As someone who’s rarely stepped foot outside of the United States,1 I realize that I take certain liberties for granted. Listening to metal music without fear of legal prosecution or physical harm is a personal biggie, for example. This was made ever more abundantly clear when reading about how the members of Lebanon’s Kaoteon were once raided mid-gig in 2003 by local police officers, who then held them hostage with rifles pressed to their heads, thrown into the trunks of their cars, and interrogated endlessly for days while being shuttled from one unknown location to the next. Between this and other worldly events, the duo understandably relocated to the Netherlands, and after a couple of albums, have returned with the help of At The Gates‘ Adrian Erlandsson and Obscura‘s Linus Klausenitzer to bring forth their self-titled third album.
With a one-sheet that closed with “FFO: Behemoth, Marduk, Watain, and My Dying Bride,” I expected competently played blackened death metal… with weepy violins, morose lyrics, or whatever else that could possibly be associated with My Dying Bride that would potentially throw a huge monkey wrench into the classic blackened death metal formula. Upon listening, however, it goes without saying that there’s hardly little-to-no semblance of anything that would sound Bride-like, mopey, or downtrodden. Instead, it’s a love letter to a sound that puts springs in your booted steps, spikes in your gauntlets, and fills you with the overpowering urge to transform all your u’s into v’s. With “Wolves of Chaos,” it’s readily apparent that, between Anthony Kaoteon’s rapid tremolo picking and Wallid Wolflust’s guttural growls, that the duo know what they love, what they’re strengths are, and how to go about flaying the listener alive.
And the flaying continues with immediate follow-up (and album highlight) “Sun of the East” which, after a relatively somber and reflective opening guitar solo, proceeds to blast you into smithereens with incredible tremolo hooks, a slinky bass line courtesy of Klausenitzer, and Erlandsson bouncing between blast mode and his main band’s trademark drum patterns. With all the pieces in place, Kaoteon seem poised to catch the ears, minds, and hearts of the listener through sheer determination and powerful riffing. However, while the remaining songs aren’t bad, they don’t hold a candle to the opening one-two combo. From “Broken” forward, the duo seems unfocused and scattershot. Wolflust’s rambling screams almost derail “Broken,” which I’m assuming is supposed to make me intrigued by his anguish when, in reality, I’m just annoyed by his delivery.
But the biggest beef I have with Kaoteon is just how often Kaoteon takes a riff, and stretches it out to unnecessary lengths. Look no further than “Catharsis in Unison,” where he keeps to one or two riffs for the majority of the song, with a plodding tempo that makes its seven minutes feel endless. The only things keeping my interest towards the end are the parts by Erlandsson and Klausenitzer, who try to gussy up the sound a bit. Folks, it’s perfectly okay to have short songs if you feel they say enough in that brief time. Long songs absolutely have a place, but they should feel like an engrossing journey that you want the listener to take part in, and not a thing where you say, “Hey, here’s a long song.” “Catharsis in Unison” is such a mood killer that it put a major damper on the remaining songs which, while they aren’t bad, don’t have enough going on to redirect the album back to enjoyable.
But I hear what Kaoteon are capable of from the highs on Kaoteon, and I’ll keep an eye out for them in the future. I’m all for supporting those who fight the good fight in the name of metal, and I wouldn’t wish what happened to them on anybody. While Kaoteon might not be an album I’ll return to, I absolutely respect their convictions and their willingness to charge forth, authorities be damned. Keep at it, guys!