Keep of Kalessin - _Armada_
(Tabu Records, 2006)
by: James Montague (
A band that arrived a little too late to be considered amongst the Norwegian elite, Keep of Kalessin are now finally receiving some of the credit they deserve for their stirring, monolithic style of black metal. This could be largely due to the disbandment or decline of the original core groups, but sometimes the end justifies the means -- these gents must be heard.Keep of Kalessin, though less known, were still prone to the drama of their national scene, and disappeared in 2000 before resurfacing three years later, after guitarist Obsidian landed a job with Satyricon and hooked up with drummer Frost to record the _Reclaim_ EP under his original project's moniker. Reformed bands tend to immediately release subpar garbage under a shitstorm of publicity, but Keep of Kalessin mercifully spent a further three years ensuring that their comeback LP would be worth the trouble. The extra effort has surely paid off, with _Armada_ being an immense album standing amongst the finest releases of 2006.The backbone of Keep of Kalessin's music is much the same as it was on the excellent _Agnen_ (1999) -- long, flowing, melodic yet mercilessly intense guitars leading a thunderous torrent of blasting drums. The latter duty has again fallen to the original skinsman Vyl after Frost left the project, but the move was certainly no compromise, as the blasts and fills on _Armada_ are faster and more varied than you'll find in the vast majority of black metal.Progression comes in the form of a new vocalist and a more varied songwriting approach. Whereas previous Keep of Kalessin releases depended on standard black metal screaming, new singer Thebon also shouts and growls a lot of the lyrics, with a few clean choruses thrown in to embellish the more melodic crescendos. I must admit, the shouting took some getting used to, as did the production, which sometimes seems geared towards showing off Vyl's footwork rather than actually creating listenable music. With time, however, it became apparent that these unorthodox techniques were essential to the refreshing and original songwriting. Pieces like "Many Are We" display a thrashier side, "Winged Watcher" has an over-the-top guitar hero climax that absolutely rules, and my favourite track "The Black Uncharted" has a surprising acoustic guitar break -- sounding far more hispanic in origin than nordic -- that somehow fits in comfortably between bouts of frenzied black metal chaos. A varied musical approach demands varied production techniques, and for the most part the sound engineers did a fine job on _Armada_. Indeed, when a murkier sound is called for -- such as on the brooding guitar instrumental "Deluge" -- the polish is less liberally applied.Although too upbeat and enjoyable to be considered a "true" black metal album, _Armada_ is fast, furious, refreshing and brilliantly executed. Patently one of the best things to come out of Norway in the last five years.
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