Sometimes a good idea is as simple as putting two things together in a way that no one else has thought of. In metal, that’s not so simple. Almost everything worth doing has been done so often that metal itself is now officially a very, very bad idea. And yet, every time I think that, Beaten to Death or Abstract Void or Embrace of Disharmony nutchecks me. Knoest, three dudes from Gelderland, “decided to write a piece of music based on the inspiration [from] driving and hiking through our surroundings during the afternoon, the evening, the morning, and the night.” That premise doesn’t scream six (a.m.) to midnight, but the other card up their sleeve might make their debut Dag a bit more enticing.
Generic black metal is generic black metal, even if it has a Bathory bent to it. For a moment, it seems that’s where Dag is headed… until Joris opens his mouth. If I was a betting man, I’d put better odds on “the yips of a coyote gargling vomit” or “someone imitating the static on the new Baroness album” coming at my broken down earholes before I doubled down on “clean baritone.” Joris’ smooth Dutch singing could give either/both vocalists in Heidevolk a run for their money (now that Mark Splintervuyst is gone). It’s the salt in Knoest‘s black coffee, an imperfect match that still manages to make a memorable, if not entirely delicious joe. As Dag progresses through the four long-form movements of its half-hour day, the record defines itself in fits and spurts. The close of second-slated “De Middag” shifts from subdued, semi-atmospheric sections of viking folk-infused black metal into a second-wave Frosty before quickly petering out into acoustic weedling and a vocal solo. Elements of this work alone, but together it’s a trickier matter. The resulting seasickness of swaying from section to disparate section comes more from the music’s quality swinging over and under the Mendoza line rather than the stylistic schizophrenia.
As you’d expect from an album about a single day, the record darkens as it goes. “De Nacht” closes the day with a bonafide highlight, but not because nighttime is for the kvlt and trve, yov fvkking posevrs. Harold’s riffs ho-hum along for most of the record—a bit blah, but not without songcraft. However, much of Dag is hemmed in by adherence to the subject matter. This structure shackles songs to a tempo too tepid without meaningful mid-pace malice to match. Thus, the release of the rollicking, savage “De Nacht” leaves you wishing the rest of the album was this nasty. Knoest still lose focus by the end, but even their digressions stand a cut above their usual hodge-podge.
The crux of Knoest‘s ear-catching issues comes from the interactions between Joris and the instruments, namely the lack thereof. This traffic light black metal just won’t let the two halves be interesting at the same time, if at all. The constant stop-and-go hamstrings Knoest‘s best idea—no, not the day thing, the Heidevolk thing. At the dullest moments, even the vocals sound bored and lethargic as Knoest take forever to get anywhere. The finale of “De Avond” is downright creepy when Joris finally shows off a bit of range—something the album could use more of—by pitting hollow harmonizations against buzzsaws. Past that, we’re left to “De Nacht” and its one-song-to-rule-them-all performance.
The musicianship isn’t at fault. If anything, I like what the band brings to the table, including Mink and his too-loud cymbals. But a 3.0 performance of 2.0 songwriting and inspiration won’t get you very far on the highway to Valhalla. Knoest have a solid foundation to build on, and a conceit that actually sets them apart from the rest of the faceless masses sucking up promo bin real estate. Who knew baritone cleans could thrive in a swarm of angry hornets? That’s the idea that Knoest must develop further if they want to progress as a band, because that’s the characteristic that will shine on long after the sun has set on Dag.