I don’t listen to much Taake (hell, I’m not even sure I pronounce their name right1),2 and this lack of familiarity puts me at an immediate disadvantage for reviewing Orkan. Observant readers will note that “Orkan” is actually the title of a Taake song, but the connection goes beyond that: Orkan actually consists of Taake’s live guitarist and former live bassist, who formed the project in 2008 along with fellow members of Norwegian black metal band Enchanting Darkness. We missed the group’s 2012 debut Crimson Canvas, but Hell³ was none too pleased with the sterile black metal of 2015 follow-up Livlaus. Three years later, Hell³ seems to have moved on to bleaker pastures, and so you’re left with a knuckle-dragging fuck like me to give you a hot taake on Orkan’s third album, Element.
Again, as something of a Taake n00b, I can’t say definitively that Orkan is a clone. But from everything I’ve heard, Element’s sonic foundation seems to lie closer to them than anything else. This is particularly true of opener “Lenker,” which mimics Taake’s eclectic riffing style and occasional use of sharp clean picking. Likewise, the song refrains from constant blasting by working in sections of jaunty beats, while the vocalist belts out his Norwegian lyrics with a tortured rasp that isn’t too far off from Hoest. In all, it’s a decent piece of black metal, but I can’t help feel it’s less like a complete song and more like a medley of riffs strung somewhat logically together. Late album track “Den Våte Grav” again leans close to Taake and fares only slightly better with its more straightforward approach.
The remaining five tracks show Orkan venturing beyond these Taake trappings with mixed results. “I Flammar Skal Du Eldast” and “Avmakt” are two of the longest and best songs here, filling their nine-minute runtimes with strained melodies and riffs that evoke the aching vastness of Harakiri for the Sky. They’re passionate and developed compositions that feel like true musical journeys, but between them are two songs which don’t fare nearly as well. “Motstraums” is more like a glorified interlude than a proper track, with its brief runtime consisting of a cleanly picked motif and a slow regal drumbeat that soon gives way to distorted chords and screamed vocals. At less than three minutes in length, it feels like the band had a good idea for the opening of a song and forgot to write the rest. “Iskald” is a raging black metal cut that works a little better, but it leans far too heavily on its thrashy main riff to be a true winner.
Interestingly enough, the best song here isn’t black metal at all. Closer “Heim” begins like a fucking post-rock song with its echoing notes and reflective clean picking before moving into a metallic conclusion of surging chords and soulful singing. It’s like a mix of Mogwai and later In the Woods…, and it possesses far more emotion and atmosphere than anything else here. It helps that the production grants the track with a pained sense of distance. The mix is good on the rest of the album as well, with a clear, boisterous sound and a sharp, mechanical guitar tone that reminds me of German black metallers Agrypnie (which is never a bad thing).
Element is an uneven album. There are a lot of good ideas here, but Orkan don’t always combine them into worthwhile songs. As “Flammar,” “Heim,” and “Avmakt” show, the band has the potential to write emotional and progressive music that strays beyond Taake’s shadow. Sadly, the other tracks lack the same sense of conviction and occasionally feel underwritten. While nothing is outright bad and Element‘s 47 minutes are easy to enjoy in full, I can’t imagine myself or many of our readers will be singing Orkan’s praises by year’s end. Best go explore Taake’s back catalog instead, I guess.