Kraków's "minus", a pronounced improvement of the sludge aesthetics through progressive means
Not long ago I’ve attended the seventh edition of the Beyond the Gates festival set in the hometown of the foursome Kraków, Bergen. Among various gigs with headliners ranging from Tormentor, Taake, Grave Pleasure to Satyricon and Enslaved, there were presented a couple of premiers in many terms and one of them was the listening session featuring the fourth full album by Kraków. Spun in an outdoor corner offering a contemplative watery landscape, “minus” changed my state of mind from the very first guitar sound opening the record. Perhaps it caught me on the hop given that I had some work to do there and the Norwegians’ tunes with their awesomely styled effects, their bewildering sections and tripping rhythms gave me a sense of uncontrolled floating into a strangely pleasant realm which many access after tasting a spectacular combo of drugs. I could feel some sadness as well, but it was part of the same intriguing endeavour, therefore I enjoyed it. I was inside the venue when they started playing the album and soon I ran for the exit to have some cigarettes and to gaze the water with my frozen body. The funny thing was that it wasn’t the first time I was listening to this record. I got the album before that, courtesy of Karisma Records and during the past month I kept on playing it while haunting the city I live with the firm thought that Kraków reached the highest peak of expression in their discography. I could barely wait the spare moment when I could arrange some thoughts on this record on a blank page and here we are, some days after the official release, which happened on the 31st of August. The reason why I began this description with the episode from Beyond the Gates was to highlight the fact that it is all about one of those rare records which have the power to alter the listener’s reality in an extremely stringent way.
Kraków achieved the expanding of the post-metal boundaries from the first record, namely “Monolith” launched in 2009. Ingredients such as sludge and stoner metal have been incorporated in the band’s music in a free form while the musicians didn’t ever compromised the authenticity for the sake of fitting into a certain wave. Sometimes, the instrumental sections can be pretty long in a course of an album, like the title track from the latest record which spans for almost 10 minutes, while the vocals appear in the most unpredictable ways, bringing a hell of an intensiveness. You can find instances of that on most of the new songs, from the first one till the very last which brings a choir into action with a structure filled with vibes which would make one envision a heroic darkened opera. The vocals are indeed the consequence of a very special approach compared to other albums from the associated genres, especially when touching the high pitches, which makes frontman Kilvik appear almost like a child, although his tempered screams and other doom-like moments will contradict this image in the very next second. During the heaviest moments on the records, he uses that very effective impulse which many of us would connect to the Mastodon’s way.
The use of melodies throughout “minus” comes as the mind-blowing element given the pretty illustrative atmosphere built through wavy guitar layers and sometimes trippy synths with subtle spatial flavours, which provide a very complementary action with the sludgy, crushing and abrasive parts and this transforms everything into a progressive take. Of course that the collaboration with Phill Campbell for the bursting solo ending the first song “Black Wandering Sun” cannot be forgotten, not only because of the Motörhead’s string-man ability of doing a great section, but due to the Kraków’s inventiveness regarding the way they wove their styles. What really emphasizes the beauty of this featuring is the transition wrote by the Norwegians in such way that what can be thought to be the song’s climax is actually followed by a blaze.
In terms of the sludge’s atmospheric aesthetics, I believe this chapter had to suffer somewhat in the latest years due to a lack of memorable releases and Kraków came to correct this thing through a very pronounced improvement. It’s like most of the others improvised a bit (some did it in pleasant ways) with what the pioneers left and no more than that. The influences of the genre’s pioneers and devotees are easy to catch on “minus”, therefore that heavy pitchiness recalling the age of “A Sun that Never Sets” by Neurosis is detectable on the song “From Fire to Stone” through its bleak feels which provide both desperation and healing. What matters is that the result is more complex than this supposed inspiration regarding writing, execution and expression. Another connection would point to Cult of Luna and the early records if we refer to the riffage on the track “Sirens”, but the most beautiful thing is the way the Isis semblance comes into shape on this record, from the drumming on the opening song and those toms illustrating a journey’s unfolding to a couple of tunes on the title-track. I dare to say that “minus” is no less than “Panopticon” in terms of substance, although each of these records has its own direction and yet a different stylistic nature, especially since they were created in such different times. Other than that, things get pretty eclectic by the middle of the album and very short fragments made me remind of an Australian experimental piece called Alithia.
If I have to complain about something is that the chorus on the third track, “The Stranger” is way wicker than the verse, each time I listen to it, I expect something more at the end of the verse, but it’s exactly the opposite, however this doesn’t destroy my appreciation of this album being that everything else is so greatly inspired. Everything is really well-condensed on “minus” and one can tell that only by looking at the playing time. It’s less than 40 minutes of music which focuses on the best the band could give at this moment. Production-wise, everything works perfectly in my opinion, especially since I can discover all sorts of “mysterious” sounds in the mix, from reverberations to fuzzy soundscapes. That being said, “minus” is a just-discovered planet worthy of continuous exploration.