Kolossus by Keep of Kalessin
Release date : June 2008
Reviewed by Mark Fisher
Provisionally entitled Ildskjaer, Keep of Kalessin grouped during 1994. Founding members comprised both guitarist Obsidian Claw (A.O Gronbech), and vocalist Ghâsh. Later, both drummer Vyl (Vegard Larsen) and bassist Warach (Øyvind Westrum) joined the fold. American fantasy writer Ursula Le Guin's The Earthsea Quartet comprises the group's sole inspiration, and inaugural demo Skygger av Sorg was cut during 1996's fall with such a concept in mind. Several issues in locating a fully fledged rehearsal room made recording the demo particularly difficult, and insufficient practice consequently resulted in a reportedly untight performance. Roughly ten labels and magazines received such a copy, and responses were “surprisingly positive”. Eventually, this garned Keep of Kalessin a contract with the Italian label Avantgarde Music.
During 1997's summer at Brygga Studios in Trondheim, inaugural full length Through Times of War became recorded. Following Norwegian gigs alongside Bloodthorn, the quartet issued sophomore album Agnen: A Journey Through the Dark in 1999, once again taking refuge at Brygga Studios. Avantgarde's 2001 tribute to Mayhem, entitled Originators Of The Northern Darkness, featured Keep of Kalessin's cover interpretation of “Buried By Time And Dust” (originally part of Mayhem's 1994 album De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas).
Personal reasons had prompted Keep of Kalessin's split during 2000, although Obsidian C. continued to pen music in the group's vein. Nearly three years later, the axeman had competed against thirty other guitarists to be part of Satyricon, and successfully auditioned in 2003. Satyricon drummer Frost listened to Obsidian's material, and accepted the guitarist's request to participate upon Keep of Kalessin's upcoming EP. As a consequence of being Satyricon's guitarist, Obsidian was able to recruit Mayhem's Attila Csihar upon vocals. 2004's Reclaim EP was cut by the trio, though the lineup couldn't remain permanent due to where each respective member was located. Erstwhile drummer Vyl rejoined, whereas Wizziac undertook bass duties. The vocalist's position went to Thebon (Torbjørn Schei), and Reclaim's lyricist Torstein Parelius worked alongside Obsidian in support of March 2006's Armada, Keep of Kalessin's third full length record. Following its release, four European tours were conducted alongside groups such as Exodus, Hypocrisy, Carpathian Forest, Satyricon and Enslaved.
In March 2008, it was announced that Indie Recordings would handle the release of fourth album Kolossus, and that Nuclear Blast was licensed to handle the album's release in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and rest of the world outside Europe (except Australia and Russia). Roughly two years were taken to pen Kolossus, with three to four months dedicated to recording. All tracks were laid down at the group's own studio in Trondheim, and avoided using the ordinary cut-and-paste technique. Its storyline continues from Armada, where the war's victors take the actual war a step further, and battle the gods. The gods are defeated, and the victors become gods themselves. To plug Kolossus prior to its release, Keep of Kalessin conducted a North American tour during April alongside Dimmu Borgir and Behemoth. In addition, a music video was filmed in support of the track “Ascendant” in Gothenburg, Sweden alongside director Patrick Ullaeus.
To speak the truth, Keep of Kalessin will likely never traipse from under the crushing shadow left by the 2003 EP Reclaim (whose star-studded lineup boasted founding member Obsidian C. handling guitars, the legendary Attila Csihar supplying vocals, and Satyricon's Frost stepping behind the drumkit). Over the years however, Keep of Kalessin have undertaken impressive measures in attempting to outgrow that legend. In collaborating alongside Nuclear Blast Records to promote Kolossus, Keep of Kalessin aims to garner a new audience. In all likelihood, longtime admirers will greet this approach via a mixed response.
Throughout the years, critics have dubbed Keep of Kalessin one of Black Metal's brightest stars. In fact, certain quarters have even gone so far as to state that the genre's future lies in the group. By penning Kolossus, such proclamations are seemingly dismissed. In general, the album favours a decidedly more progressive approach. Particularly, two specific compositions shun these Black Metal associations. Despite featuring Keep of Kalessin's well known Black Metal stylings, “Escape the Union” additionally boasts Doom Metal components. Loosely bridging together the cut, a Blues oriented guitar solo surfaces even. “Escape the Union” is coupled against another track, namely “The Mark of Power”. Venturing towards familiar Opeth territory (mid-career, soul-searching Opeth), distinctly non-electric ingredients team alongside twisted, radical noise, not to mention lyrics which literally wail upon a frequent basis. Sinister, compelling and bizarre within the very same tune, “The Mark of Power” showcases a wholly fresh aspect of Keep of Kalessin's music.
Whilst still firmly entrenched within Black Metal's traditions, the heavier cuts repeatedly wander elsewhere courtesy of both continual tempo changes, and dynamic vocals. Crisp, tight and clear, the album's production conceivably initiates the aforementioned progressive vibe. Each specific aspect of Kolossus proves overtly audible; the vocals can be roughly understood, whereas the drum beats are some of the most intricate this reviewer has heard in quite some time. Both “A New Empire’s Birth”, and the title number, are the greatest examples of this. The former comprises a formidable, beat-driven anthem, whilst the latter easily encompasses the most epic composition the group has issued to date.
In terms of affirming that Keep of Kalessin's ability lies beyond a mere position as Black Metal's flagholder, Kolossus is a particularly strong full length in general. Throughout the record, the group is both dynamic, and captivating. However, the songwriting's overall quality lacks sufficient weight; whilst the tracks can be deemed good, they cannot be deemed great. Within a decade of initial release, Kolossus will not startle listeners, to be quite frank. Upon the album's conclusion, it can be sensed that Kolossus is the inauguration of something wholly fresh, yet nonetheless exhibits the awkwardness of any such beginnings.