For the first time in my life I’ve got a garden encased in a thick coating of ice, trapped like one of those towns they put into snow globes. I’m surrounded by maybe a foot or more snow dampening everything from the sound of the wind rifling through creaky bamboo tribes to the trains as they rumble by, it’s as hypnagogic as being sheltered in a box full of packing peanuts for days on end. Winter is being a Mr. Cold Miser and evenings like these cry out for a glowing fire, the dark notes of a glass of Malbec and some post-metal meandering gloom which, as luck has it, is Norwegian based Kraków‘s claim to fame. Back in 2012 I reviewed Kraków‘s second full-length release (Diin) and try as I might, I couldn’t find a single morsel that tempted me back to the album, more to the point, the release left me wondering why Kraków were specifically signed to Dark Essence Records, known as home to bands like Shining (Swedish), Sarkom and Taake, some of the deadliest souls in black metal. Will Amaran prove Kraków‘s redeemer?
Adorned by the art of one of America’s foremost tattoo artists (Thomas Hooper), Amaran quickly proves an interesting conception both inside and out tied to the phrase “what’s in a name?” On Amaran, Kraków‘s aim was to harness the calmer side of their experimental post-metal, focus on melody, artistic spontenaity and drone, enhance definition, lessen distortion and move towards the cleaner drum-style of Ask Ty Arctander (Kampfar), with the end result being a sound that’s darker and more lastingly melodic with an underlying drone of eerily relentless danger.
The album introduces itself with the breezy, stark pickings of “Luminauts,” carrying on in excess of two minutes before things start to rumble. In this track along with “Vitroil” and “Ten Silent Circles,” Kraków take their post-metal sound and enhance it exponentially with elements reminiscent of 70s throw-back bands like Bloody Hammers and Hour of 13 with small hints to Ghost. Vocal duties are shared between guitarist René Misje and bassist Frode Kilvik (Aeternus and Vithr) and their prismatic stylings shift between slow, clean and trance inducing to headsplitting shrieks.
Don’t be fooled, “Lauminauts” is not the full extent of what’s on offer here, a little over seven minutes later, “Atom” and “Genesis” take you by the lapels, giving you a firm shake up. “Atom” approaches with a little more caution, a heady mix of Ashbury, mid-period Trouble and just enough Beatles influence to make things feel nicely familiar. The repetition of “send in the clowns, the masquerade is on” doesn’t feel very far off, especially when “Genesis” rocks up shrieking with all the throaty aplomb of Johannes Eckerström as though it was uncerimoniously ripped from Avatar‘s Hail the Apocalypse.
The back-end of Amaran (“Pendulum” and “Of Earth”) is by far the toughest to get your head around. Moments of “Pendulum” bring to mind the dark side of Tool, and at the same time the cheerful and confusing little melody that floats around in the background has me hankering for Italian food and red and white checkered tablecloths. The monotonous pendulum-like heartbeat shadowed by industrial noise reminds me of chomping insects adding a weird mixture of comfort and discomfort as the track gets progressively more chafing and chaotic. Just where love turns to hate and it sounds as though multiple songs are playing concurrently, the music dies down and you’re left feeling empty with nothing more than a dull industrial drone for companionship. Before the dust settles, “Of Earth” makes her sombre entrance with a sustained, crawling guitar melody, packed with distortion looped an excessive number of times across the first three minutes. Vocals come in sounding more like victimized screams; nothing more than sinister, atmospheric regugitations. If after hearing “Luminauts,” “Atom,” “Genesis” and “Vitriol” you were wondering why Kraków were signed to Dark Essence Records, my guess is the power of “Pendulum” and “Of Earth.”
Kraków in conjunction with producer Iver Sandøy (Solslottet and Duper Studio) have successfully taken their post-metal base and augmented it with slow-to-mid tempo, low-tuned and bass-heavy stoner elements, bombinate drone and trance-inducing 70s era psychedelic rock and then further muddied the waters with a dense blackened shroud. This complexity and merging of so many different elements gives rise to my biggest complaint – a lack of instant accessiblity to the listener. Amaran is a complex grower of an album that takes repeat listens for the subtle textures to merge and sink in. Given the time and effort Amaran deserves, appreciation will take hold.