Recently, in the course of a discussion I was having regarding another new release set to land in the not too distant future, I was reflecting upon the enormous number of one-man black metal projects turning up in the AMG promo bin at the moment. Well hey, presto, time for another! As well as being a brand of crispbread and a fictional alien race in Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea series, Karg is an ambient-cum-post-black metal project from Salzburg, Austria – the brainchild of founder and sole member, V. Wahntraum. Although familiar with both Earthsea and crispbread, I knew nothing of the musical incarnation of Karg prior to the project’s fifth full-length studio LP, Weltenasche, landing in my Angry Metal Inbox. I must admit that knowing what I now know of the deeply impressive nature of much of Wahntraum’s past work, I do feel rather silly in this regard, wondering how on Earth I managed to miss Karg altogether for so long. On the plus side however, if Weltenasche turned out to be an absolute lemon then my introduction to Austrian crispbread metal would not have been a complete waste of time; I would at least have had the opportunity to quell my frustrations with the project’s formidable earlier material — a musical safety net, if you will.
In attempting to characterize Wahntraum’s music, it’s nigh on impossible not to draw parallels with Alcest. Although Neige’s project is six years Karg’s senior, they both started putting out albums at around the same time and the stylistic similarities are tangible. Their respective works are all characterized by a dreamlike resonance of sorts — delicate and hypnotic. While Alcest’s music, even at its most dark and reflective, is ultimately uplifting at heart, however, Wahntraum’s work is the inverse of this; Weltenasche is a melancholic beauty – introspective and somber.
Opener “Crevasse” sets the scene exceptionally. Clocking in at almost 11 minutes in length, it meanders and evolves, its substantial runtime equipping Wahntraum with ample opportunity to establish and develop stylistic themes to the max. Karg exists on the black metal spectrum for sure, but the project’s musical output is a far cry from all of that nasty church burning satanic nonsense. While there’s plenty of hoarse shrieking and tremolo-picked guitar work, there’s also plenty of ambiance as well — complemented by a rich, wholesome production — with no shortage of clean, melodic passages to punctuate the onslaught and provide definition and depth. This all said however, I do have a pretty major issue with Weltenasche; there is simply not enough variation on offer.
With the exception of the record’s sole fully-acoustic number, “Spuren im Schnee,” while well-written and executed, all of the tracks are very similar. Despite having listened to Weltenasche in its entirety many times now, were one to select two minutes of the record at random, I would still struggle to identify to which track they belonged. The first three songs combined clock in at in excess of half-an-hour and, while as a trio they actually work remarkably well (they really would have made a terrific EP), upon realizing that there is still another 40 minutes to go, the overriding emotion experienced is one of frustration rather than pleasure.
The lack of variation heard throughout Weltenasche really is a shame as there’s much to like about it. The record does not feature one bad track and, taken in isolation, each is eminently enjoyable in its own right. Unfortunately for Karg however, the overlords keep me chained up in the AMG dungeon for the purpose of reviewing full albums, not individual songs, and as a complete work, there’s no escaping the fact that it becomes very repetitive very quickly. Despite the score I’m awarding it, I know I will revisit this record in the future, however when I do so it will be on a strict single-track basis only. V. Wahntraum is clearly an extremely talented and competent musician, however ultimately Weltenasche is insurmountable proof that at times it really is possible to have too much of a good thing.