Ever get that queasy feeling in the pit of your stomach when you commit to something that’s absolutely foreign to your comfort zone? You know what I mean… you say “yes” to something before you get a good, hard look at what you’re about to do, and all of a sudden, Internal You is “nope!”-ing at record speed? Folks, that was me upon accepting Kult der Krähe, the sixth album by German one-man symphonic machine Schwarzer Engel, upon looking at the cover without hearing a single note prior. Between the careful, strategic placement of crows and SE mastermind Dave Jason dressed like a cross between a modern-day Final Fantasy character and me in high school some twenty-odd years ago, let’s just say my expectations weren’t exactly sky-high.
Well, misconceptions and book-cover judgments be damned, because a majority of this is actually pretty enjoyable. The Cliff Notes version is that Kult der Krähe sounds like a pleasant amalgamation of Nightwish‘s symphonics with some Rammstein vocal heft with deliberate sprinkles of post-Eternal/pre-Above Samael at parts. In other words, very industrial, but quite serene and beautiful at parts. In fact, Kult radiates brilliantly during its ballads, with “Gott ist im Regen” shining the way with its beautiful piano melodies creating a peaceful bed for the song to rest upon. Elsewhere, “Futter für die See” sounds like something Samael left off of Eternal, with just enough crunch to remind you that yes, this is a metal album, but also one that’s elevated by its symphonic tinkerings and Jason’s bellowing. Closer “Wenn mein Herz zerbricht” lays the album down to rest with a somber, heartfelt chorus and a morose piano melody.
That’s not to say that the heavier numbers aren’t enjoyable in their own right. Opener “Krähen an die Macht” comes closest to Samael territory with its heavy drums and driving rhythms. “Ein kurzer Augenblick” starts off as a downer but picks up at an enjoyable clip with an infectious chorus (even if I have no idea what’s being said because I don’t speak German). In fact, there aren’t any bad songs on Kult der Krähe, and when it’s playing, I’m humming along to the melodies while I’m typing, doing dishes, or training the cats for Armageddon. So what could be holding this back?
For starters, the production is brickwalled as all get-out, and you can hear it in the guitars at points, such as on “Krähen an die Macht.” Also, that poor, poor bass guitar. Only when the bass is the only instrument present that I’m able to hear it being played. Some of the songs also could use a bit of work. “Futter für die See” seemed like it was going to build to an awesome bridge by the time the second chorus was about to finish, but instead, the song just ends. If these things could be worked on, as well as a little bit more originality in the delivery itself, Schwarzer Engel can definitely be muttered in the same hushed, revered tones as Rammstein.
So, I’ve learned something new this go-around. No, my toilet seat is still up, but rather symphonic metal, when played with enough conviction and with some interesting melodies, can be a nice palate-cleanser between more extreme offerings. Schwarzer Engel crafted an album that may not be my go-to for normal listening, but I wouldn’t balk if it was played, either. Kult der Krähe may not be original, but it’s enjoyable. And don’t judge it by its cover, as they’ve already done worse.