It became kind of obvious Keep of Kalessin’s latest wasn’t going to be a game changer when they decided to hold a cover contest. Having fans submit their ideas for what the album should look like before they’d even finished making it seems like an obvious commitment to “more of the same”. If they were planning on re-inventing their sound or giving it a fresh direction, they’d want the cover to reflect that, and this hands-off approach, while being a great way to reward their rabid fan-base, is a promise that nothing surprising is going to develop. If you liked their old stuff, you know what’s coming.
It’s a promise they fulfil.
This might be disappointing from anyone else, but Keep of Kalessin seem to have their own rules. Aside from an affinity with dragons and a name that sounds not unlike “khaleesi” (despite predating Westeros by three years), these guys are most notable for their extreme metal. Think sweeping guitar-work and epic riffs tempered in turns by black metal and virtuo, depending on the song. They’re a surprisingly diverse group musically, but fans of their last album will be more than happy with the overall direction, moving away, if only a little, from the blacker metal into a more extreme, epic base. The black metal is still there, it’s just muzzled for most of the runtime, only briefly getting chance to spread its wings. Having said that, when it does manage to roast a handler and get away magic happens, my favorites being “Dark Divinity” and “Universal Core”.
Throughout the musicianship is fantastic, with an enjoyable mix of the grinding riffing and airy virtuo/epic work spread liberally throughout. Special attention should go to “Epistemology” here, whose ten minute runtime is a journey through airy beginnings, a fearsome center and epic, almost dirge-like finale, making it almost a musical cross-section of a Lindworm in flight.
Unfortunately it’s not quite perfect. The mixing in “The Spiritual Relief” is more than a little troubled; this is a narrative song, but the guitar work lies right on top of the vocals like some great, leathery wing, suppressing what’s underneath. It’s a problem of production, not musicianship, but it’s not the only one. The opening of “Dark Divinity”, for example, has the pained drone of a chainsaw trying cut through too much wood. It’s a problem they don’t deserve, and though it isn’t a major problem it sticks out precisely because the rest of the album is so good. Like a worryingly reptilian shadow on an otherwise sunny day, it becomes more distracting the more you try and ignore it.
In the end, “Epistemology” is a study into knowledge. If you like them, you know you’ll like this. If you don’t know them, you know you should. If you’re wondering whether they’ve held their edge over the four year hiatus, know this: the dragon’s awake.
KEEP OF KALESSIN
Released: Febuary 16th 2015
Label: Indie Recordings
Score: 7/9 Hammers