Never judge a book by its cover – unless that book is Nagual Sun, by outre Chicago band I Klatus. Because this album cover perfectly matches the oddities within. The brainchild of visual artist/guitarist/growler Tom Denney, at its best the music on Nagual Sun borders on sludgy, hard-charging post-metal like Neurosis on acid: at worst, it’s a cacophonous mess of fragmented ideas (just like that artwork, which honestly looks like Denney spent about two minutes in Photoshop. Some of our loyal readers do better copy/paste work than that, and I certainly hope to see some variations on the cover in the comments below). Not to mention, I have no idea what a “Klatus” is, and calling a sun “nagual” doesn’t really make much sense. But thus it is with I Klatus, and the question of the day is whether or not all this weirdness works.
The first song on Nagual Sun absolutely destroys – “Beneath the Waves” is a heavy slab of sludge that, after the three minute jam of an intro, brings to mind Neurosis, with its thick, pummeling riffs and harshly-barked vocals (ignoring the helium-filled odd vocal breaks – the first example of disjointedness a la the cover art). Most songs on the album have moments like this, but “Beneath the Waves” is the most coherent of the lot. “Moment of Devastation” alternates pensive, quiet guitarwork with moments of churning blackness. “The Alivist” is a slab of doom to be proud of, breaking into a ponderous gallop at the midway point before grinding out the final few minutes – a pattern I Klatus follows multiple times here, and not always to positive effect.
“Serpent Cults” is a perfect example of fitting the cover art. It opens with a delay-laden bass guitar (I mean, how many albums these days feature delay pedals on the bass guitar? Not enough!) and plenty of psychedelia, all of which is excellent, but the hackneyed vocals over the first half of the song, along with the first of several jarring transitions, almost ruins things. Thankfully, when the second transition leaps in with two minutes to go the song is more than saved – the final two minutes of “Serpent Cults” are the best minutes on the record, with a killer groove and excellent vocals – where are they throughout Nagual Sun? And these transitions: when they work, great, but too often they seem to be just extending songs to unreasonable length. The cuts here average eight minutes, and shorter, edited songs would be more impactful.
This is I Klatus’s third album, and it maintains the weirdness of past recordings while adding a few more elements of psychedelia throughout. The production expands on this bizarre feel – and the overall theme of matching the cover art – by inserting odd effects here and there: the delay on the bass at the beginning of “Serpent Cults” (good), and the cartoonish vocal effects throughout the same song (bad) are two easy examples to note, but feedback, delay, and other extraneous aural oddities pervade Nagual Sun. The strangest part of the album is the two-minute interlude “Father John Thomas (The Penitent),” a mess of discombobulated loops and blips weaving around some sort of fervent sermon. And even though the following song is “Final Communion,” the interlude makes as much sense as the cover.
So many parts of Nagual Sun work wonderfully, but an equal number of parts just don’t make sense – the jarring transitions between parts of songs and some particularly bad vocals, to be specific – and because of this the album just isn’t enjoyable from start to finish. Just as I shout “Yeah!” as a song like “Beneath the Waves” obliterates my speakers, I find myself cringing over the hackneyed vocals in “Jaws of the Shark” or the brutal transition in “Sorcerer’s Gaze.” What we’re left with is an album identical to its cover: some good ideas poorly assembled.