Keep if Kalessin - Epistemology 01It’s been five years since Norway’s Keep of Kalessin released Reptilian to a ludicrous amount of critical panning stemming from a combination of “The Dragontower” being entered into Eurovision and most critics donning their rose-colored glasses when looking at its two predecessors, Armada and Kolossus. While both were great albums, they weren’t at all perfect, featuring some grating mediocrity that was exacerbated further by appearing amidst some of the finest black metal of the aughts. Reptilian was no different, but their biggest swing-and-sort-of-miss on the record was placed at the forefront of everyone’s attention during the promotional cycle, and their public image has yet to fully recover. Epistemology is here to right those perceived wrongs, but how successful is it?

Anyone keeping up with Kalessin knows that vocalist Thebon is no longer part of the band, and mastermind/guitar extraordinaire Obsidian C. has taken on the role of vocalist whilst retaining his guitar duties. The rest of the band (bassist Wizziac and drummer Vyl) remains the same, as does their unique hybridization of Norwegian black metal and Scandinavian melodic death metal that began in earnest on Armada but was hinted at throughout their career. Obsidian possesses a smoother voice than Thebon, and it takes some getting used to. While Thebon would add his rough cleans frequently into the mix to accentuate certain phrases amidst his screams and growls, Obsidian tends to alternate between mid-to-high-pitched screaming and silky crooning, occasionally double tracking one over the other. It feels more calculated and a bit less passionate than Thebon’s best vocalizations, but Obsidian turns in a praiseworthy debut performance nonetheless.

In typical Keep of Kalessin fashion, Epistemology yields both epic killers and mediocre fillers. “Dark Divinity” is an example of the former, initially channeling the aggression and vocal hooks of Kolossus, then transitioning wonderfully into a mid-paced groove that Obsidian’s stellar lead work takes full advantage of. Proper opener “The Spiritual Relief” throws Obsidian’s vocals into the spotlight almost immediately with a solid two-part melody followed by a huge chorus, and moves to an extended somber coda with lush keys and subtle emotive playing from every member. The latter half of the killer to filler ratio damages some of Epistemology, notably in the lackluster “Necropolis.” The song rides what sounds like a modern Exodus riff all the way to nowhere and back, barely kept afloat by a catchy vocal hook and some good leads at the end. “Universal Core” is a little better, but never goes anywhere too meaningful beyond its interesting use of an almost funky black metal riff backed with Vyl’s fast and precise blasting.

Keep if Kalessin - Epistemology 02

The most infuriating aspect of Epistemology is the title track, which could’ve been the best song on the record by a mile but instead ends up as the album’s best track by a hair with big ol’ asterisks beside it. Beginning with some insanely catchy Kalessin aggression followed by nearly three glorious minutes of The Obsidian C. Lead Guitar Extravaganza, it sets itself up to be a career highlight. The five and three quarter minute mark sees the end of the soloing and Epistemology with a great melody that screams finality, which would be outstanding if this conclusion wasn’t dragged on for nearly four minutes; this incessant repetition nearly hamstrings both a would-be tremendous song and an emotionally potent ending to the record.

While there are some signs of minor growing (perhaps shrinking?) pains following Thebon’s departure, Keep of Kalessin have released another album with masterful highs and mediocre lows. In terms of production, it’s their most polished and loudest record since Armada, but I can’t complain too much given that Vyl, Wizziac, and Obsidian C.’s excellent playing is nicely showcased, leaving nothing to the imagination. Overall, this stands comfortably alongside the band’s prior three part-masterpieces, held back by noticeable mediocrity and an occasional need for more editing. Both die-hard and casual fans will find plenty to chew on with Epistemology, but as per Keep of Kalessin standards, there’s some fat mixed in with the AAA cuts.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Indie Recordings
Release Dates: EU: 2015.02.16 | NA: 02.24.2015

  • Selim Baradan

    Spot on, well written review. I agree with the score as well.
    I just wonder why it took so long to review the album.

    • Writer schedule conflicts and outside obligations.

      • Excentric_1307

        Wait, AMG the website isn’t your sole duty in life?! How can this be?!

        • The secret is out! We all have other jobs!

          • Excentric_1307

            And here i thought AMG’s Offices were run like a song by Nile: “Lashed to the Slave Stick”

          • We do that on weekends for fun.

          • Ah, the infamous Angry Metal D&D Sessions™

          • If only.

          • Dr. A.N. Grier

            There ARE slave chambers at the office. And I’m tired of the stick… And HR…

          • If you’d get your reviews done in a timely manner you’d get more carrot and less stick, but still some HR.

          • Dr. A.N. Grier

            I do the best I can. It’s difficult in the dark and with my hands tied. Plus, I hate carrots. And HR…

          • Here’s Johnny

            Steel Druhm is Jorn Lande’s slave when he’s not reviewing his albums on here. He lashes him with his slave stick.

  • A band that has written amazing songs like “The Wealth of Darkness” and “The Divine Land” can get away with a little mediocrity now and then. :D

  • AndySynn

    Interesting review. I wasn’t aware that Reptilian was the recipient of a concerted critical panning (personally I think it might just be my favourite KoK record) and thought that Kolossus received a far harsher reception (exacerbated by the weirdly thin production).

    This one… yeah, I pretty much agree with you, although I think one or two of the songs are better than you seem to. Ultimately it has a brace of killers for sure (The Spiritual Relief, Universal Core, Introspection, etc) but the album (as a whole, and track by track) tends to suffer from over-indulgence… so many songs hit a big, natural, and very effective climax… only for the track to continue on aimlessly with an added outro of extra (good, but uneccessary) riffs.

    Still – that video of “The Dragontower” at the Eurovision victory party remains one of my favourite youtube videos!

    • Diabolus_in_Muzaka

      Interesting, I’m the exact opposite: Kolossus is my favourite KoK album, and I remember Reptilian bashing being the thing to do when it came out, even though I enjoyed it a lot. I even dug “The Dragontower”, it’s catchy as all get out and has a cool solo.

      “Introspection” is a good tune. Verse riff reminded me a lot of Countdown-era Megadeth, which was fun. I like the video of them at Eurovision 2011 with Alexander Rybak, watching a guy shred on a violin with a guitarist and bassist windmilling in the background never gets old!

  • André Snyde Lopes

    You’re on point with the repetition. It really has no purpose and it puzzles me that they can’t see that.

    Also, the drumming annoys me sometimes. It’s way too content to sit back and blast beat through 90% of a song with very little changes.

    But I did end up enjoying most of it.

    • spheric666

      the drumming is part of what I like. This continuous pounding creates a wall of sound that is a nice counterpart to the melodic choruses.

  • spheric666

    I only knew the band by name and this has been their first album I listened thoroughly. I have been blasting this motherfucker since it came out. I am impressed. Phat, sort of Vintersorg-meet-Devin sound, with incredibly catchy choruses. What’s not to like? It’s a solid 4 imho.

    • Diabolus_in_Muzaka

      Glad you like it! Personally I liked Kolossus a bit better, and that would be a 4.0 to me overall. This is definitely in the same league, but just a little bit inferior. Still, a very good record by a great band.

      • spheric666

        weren’t day sort of trve black at the beginning of their career? I remember mentally labelling them so. This album has been a nice surprise.
        The dynamic range screams for vengeance though, the sound’s as flat as my desk…

        • Diabolus_in_Muzaka

          They were never particularly trve or kvlt to my knowledge, and have always favoured the very melodic side of black metal. Always awesome in parts in mediocre in others though, that much has never changed. Epistemology would’ve been nice with more dynamic range, but I can’t complain about being able to hear everything going on. I’m used to their really polished side, so it doesn’t bother me a whole lot honestly.

  • Jean-Luc Ricard

    Their bassist is called Wizziac?

    • Monsterth Goatom

      Of course, it sounds perfectly normal to them, just like “slutspurt” sounds perfectly normal to Swedes.

  • Kryopsis

    Another great review, DiM. I’ve been following Keep of Kalessin (which unfortunately happens to have a very uncool acronym) ever since I heard ‘Ascendant’ off ‘Kolossus’. Moreover, I was unphased by either ‘Reptilian’ (which I own) or their Eurovision ambitions. The only thing I find embarrassing is the band’s half-hearted attempt to salvage their Metal cred with the… *ahem* ‘Extreme Version’ of the song (bonus track on the ‘Introspection’ EP). Anyway, judging by this review Kalessin is pretty much back to square one. Obsidian C. is a rather good guitar player but unfortunately he’s not quite enough and yes, I see the band’s entire body of work as inconsistent and plagued by needless repetition and mediocre passages. Still, I rather like Keep of Kalessin and judging by the ‘Introspection’ EP, I will enjoy this album.

    • Diabolus_in_Muzaka

      Thank you! And I agree completely on the “extreme version”, having Vyl go back and destroy the groove he laid down with a bunch of incessant blasting and thrash beats made the song an order of magnitude worse. If you can stomach the sometimes amazing and sometimes mediocre nature of past albums, this one will sit just fine I’d think. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they write their masterpiece before they’re through, even without Thebon.

      • AndySynn

        Have you heard Hellish Outcast or Khonsu (the other projects Thebon’s currently involved in)?

        I’m a major fan of both.

        • Diabolus_in_Muzaka

          I remember liking “Anomalia” enough, but it’s been a while since I last listened. Never got around to checking out Hellish Outcast for some reason, but I’m definitely going to do that now!

          • AndySynn

            Definitely do so. “Stay of Execution” was one of my top 3 favourite albums of last year. So much Death/Thrash goodness.

          • Dr. A.N. Grier

            It was your list that made me to find it.

          • Dr. A.N. Grier

            I gots the new Hellish Outcast if you’re interested. Andy is absolutely right that it is good and you should check it out. It snuck by us at the end of 2014.

          • Diabolus_in_Muzaka

            Definitely interested!

  • Siege Bantayan

    I see 2015 is still a strong year for spheres so far.

    • Carlos Marrickvillian

      Given that it is now year of the Goat…Im anticipating a waning of the sphere and a literal Pan-lethora of be-fluted fawny majesty ….
      So attention pls..Metal muso’s, artists and labels…it;s officially year of the goat…Please quietly repeat that to your self…
      Personally I will be sorely disappointed if in 2015 goats aren’t thematically picked up on and punt the sphere thing for a year or two.

    • André Snyde Lopes

      The sphere is still king of all 3D geometrical constructs. All hail it’s undying dominance.

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    Introspection is great

  • Doomdeathrosh

    Seems like this album is for Keeps! As long as the highs are spectacular, I dont mind sustaining the lows, Great review sir!

  • Monsterth Goatom

    I actually don’t mind the ending of Epistemology. I’m not a huge fan of Minamalism, but I have listened to some so maybe I’m enured to the repetition. It’s a great melody, but, yes, it does go on.

    What I hate is when a band hits a great riff/melody, and then it only lasts a short while.

    • spheric666

      Wow that’s also one of my pet peeves. One of the reasons I like(d?) Opeth so much is that they actually mastered this thing of repeating a good riff until it’s ripe, without overdoing it.

  • Here’s Johnny

    Will be back with a full review but this is a storming album, 4/5 at least. What is going on with this sites mention of dynamic range every review, really?

    They did not receive a critical panning for Reptilian(I liked Kolossus better too) either, probably the opposite. It was number 2 in the charts in Norway. Anybody that slagged it off were of the tru kult variety.

  • I still think that “Kolossus” was their strongest album. Senseless repetition and unreasonably long songs kill this album for me.

  • John Stormbringer Demiris

    I think this album deserves a slightly higher rating. By combining elements of thrash, black and melodeth, it’s pretty amazing for my standards!

  • jminsc76

    I concur on the overall assessment of the album, Diabolus in Muzaka: there is some fat, there is some filler. However, tracks like ‘Dark Divinity’, ‘The Spiritual Relief’, and ‘Introspection’ provide so much muscle (AAA cuts, like you said) that the filler wings up being negligible in the end.

    Good call on the title track too, which personally I think the first half is alright (at first I thought it was ‘The Awakening, Part 2’) but as that solo sweeps in and goes into the lead, frankly I haven’t been as emotionally grabbed since Dimebag Darrell’s ‘Floods’. I really don’t mind that it extends for the time it does.

    A couple more points: [1] I’m sorry, but what was the problem with them appearing on Eurovision? [2] I freaking love ‘Reptilian’ by a hair more than ‘Epistemology’, but the latter still delivers.