‘Leuk’ is a Dutch word that has no proper equivalent in English. The most direct translation would be ‘fun,’ but without any adjectives, ‘fun’ still sound enjoyable and worth the effort, while ‘leuk’ (pronounced approximately like ‘löwk’) has the flavorless, bland feel of ‘okay,’ as in “This mermaid fin soup is okay.” Of course, a lot depends on inflection, but it should speak volumes that it’s among the most-used words for sarcasm. Generally, if it’s sort of vaguely enjoyable and doesn’t really have any significant negatives, but it has all the personality and excitement of unsweetened custard, ‘leuk’ is your friend. And if by now you have not picked up on which direction this review of Spectral Ascent by girl power trio Kabbalah is headed, you require a course in interpretative reading (not to be confused with interpretative dancing.)
The formula for Spectral Ascent is quite simple. The music is rooted in classic, 70s style hard rock with a Coven–inspired occult atmosphere, draped over the bones of Black Sabbath and Blue Öyster Cult. If that makes you think: “Well golly gee, this here description sure do sound like Ghost,” I would tell you two things: learn some grammar, and you’re almost right. Although the overall sound is close, and the vocals specifically have just enough of a sardonic edge to be sisters of Papa Emeritus, it’s kept much smaller, foregoing the grand ritualistic strokes in favor of stoner- and psychedelic-inspired buzzing and rocking out. Small touches of other contemporaries can be traced as well, such as the bouncing Clutch riff on “The Darkness of Time,” the Palm Beach vibes on “Phantasmal Planetoid” and the Gygax-like rocker “Dark Revival.” The subtle occultism in particular works rather well and ensures the album isn’t just another 70s revival band. Jorn knows we have plenty of those already1.
But while Spectral Ascent does a lot of things right, it does few of them spectacularly. The vocals specifically are rather lackluster. The variation in pitch and volume seems dampened throughout the album, and the shortage of dynamics creates an uninspired sensation that inhibits the spirit of the album. The songwriting is solid enough and it’s structurally sound, packing catchy lead lines in a straightforward skeleton, but I miss a sense of passion. The riffs don’t feel urgent but they’re not laid-back, they have some distortion but no real grit, they’re never near dreamy but don’t carry much punch. The drums are pretty basic and not too exciting, although they pack a good punch. The bass has a stronger presence, carrying plenty of heft and defining the sound.
Spectral Ascent is a difficult album to write about. More praise feels like it’s overrating the music, because that lack of spirit and inability to stir my loins with fiery enthusiasm don’t feel like it should receive too much praise. On the other hand, every demerit I note down feels unfair, because the music is solidly constructed and executed, and the talent is indubitable. The production reflects this somewhat, but tips more towards the positive. The aforementioned bass is a definite plus. It’s big, chunky and alluring in the best way, and the overall clarity among the instruments is equally sound. I would still have preferred a bit more bite to the sound, which lingers on the tame side, but the production carries less of this demerit than the instrumental execution.
The only conclusion I can make is that Kabbalah is a band you need to try for yourself. The solid structure, professional execution and occult flair may surpass the uninspired vocals for you and win you over. The lack of passion in the execution may turn you off entirely. Or, like me, you may find yourself somewhere in-between, and for this reason Spectral Ascent is the hardest ‘mixed’ I’ve given so far. It is not bad by any means. But it doesn’t stretch beyond ‘leuk.’