Krallice is a band that often gets misunderstood. Forcibly shoved into a conveniently labeled drawer of “black metal,” the New York group was an easy target of both the trve black metal kvltists, condemning them for “mocking and desecrating the genre,” and the mainstream public, that couldn’t stand such “noisy wankery.” They’ve been cynically called “controversial,” “divisive,” “hipsters,” and “ostentatious,” often being mentioned in the same breath with the likes of Deafheaven and Liturgy, with whom they have little in common. In reality, Krallice was never anything more than a quartet of talented, creative musicians with backgrounds in the math-rock and tech-metal milieus who were dead set on playing innovative music rooted in black metal but unwilling to be limited by the genre’s conventions. Ygg huur, their fifth full-length release, is further proof of that ideal; a record marked by a violent, propulsive character that introduces a deep yet natural reinvention that could only be pulled off by a band disinhibited of any genre-induced boundaries.
Ironically enough, due to the brevity of the album (35 minutes), the music on Ygg huur appears superficially closer to traditional metal tropes, producing an aura of “accessibility, “ whilst in truth it’s never been so far removed from them. Gone are the long, epic tracks burdened by shoegaze riffs and drone segments. In their stead, the tunes branch out kaleidoscopically, intricate riffs alternate frantically, from insanely fast tremolos to dissonant squeals, and rhythms float and bounce spastically without any anchors. All of this makes the music extremely complicated, varied, and in many ways familiar to those who have heard either guitarist’s other bands (Colin Marston’s Behold… The Arctopus and Dysrhythmia or Mick Barr’s Orthrelm). The stylistic shift is evident right from the opening track “Idols;” a short, slow song with buried vocals, devoid of any blast beats, with Nicholas McMaster’s distorted bass weaving in a sinuous line. It’s like something off a Gorguts record – a fact not so surprising given Marston’s participation on Colored Sands. Dissonant and disjointed, “Idols” remains just the bud of a foreshadowed idea buzzing incessantly, gestating nervously, and wanting to break free from its pupa to transform into the monster that is the following track.
Because it’s “Wastes of Ocean” that shows the new Krallice in its full glory. It’s difficult to explain why this concoction works as well as it does. It’s gorgeous mayhem made of what feels like thousands of riffs, swaying harmonies, continuous changes in pace, occasional glimpses of groove and melody, and Lev Weinstein’s aggressive, angular drumming – all reverberating and smashing into each other. Each fragment in this maelstrom arises as a speck of dust briefly illuminated and suspended by rays of light only to morph into something else entirely. Subsequent tracks, especially the exquisitely brutal yet balanced “Over Spirit” and the angry, destructive “Bitter Meditation” all follow the same pattern. The result of such an approach are tunes that sound like digests of Krallice’s earlier records with a significant breakthrough in variety and inventiveness.
There’s method to this apparent songwriting madness, but it has almost nothing to do with what we’ve come to expect from metal. In contrast to their sonically dense, but structurally simple past works, Ygg huur leaves an impression of being compositionally convoluted and meticulously thought out. It’s as if instead of just name dropping Giacinto Scelsi for the sake of showing off, they opted to apply his microtonal and pitch-altering principles on a higher level. It’s an aspect of Krallice’s music that, along with the love-it-or-hate-it but quite fitting signature Colin Marston production, might scare off some listeners. Beside that, there are just two minor complaints which make Ygg hurr fall short of perfection: the occasionally undercooked fragments spilling from one song into another and the shouted, harsh vocals which frequently appear superfluous. Still, taking into account the creative urgency of this album which was recorded and released in less than a month, these shortcomings are understandable.
Appearances and stylistic changes aside, Krallice undeniably feels like the same band underneath. The emotions that were always there, hidden in the grueling sounds, are now much more prominent and obvious, emerging from behind the stereotypical veil of sterility and making the music enjoyable even without overanalyzing it. One of the best albums this year, metal or otherwise. Genres be damned.