Kannustaa – Kannustaa [Things You Might Have Missed 2020]

Black metal is known for a lot of things. Vulnerability is not one of them. In amongst the hyper-masculine and satanic theatrics, there just isn’t much wiggle-room for nuanced takes musing on the softer side of the human condition. Given that anger is usually a mask for sadness, black metal is clearly one of the saddest forms of art we have. Yet we generally only get the viciously furious or the overwhelmingly maudlin. Enter Kannustaa, an international hybrid band of Americans and Serbians. At first glance, this debut appears to be your regular, run-of-the-mill BM album. But look a little closer. Look at the door casting light into a dark room. Look at the titles: “Don’t Leave Me,” “A Plea for Solitude,” “Mother.” It’s clear something deeper and more meaningful is going on here. Something you definitely want to explore.

The reason why Kannustaa is such a joy to listen to is that it takes the traditional tropes of fairly raw black metal, and twists them to create an absolutely heart-wrenching journey that is nevertheless profoundly rewarding. At first blush, this sounds like mid-paced, fairly sparse, second-wave goodness, seasoned with some post-metal garnishings, particularly on its second half. But when you peak beneath the skin, there’s a beating heart full of raw power and emotion, and this is brought to life by wonderful guitar-work from A. Đ. on lead and Jamie Bibbs on bass. The instruments soar and swoop and take all sorts of interesting detours, never losing sight of the exposed, raw soul that anchors Kannustaa. They bring the album to life without sacrificing the raw, ugly side of traditional black metal.

Emotion is all fine and well, but it requires strong songwriting to bring it to life. Kannustaa succeeds the way it does because the melodies and progressions are so compelling. Whether pushing forward remorselessly on “To Give and Forget,” and “Don’t Leave Me,” or taking time to rest and explore on “A Plea for Solitude,” the chords and passages perfectly mirror the somber tone of the album as a whole. The production wisely pushes the guitars to the forefront (occasionally burying the drums, sadly), but is never so clean as to distract from the messy emotions the band is conveying. Its harshness and murkiness combine, paradoxically, to create a picture that is crystal clear. I don’t know a single word of what is being sung, and yet, thanks to the music, I understand every line.

When 2020 draws to a close, it is unlikely the vulnerable Kannustaa will feature on many lists. There are flashier albums. There are more technically proficient. There are faster and heavier. Besides, vulnerability has never been particularly cool. But to miss this one would be a mistake. In a world driven to deep despair, in which the all-too-common response is coolly detached irony, the sincerity of Kannustaa is something to be admired. That they managed to translate this to a set of excellent and moving songs is nothing short of miraculous.

Tracks to Check Out: “A Plea For Solitude,” “Shadows in the Sky”

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