If any band are poised to make a comeback, it’s Ketzer. Back in 2009 the German quintet burst onto the scene with their Satan’s Boundaries Unchained debut, which essentially sounded like the best album Desaster never wrote. I can hardly even mention Boundaries without wanting to blast it at ear-splitting volumes and to this day it remains one of my favorite blackened thrash albums of all time. Sadly, 2012’s Endzeit Metropolois was altogether weaker, while 2016’s Starless was an Illud Divinum Insanus-level atrocity that showed the group unsuccessfully attempt to rip off the goth rock style of Tribulation‘s The Children of the Night. Fortunately the preview tracks of fourth album Cloud Collider indicated the band were headed back to a heavier and more aggressive sound. But is this a true return to the fiery thrash of the debut or is Ketzer once again lost with their heads in the clouds?
Actually, neither. Collider is indeed heavier than its predecessor but it’s also far from a throwback to the cutthroat blackened thrash of their early years. Instead, this feels more like a bold new chapter for the band, one faintly informed by all their previous iterations yet truly fresh and most importantly, successful. Many of these ten tracks are propelled by sharp, waltzing riffs and crashing, off-kilter rhythms that make this come across more like a black metal album with progressive flourishes than anything else. Amidst the surging, rocking, and staccato chord progressions, Ketzer maintain a melodic and stormy undercurrent that occasionally crystallizes into standout motifs, as seen with the swirling and catchy tremolo line that carries first proper track “Keine Angst.” As this track continues the group showcase not just their reclaimed aggression but also their refined songwriting. The final minutes of “Angst” are dominated by clean chords and colorful melodies that feel both thematically connected to and a welcome evolution from the song’s opening ideas, ultimately making for one of the best tracks the band have written in years.
Plenty of Collider‘s songs are of similar caliber, yet the album’s true strength lies in its skillful construction. The first several songs flow directly into one another, giving the record a sense of fluid urgency. Likewise, putting “Walls” third in the tracklist was a wise choice, as its thrashy verses and catchy chorus make for one of Collider‘s strongest and most direct songs. Dramatic closers are to be expected, but something about the weeping leads and emotive chords of “Light Dies Last” ties these 43 minutes together with a terrific sense of narrative finality. Preceding this are plenty of standout moments, from the slicing notes of “The Wind Brings Them Horses” to the closing titular vocal hook of “This Knife Won’t Stay Clean Today” to the spinning verses (and guest vocals from Absu‘s Proscriptor) on “No Stories Left.” Even the placement of the two brief instrumental tracks helps with the flow and overall cohesion.
Yet while moments like the raging blast beats of the title track stand out, many of these tracks are built on similar-sounding ideas, making it occasionally tough to tell individual riffs apart. Likewise, I can’t help but wish vocalist “Infernal Destroyer” lived up to his name and offered a bit more conviction in his rasps. Fortunately the production is a great fit, with a modern sound that supports a wooden, driving snare and a guitar tone as fiery as that cover art.
After Ketzer released Starless three years ago, I expected the band to quietly fade off into the ether. I certainly didn’t expect them to return with a powerful stylistic evolution, yet that’s exactly what Cloud Collider is. While not a perfect album, its flaws are largely subsumed by the fact that everything here feels like far more than the sum of its parts. The songs are enjoyable and engaging, the album is smartly arranged, and the return to a more aggressive sound is more welcome than a cold beer on a hot summer day. Beyond that, Collider simply feels inspired and original, making it hard to think of any bands or albums that sound quite like it. Unlike Starless, this is a rip off of no one, a record that stands on its own as a new beginning for a band I’d all but written off. More than ever, I’m excited to here what Ketzer give us next.