Until recent years, I possessed an unfounded notion that artists should allow at least two years to pass between full-length albums. This is nonsense, of course; bands like Khemmis have put out best-of-the-year material after a mere fifteen month incubation period, while others gestate material for half a decade or more yet consistently produce underwhelming content. Greece’s pagan black metal stalwarts, Kawir, took the latter approach for most of their existence, typically waiting four years between releasing albums that are decent, yet overlong and poorly produced. That all changes with their seventh LP, Exilasmos. Dropping a mere nineteen months after Father Sun Mother Moon, this record hits the road with tires spinning, proving that a little momentum, in the right context, goes a helluva long way.
Grymm’s biggest (and totally justified) gripe with Father Sun Mother Moon was that it was too long and too repetitive. While repetition can occasionally set in on Exilasmos, I can count the number of riffs that outstay their welcome on one hand, and regardless of longevity, every single riff on this record hits home for me. This is a guitar-driven black metal album that’s diverse in tone and execution, with atmospheres ranging from foreboding and aggressive (“Thyestia Deipna”) to epic and melancholic (“Oedipus”) driving forward the proceedings in a highly efficient package. The six tracks that span across a refreshingly lithe forty-one minutes, each possess a unique identity in aesthetic and structure; “Agamemnon,” for instance, anchors itself with traditional instrumentation and explores Bathory’s viking metal era, while “Orestes” closes Exilasmos with a bludgeoning stack of rapid-fire riffs. Each piece seems to have a carefully plotted path leading to a defined end-goal, which is incredibly refreshing when so many bands of this style are content to opt for the “riff salad” approach.
The only composition that feels a bit sluggish in its journey to the finish line is opener “Lykaon,” which eases the listener into the impending chaos by riding a derivative doom metal riff for a good chunk of its length. It doesn’t exactly make for a sterling first impression, but follow-up number “Oedipus” serves as an excellent apology, regularly swapping blistering tremolo runs and methodical mid-paced chugs in a duality that feels thoughtfully written and impressively dynamic. Even here, though, the opening riff drags on for roughly a full minute. These slow starts aren’t damning enough to severely impact my opinion of the otherwise great songwriting chops on display, but if there’s any area Kawir should focus on for their next outing, it’s in eliminating these occasional barriers of entry to create more immediately engaging structures.
While the songwriting could stand to see a second coat of polish, Exilasmos’ production quality blows away everything Kawir has done prior, sound-wise. I hesitate to use the word “perfect” in my reviews, but aside from vocals that are a bit too noisy, I struggle to find anything I’d change about the mix or the tones utilized. The drums sound full, natural, and punchy, the bass plunks along clearly throughout, and the guitars are recorded with the utmost clarity without sacrificing their heavy, rumbling tones. This precise production is absolutely crucial in highlighting Kawir’s new instrumental tactics. The Kawir of old performed solid yet by-the-numbers pagan black metal, and while that template still forms the band’s backbone, Exilasmos regularly explores the more ferocious corners of black metal with a death metal-like intensity. This is an aggressive, often violent sounding record, and Kawir handles the updated approach as if they’ve played technically demanding material on this level for their entire caweer1.
Kawir has, from what I can gather, formed a decent cult following across two decades of releasing full-length albums, and while long-time fans might be a bit disappointed with the dialing down of their former, sprawling grandiosity, Exilasmos feels like the record that’s going to gain the band wider respect from the metal community. Though the songwriting could stand for a bit of trimming in certain aras, this is nonetheless a nuanced and fantastically produced album. Epic, aggressive, diverse, and emotionally charged, Exilasmos feels like the kick in the pants that Kawir needed to stay relevant, and I’m hard-pressed to think of any black metal fan who wouldn’t enjoy it. Nice job, Kawir — now keep up the momentum!