takes to create a winning formula.


Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 192 kbps mp3
Label: Svart Records
Websites: katla.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/wearekatla
Releases Worldwide: September 30th, 2016

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  • Adjudant

    Not bad

  • AlphaBetaFoxface

    I am incredibly pleased with how much effort went into that band photo.

    Great review, Garden/Tale/GT Turbo/whatever I can get away with without having to type your whole username.

    • GardensTale

      You’re one to talk, AlphaBetaGammaDeltaDzetaIotaOmegaMarsipulamiFuckface.

      • AlphaBetaFoxface

        You are my favourite new reviewer, hands down

        • GardensTale

          Ahw thank you so much! I’m glad you enjoy it. I’m still hoping my next promo will be something outside the 2.0-3.0 region, so far 8/8 have been in that area. Alas, I don’t think promos are sorted into ‘probably awesome’ or ‘probably shit’ categories. Unless there is something Steel and X have not told me…

          • Ferrous Beuller

            Wait… you didn’t get that email?

          • Dr. Wvrm

            Shhhhhhh, don’t blow up our spot.

    • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

      I bet you that’s how they dress every day.

  • Eli Valcik

    I’ve been thinking about those doughnuts in that band photo all day.

    • At least they eat fruits, too.

  • SegaGenitals

    Give me Opeth Sorceress review, or we will revolt. I have a certain set of skills. You have 72 hours.

    • AlphaBetaFoxface

      I feel like there is more hype on this site surrounding the opinion of AMG on Sorceress than there was for Sorceress itself from the fan base.

      • Eli Valcik

        I’m just asking for Sorceress to annoy Steely D

        • I think you only annoy AMG.

          • Eli Valcik

            dammit

      • SegaGenitals

        Agree

      • I too didn’t want to voice this but I feel the same way. Make up your own damn mind, gosh!

    • We don’t negotiate with Liam Neeson. Good luck.

      • Belgian Tom’s Hat Trick

        Nice…

      • SegaGenitals

        Do you accept bribery?

    • AnnieK13

      Hmmm…I think I want to actually listen to Sorceress before I read any reviews. I have been waiting til I have access to the whole album before I listen to any of the tracks. There are a few groups that I prefer to make up my mind on before reading reviews and Opeth is one of them.

      • SegaGenitals

        Don’t get your hopes up. This is not the album you are looking for.

    • Maximos662

      I’ve already resigned myself to the absence of a review, perhaps out of annoyance that Nuclear Blast is holding my copy of Sorceress, along with the new Meshuggah, until the new Testament drops, because I ordered all three at the same time. And I refuse to listen to the officially released tracks, or to buy a download, since I’ve already paid for the damned thing. I want to take it in as a whole….

      • SegaGenitals

        Shitty scenario. Contact customer service and ask then to ship the two released albums. I bet they will oblige you.

    • sir_c

      so, happy now that the bats are out?

      • SegaGenitals

        Nice to hear AMG’s assessment. I prefer the review over the album.

        • sir_c

          yea second that :-)

  • Thatguy

    Uncle Sam’s On Mars – but these guys, and girl are having a psychedelic breakfast.

    I think I am even more over retropsych than reProg.

  • AnnieK13

    Hawkwind reference…wow, haven’t thought about them in years. Not sure I hear a lot of Hawkwind here but maybe a tiny touch mixed with Jefferson Airplane..and a pinch of UFO in any case quite 70’s. I do like it a bit…not sure it would stick with me but I may just give the whole thing a listen.

    • sir_c

      Actually, I do hear quite some Hawkwind in there. Not the spacy bits, but the rock part definitely has its likeliness.

  • Dead1

    What shit cover art.

  • Feytalist

    Wait. This is not the Katla I was looking for.

    For a second, I thought that the Katla from Iceland (created by Solstafir’s old drummer) had released a full-length. For a second, I was happy :(

    • Antilight

      Same here. /deskflip

    • I had thought maybe it was a solo project from Finntroll’s original vocalist.

  • Tofu muncher

    I thought they photoshopped the young great Peter Gabriel onto that band photo