Once again the torch is passed. Madam X, bless her black, soulless heart, has declined the opportunity to talk to us about Kraków, a band whose last two albums she reviewed with wildly different results. So it falls to the Huckster, known for enjoying music just slightly askew, and also known to have a bit of a Neurosis hard-on, to take up the cause here and see if the latest from Bergen, Norway’s morose post-metallers is a success like Amaran, their last album, or disappointing like Diin, their sophomore effort. minus is the band’s fourth album, six songs apparently distilled down from two albums’ worth of music. More bands need to do this: just because you wrote two hours of music doesn’t mean it all needs to see the light of day. So, are the songs that made the cut for minus up to snuff?
The answer is a resounding yes. “Black Wandering Sun” is an homage to rock heroes we’ve recently lost. A jangly, off-kilter riff leads us on a descent into discordant madness, made even more uncomfortable with harmonized vocals and some off-beat drumming moments, and all capped off with a killer solo from Mötörhead’s Phil Campbell. It’s a hefty start to minus – aggressive and menacing, and totally engaging. “Sirens” maintains the clean-but-on-the-verge-of-breaking-up riffage, with a laid-back beat and artsy vocals that make one think of Ulver — that is, until fury takes over midway through and Kraków takes the song into Neurosis territory. It’s not the heaviest song on minus, though: that honor goes to “From Fire From Stone,” which is a six-and-a-half minute exercise in pure monolithic pummeling, with brief respite provided by occasional cleanly-picked bars.
Kraków take minus on numerous twists and turns, going in unexpected directions. Where “The Stranger” starts in a menacing fashion, with distorted synth and a heartbeat kick drum pattern, the vocals take the menace and edge off with their dreamlike quality — until the middle of the song gets weird, with guitar effects diving across our speakers and harsh vocals making an appearance. This unexpectedness is part of what keeps me hitting the repeat button, trying to discern where the band was taking certain arrangements. The final two songs are vocally sparse. The title track could almost be a Kontinuum instrumental, a gorgeous soundscape whose ten-minute runtime is offset by an engaging arrangement. And album closer “Tidlaus” seems to be an instrumental as well, until a gang of vocalists sing us out with a chorus for the final two anthemic minutes.
It’s hard to find fault in minus. Yes, the mastering has pushed the music up against a brick wall, but it’s almost appropriate for the feeling the music evokes. Of course a more dynamic, at times airy, mix and master would have brought more emotion to the songs, but the claustrophobic nature of this production is just as compelling, forcing all the music into our ears whether we wanted it or not. Even the arrangement, with the songs getting longer as the album progresses, and the instrumental music backloading the record, works. Kraków really do pace out minus in exemplary fashion.
I’ve had minus on my playlist through all of August, and I haven’t been able to stop listening. Normally I listen to an album 6-10 times for review purposes: as I write this, minus is on its twentieth spin. With each song bringing a twist on the post-metal genre, things never get boring or repetitive. Kraków feels like they have distilled their very essence down into the six songs here on minus, and I couldn’t agree more. minus is this year’s pinnacle of post-metal and an album that’s got a damned good shot at cracking my top ten list. I just hope Madam X likes it as well.