Artist: Keep Of Kalessin
Album Title: Epistemology
Label: Indie Recordings
Year of Release: 2015
I’m not afraid to admit when I am wrong. This, I believe, is one such occasion. I have had cursory listens in the past to previous releases by Keep Of Kalessin and not been overly impressed. To this day, I can’t really put my finger on why I wasn’t lured into the fold; for some reason, the black-tinged extreme metal offerings didn’t really click with me and so with more music to listen to than I have spare time, I wasn’t in a position to give the Nowegians much of a second chance. Until now that is. And you cannot believe how pleased I am that the stars aligned and somehow forced me to give album number six, entitled ‘Epistemology’ a chance. This is one hell of a record. It has well and truly made its mark and left a previous sceptic with much to ponder. I will certainly go back and re-explore the back catalogue, that’s for certain.
I talk about stars aligning because it sounds exotic, windswept and interesting. In reality, my interest in Keep Of Kalessin was re-ignited a while back when I discovered that they had entered the race to represent their native Norway in the Eurovision Song Contest. And then, more recently, there was the intriguing competition that the band ran to design the artwork for this album. The result is beautiful, striking and markedly different from what has gone before. As a complete sucker for a great album cover, I felt compelled to explore the music contained within.
The nice thing about my personal circumstances however, is that I am able to look upon ‘Epistemology’ with fresh eyes and not be swayed or influenced by what has gone before. To me, Keep Of Kalessin circa 2015 is a brand new band and therefore a brand new discovery about which I can be completely honest without being hindered by the baggage that a back catalogue can bring. It’s quite exciting actually.
What surprised me initially is that such a huge, epic sound can be created by a mere three people. Obsidian C handles the vocals, guitars and the bulk of the writing it would appear. However, he is more than ably assisted by drummer Vyl and bassist Wizziac, both of whom make an impact on this record.
In true extreme/black metal style, ‘Epistemology’ opens up with a short, minute-long instrumental piece, ‘Cosmic Revelation’. It serves it’s purpose well as a tension-builder, because it’s a surprisingly suspense-filled cinematic sci-fi inspired piece, full of dark and foreboding drama despite its diminutive length.
What follows is, frankly brilliant. ‘The Spiritual Relief’ is off-the-scale superb. It begins with a furious blastbeat and dominant riffing which together threaten to spiral out of control at any moment such is their combined frenetic vigour. Underpinned by swirling synths, the track has a classic, grandiose symphonic black metal feel to it. But then something magical happens. At first, the guitar riff descends into semi-discordant proggy territory before the composition opens up into one of the most epic and anthemic sections I’ve heard in extreme metal circles for some time. The blast beats remain at breakneck speed but the clean, soaring vocals and subtle guitar melodies send goosebumps up and down my spine. Then, as if this wasn’t enough, at about the halfway point, the track collides headlong into power metal territory, complete with groovy riffing, lead guitar breaks and catchy melodies before experimenting with what I can only describe as heavy ambient stylings. The central melody becomes ever more glorious and joyous before eventually reverting to the more black metal approach encountered at the beginning. Ten minutes never passed so quickly.
‘Dark Divinity’ follows and whilst the unique clean vocals of Obsidian C are present, he defers more readily to what I’d call a gruff black metal bark. The entire track is more straightforward if that’s not too disingenuous but what’s most striking is the unique guitar playing. I’ve used the word ‘unique’ a lot within this review but I genuinely think it’s justified. The phrasing, the execution and the entire sound of Obsidian C’s guitar playing is unlike anything I’ve heard before.
‘Epistemology’ is comprised of only eight tracks but the album as a whole does not feel too short. Indeed with the vast majority of the compositions weighing it at over seven minutes in length and up to ten on occasions, Keep Of Kalessin impress me by the way in which nothing really feels too drawn out or bloated for the sake of it. ‘The Grand Design’ is another well-worked epic and memorable track that blends extremity with sumptuous melodies whilst ‘Necropolis’ has a great groove and some really powerful mid-paced drumming that forces the listener to headbang whether or not they wanted to. ‘Introspection’ begins quietly with a theatrical synth-led opening before hurtling towards a huge, anthemic power metal-esque chorus via more lightning-fast rhythms and riffs.
The album then closes with the title track. Classic 90s-inspired symphonic black metal is the bedrock, although the clean vocals are somewhat reminiscent of a toned-down ICS Vortex or Vintersorg, thereby fleetingly calling to mind the likes of Borknagar or latter-day Arcturus. But then a beautifully melodic lead guitar break or quiet synth segment is never far away, thereby reverting to their unique approach and blowing out of the water any further easy reference points. The track builds throughout and is led to it’s conclusion for the final couple of epic minutes via a recurring melody atop which sits some majestic choral vocals and a breezy upbeat guitar melody.
And with that, ‘Epistemology’ is done, although the music stays with you long after the final notes have faded away. For someone who wasn’t expecting much, I must admit that Keep Of Kalessin have well and truly blown me away with this record. ‘Epistemology’ contains just about all the things I like from extreme metal these days; the combination of extremity, technicality and overblown grandiose melody and atmosphere is truly a thing of beauty and something special to behold. Magnificent.
The Score Of Much Metal: 9
If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others right here:
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Zero Stroke – As The Colours Seep
AudioPlastik – In The Head Of A Maniac
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints
Mors Principium Est – Dawn of The 5th Era
Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah
Triosphere – The Heart Of The Matter
Neonfly – Strangers In Paradise
Knight Area – Hyperdrive
Haken – Restoration
James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance
Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days
A.C.T. – Circus Pandemonium
Xerath – III
Big Big Train – English Electric (Part 1)
Thought Chamber – Psykerion
Marcus Jidell – Pictures From A Time Traveller
H.E.A.T – Tearing Down The Walls
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld