One of the things I love about metal is its endless potential for combining and re-purposing different sounds, styles and textures. Sure, one of the results is banal strings of genre designations, but who cares when you have such an enormous spectrum of influences you can pick from? Choose any mood, any feeling, any level of energy or intensity, there’s a band that delivers. Hell, there’s probably a dozen or more, no matter how outlandish your desires. Finland’s Kaleidobolt grabs bits and pieces of different proto- and heavy metal formations, both genres that have literally been around for almost half a century, and pieces them together in a way that it sets itself apart anyway. How can you not love a genre where such a thing is not just possible, but frequent?
The ingredients are simple enough. Kaleidobolt play heavily textured proto-metal with strong influence from 70’s psychedelic rock. Guitars frequently spazz out in inventive ways, and the songs don’t eschew a detour through murkier waters, leaving the listener unsure where things will end up. The vocalist is gifted with a timbre that draws comparisons to Ian Gillan (though without quite such an insane range, of course), and there’s a classic fuzz and reverb to the instrumentation. Where Kaleidobolt take a different approach is in the level of energy, which is more along the lines of the mania of The Atomic Bitchwax or Mutoid Man. The pace of the music is high, the guitars briskly jangling their blues-infused riffs, and the drums are pleasantly loose, the way a bumpy train ride feels faster and more exciting than a smooth one.
The strength of the band lies in how they combine these features. The songwriting in this regard is deceptively clever. At any one point, there’s always a main melodic line to guide your focus, but these lines are set against backgrounds of dramatically varying depths and complexity. Opener “Another Toothpick” opens up with a bare bones riff at such a pace it’ll give your grandpa arrhythmia, but soon thereafter the main melody line is taken over by the bass against a stark Hammond organ background. “Deadpan Blues” takes home the prize for most thunderous riff of the album, but it also has that blues component in the way the riffs are constructed. It’s clever, engaging and very dynamic songwriting, and makes for a highly rewarding album. The absolutely manic energy and immediacy of the hooks only make the music more engaging and it’s hard to imagine anyone with a heart for the 70’s not getting an enormous kick out of Bitter.
There is that one nagging caveat, and at this point the bookies are not even offering money for the right answer anymore. Yes, the production is the only downside to an otherwise great album, thanks to an industry standard DR5 mastering. The intelligent layering does not get the breathing room required to be fully appreciated. This effect is worse on headphones and in-ears than on speakers, it must be said, and considering it’s an excellent album for long drives in fast cars on warm summer evenings, that’s preferable to the other way around. Nor is it a punishment to be left to the addictive main riffs with less definition on the background. But it remains a crying shame that the full quality of the album can’t quite make it out of the compression, because a lot of subtleties which could only have increased the album’s longevity have been buried in the recording process.
Still, that’s but a single caveat on an album that deserves little but praise. Bitter is more than just a fun and engaging proto-metal record with an exciting pace and top-notch musicianship. It also displays more originality than could rightfully be expected from any band imitating the 70’s, combining different strands of that era and weaving them into a tapestry that’s both familiar and yet quite unlike any one other proto formation. That is an achievement in and of itself; being this damn infectious is further icing on an already praise-worthy cake. Kaleidobolt are catapulting themselves to proto-metal stardom in a hurry, and they more than deserve a place on that stage.