Klabautamann - _Merkur_
(Zeitgeister Music, 2009)
by: Mark Dolson (8.5 out of 10)
I'm not really too familiar with Klabautamann's previous works, but I can say that _Merkur_ (English, "Mercury"), the band's newest release, came as a genuine surprise. First off, I find the band's name to be very interesting. Apparently, a klabautamann, a variant of the word klabauterman, is a water-sprite whose purpose was to assist sailors on their sea-faring journeys. Apparently, though, the personality of this kind of water-sprite can be quite "mercurial" as it can shift from a kind and benevolent disposition, to one marked by mischief and general mayhem. So as not to digress any further, I'll just say that I think this is a great name for a band, especially when so many black / death metal bands these days are coping the either the most cliché or hackneyed monikers.

Hailing from Germany, Klabautamann consists of two core members: Tim Steffens, (vocals, guitars, voice) and Florian Toyka on guitars and bass (also of Valborg, Woburn House and Island); both of whom are supported by a session member (Patrick Schröder) providing drum duties. So, what we've got here is a band playing a very progressive, well thought out and atmospheric version of black-metal. The first thing that struck me about _Merkur_ , though, was the really unusual guitar tone. Right away, the first thing that jumped into my mind was Enslaved. If you remember that amazing guitar tone on _Below the Lights_ (with that almost inimitable sort of after ring to it), then you know what to find on _Merkur_. It hits you right away as the opener, Unter Bäuman ("Under Trees"), reels into focus.

Along with the guitar tone, perhaps the first thing the listener will find when listening to _Merkur_ in its entirety is that it is markedly different -- as a black metal album -- when compared to other German black metal bands. As such, unlike outfits like Geist, Lunar Aurora, Odem Arcarum, or Brocken Moon, Klabautamann have structured and arranged their songs such that they sound almost akin to what Opeth would sound like playing black metal -- not in terms of specific aesthetics (vocals, thematics, production, etc.) or anything like that, but just in terms of song structure and arrangement. To be more specific, here's what I mean: each song might be characterised as fairly harsh, progressive black-metal with furious double-bass pummeling, blast-beasts, black metal riffing patterns, dryish, medium-register rasps (complete with ethereal whispers here and there), punctuated with calm breaks featuring the wanderings of both clean and acoustic guitar.

One of the highlights of the album is the title track, "Merkur", which opens with almost schizophrenic-sounding high-pitched vocals (that sound female to me, although no female is credited) accompanied by a riff that sounds remarkably like Voivod circa _Nothingface_ -- which works really nicely at creating a destabilising effect. The song gives way to a whimsical and quirky prog-rockish groove, then comes to a close quietly with lightly bouncing and shimmering clean guitar. If any of you remember the band Carbonized (the now defunct side project of Therion's Christofer Johnsson), you'll be able to draw some similarities here with the use of groovy, quirky interludes to offset the blasting brutality. Now, I understand that this might not be everyone's cup of tea. It definitely makes the song sound a little mercurial and unorthodox (that's for sure); and, because of this, people will either "love it or hate it".

Perhaps the most diverse song on the album, though, is the closer, "Noatun" (which means "ship enclosure" in Old Norse; more specifically the ship enclosure of the Norse god of the sea, wind and crops, Njord). This is a calm song; and it features a polyphony of acoustic and clean guitars, grand piano, a moody-sounding mellotron, and deep, meandering croons that sound reminiscent of Herbrand Larsen of Enslaved (especially _Vertebrae_). The way the aforesaid elements combine, along with the overall tone of the song, make it an effective closer, and a taste of more things to come from this surprising act.

All in all, this is definitely an experimental album that will appeal to people who like progressive, unorthodox black metal; however, for those who like their black metal a little more traditional -- without unexpected twists and turns -- you might want to look elsewhere. I have to say that I loved the artwork and layout; and the lyrics (those written in English, anyway) were great as they touch on fairly dark and philosophical approaches to nature and human existence.

Contact: http://www.myspace.com/klabautamann

(article published 10/10/2010)

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