Norway’s Keep of Kalessin come in to Epistemology with quite a bit to prove after their adventures, sonic and otherwise, of the last five years or so. Gone is frontman Thebon, dismissed two years ago, with guitarist/band leader Arnt “Obsidian C.” Grønbech taking over on vocals. And there lingers some bad taste and consternation from “The Dragontower” episode leading up to and through the release of the band’s last album, Reptilian, in 2010.
You may recall the band entered the track, a rather harmless mainstream metal anthem – but one that was way out of character for this formerly imposing black metal outfit for whom Mayhem frontman Attila Csihar once had sung – in Norway\’s Melodi Grand Prix. It was brazen move, to be sure, but not one that\’s going to do much for the band\’s credibility, even if it did gain them more exposure. The song then was included on Reptilian where, despite Keep\’s sound having morphed in a sort of blackened power/death metal, it still stood out like the proverbial turd in the punch bowl.
With Epistemology, Keep Of Kalessin return a bit leaner physically – now as a trio – but even more grandiose, and occasionally meaner, musically than they were during much of the “Thebon era.” Despite the added vocal responsibilities, Grønbech doesn\’t exactly take it easy on himself on the band\’s sixth full-length, which is epic in every sense of the word and should present quite a challenge when its material is played live.
After a quick electronic/choral intro, the band launch into “The Spiritual Relief,” a nearly 10-minute tornado aswirl with slashing guitars, back and forth clean and growled singing and drummer Vegar \”Vyl\” Larsen\’s spray-gun tempos and fills. The rest of the album pretty much follows suit.
“Dark Divinity” is at once more brutal and more accessible, its light-speed beginning and end sandwiching groove-laden passages that are rather catchy, yet far less calculating than “Dragontower\’s” shenanigans. “The Grand Design” churns and burns with more menace, as Grønbech largely keeps his vocals at a simmering growl and his typically shimmering riffing takes on a deeper, punchier tone.
Yet, as is the case with darn near every track on Epistemology, “Design,” at 7:36, is probably two minutes too long, with its, well, grand, more melodic section near the end seeming unnecessary and out of place. Like “Divinity,” the 7:19 “Necropolis” boasts a welcome, rather natural groove, but flogs its to death with three minutes of outro over Vyl\’s “Metal Gods” like drum clomp.
Stripped of all its excess, Epistemology would easily have room for another song, especially one like the viciously efficient “Universal Core,” a four-minute flamethrower that pairs blast beats with Grønbech\’s impossibly melodic guitar buzz-saw. It\’s the best, most viscerally satisfying track on the album by a long shot. “Introspection,” which appeared on an EP of the same name about a year or so ago, is more, for the most part, restrained with soaring verses, a mean-ass guitar solo and, at just five minutes, boasts little padding. The title track, however, brings the album to a staggering close with nearly 10 minutes of histrionics that almost certainly would have been more effective in half the time.
Despite its bloat, Epistemology puts Keep Of Kalessin on firmer footing following the “Dragontower” slippery slope. There are plenty of genuinely stellar moments here. Grønbech proves himself a more than able vocalist with surprisingly effective range and his songs here weave together melody and brutality with a natural aplomb. It\’s just a shame he doesn\’t seem to know when to say “when.”
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