Krallice – Crystalline Exhaustion Review

For the better part of the last two weeks I’ve done nothing but wrap my head around the entire output of Queens, New York black metal alchemists Krallice. This was difficult enough with their mathy, progressive first four albums, but the wildly experimental, technical second half of their catalogue knocked me slightly out of phase with this reality. I see in five dimensions now. I respond to things before they happen, because they have already happened and are never not happening. I’ll be eating dinner with my wife and suddenly say something like, “Hey, do you smell that paradigm? Smells like substrate.” She’ll look over and my eyes will be completely white. I was half afraid their new album Crystalline Exhaustion would finally push me into a quantum entanglement with all of my possible selves. Turns out, it did the opposite. The band’s eleventh full length is their most grounded since their debut, even sounding at times like regular ol’ black metal.

If you caught Demonic Wealth, the album Krallice dropped out of the blue last March, you’ll know that unlike previous albums, there was suddenly LOTS of synths. Sure, guitarist Colin Marston had toyed with them here and there going back at least as far as Years Past Matter, and more prominently on Go Be Forgotten, but this was different. This felt like something of a re-invention. Keyboards ran through every track, sometimes carrying all the weight on their own. It was at times ambient, symphonic or downright dungeon synth-y. Crystalline Exhaustion continues this direction, this time with better production.1 “Frost” and the title track bookend the album with the two longest and at times most ambient tracks, while songs like “Telos” feel like a Prelapsarian era song with ethereal atmospherics filling the lulls. “Spooky” was never a word that could apply to Krallice, but the last two albums have changed that.

The novelty of this new direction has worn off and the sound is more fully integrated on Crystalline Exhaustion, which means closer listening is required to fully appreciate how the old Krallice mixes with the new. The band have never been known for immediacy, and this is no exception, but those synth through-lines do provide a sturdy, almost traditional structure of repeating motifs for the uninitiated. This is easily heard on the dreamlike advance track “Crystalline Exhaustion,” probably the most explicitly beautiful song the band has ever made, but it’s just as present on the more difficult material. “Dismal Entity” leans toward typical late Krallice, with math-prog movements that grow ever wilder over the course of the song, but steady keyboard swells in the first half, a mid-song glass-like ethereal break and xylophone pings over the second half keep the song perfectly legible before the inspired organ-like outro. Lev Weinstein’s drumming is beastly throughout, playing perfectly off the delicate atmospheres.

If you’re used to the turn-on-a-dime mathematical gymnastics of the band’s previous work, the constant synth presence can have the seeming effect of flattening dynamics and making the album as a whole feel mid-tempo, but a few spins reveals this to be untrue. Crystalline Exhaustion is a grower. The first time I heard either the title track or “Frost,” they sounded almost typical atmoblack compared to the band’s previous work. In reality, “Frost” at times approaches the same cosmic space as Dimensional Bleedthrough, if less frenetic. It’s old Krallice reconfigured, and probably much more palatable to an audience that wouldn’t have enjoyed them before. Meanwhile, “Telos” takes all the ankle breaking turns of the band’s material post Ygg huur without the claustrophobic sense of tight spaces, thanks largely to the keyboard additions.

Crystalline Exhaustion doesn’t quite rise to the level of the band’s best work, but that’s a high bar. What it does is cement the experimental direction taken on Demonic Wealth while opening the band up to a potentially new audience. It’s as meticulously crafted as you’d expect from Krallice, with a new emphasis on open spaces and atmosphere, and it’s very good.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Self Released (Digital) | P2 (CD/Cassette) | Gilead Media (Vinyl)
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: Jan 28th, 2022

Show 1 footnote

  1. Demonic Wealth has been referred to by the band as their isolation album. Due to Covid, parts were recorded separately and often lo-fi. Lev Weinstein recorded his drums on his phone, while Mick Barr recorded vocals in his car.
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