Krallice began as a joint project between Colin Marston of Behold… The Arctopus and Mick Barr of Orthrelm some time in 2006 or 2007. My very limited experience with both of these bands has left the unpleasant taste in my mouth of haphazard noise for its own sake–barely coherent avant-garde math rock which never has and never will excite me. Inexplicably, with their powers combined the two have produced some of the most beautifully constructed songs I have ever heard. Their self-titled debut in 2008, especially the opening track Wretched Wisdom, completely blew my mind in a way that no other band has accomplished since, taking the still formative genre of post-black metal and practically perfecting it in one shot.
Their second album, Dimensional Bleedthrough, never quite moved me the way their self-titled did, and while I listened to it aplenty when first released, it was soon forgotten. I was nevertheless quite excited to try out Diotima, released this past April, and within the first, well, really five seconds or so, I knew something had changed. By the end of its 70 minutes I had experienced one of the finest masterpieces of metal ever written.
There’s a lot to be said even of the two minute introduction leading in to Inhume. Never mind that ten minute tracks is their norm, the introduction (they didn’t even bother naming it) is an incredible song in its own right. Diotima begins with a nuclear bomb, the chain reaction of which never ends. The desperate melody is more emotionally driven than anything on Dimensional Bleedthrough, calling to mind their first release, but the intensification of the drumming established on Dimensional Bleedthrough persists. It’s a perfect merging of all of their first two album’s finest qualities–beautiful song-writing on the one hand and intensity on the other–and I enter Inhume a deer in the headlights.
There is barely room to breathe before the next song slams a frantic vision of shapes and patterns into your brain that disturb and terrorize. It overwhelms you with ordered chaos. It’s never inaccessible, never obscure, but rather all too comprehensible. Often I speak of the importance of listening to an album in two states of mind, first passively, appreciating its aesthetics, and then attempting to analyze what’s really going on. On Diotima these experiences are one and the same. The drumming locks your eyelids in place, wide open, and the guitars assault your rationality.
Inhume is followed by The Clearing, and the album begins to calm down. The song initially picks up where Inhume leaves off, but before long the sensory overload fades into something more dark and moody. Mick Barr offers up his tortured, otherworldly black metal vocals for the first time on the album, and Nicholas McMaster’s bass lines and rhythmic death metal vocals become a little more pronounced. The song goes on to repeat a pattern of ascending chords which periodically break, here into a moving melody, there into a brutally bassy grind. Rather than ultimately coalescing into something grand, it ends in the midst of gloom, Barr and McMaster trading off screeches and growls in something dark, sinister, and perhaps a bit unfulfilling.
The mood of the ending is a bit unpleasant, but in so far as it leaves the listener discouraged, it’s perfectly placed to be followed by the album’s most uplifting track, Diotima.
This album is more or less brilliant from start to finish, but two songs stand miles above the rest. The fourth track, Diotima, is one of them. It begins in the depths of The Clearing’s conclusion, with some bizarre creation in the form of tremolo guitar bubbling and boiling forth from the pit. The guitar battles against slow, brooding drums and vocals to find its way out of this miasma, and finally, around 5:30, it breaks free. The amorphous creation briefly stands alone, a vision of volatile beauty in perpetual motion, but before long the bass and drums begin to slowly creep up from beneath, ready to collide and set off a chain reaction which, well, might be the most incredible minute of music I have ever experienced.
The song is barely half over when this movement comes to an end, and the rest is experienced in a state of shock and enlightened awe. Something of a return to Inhume’s overwhelming combination of constantly fluctuating guitars and consistently warp speed drumming characterizes what immediately follows, and then a sort of death metal breakdown paves the way for the tracks final explosion, which never actually ends, instead fading off into the distance.
The fifth song, Litany of Regrets, is the only really questionable inclusion on the album. It consists of fourteen minutes of oscillating guitars and a single sustained drumline, breaking only infrequently and never for more than a few seconds. I could try to dig for some deeper complexity to it, but frankly if 20-some listens haven’t converted me nothing ever will. It’s the only track I ever skip, and I feel no inclination to speak at length about it. In reviewing the album just as in listening to it, I just find myself impatiently anticipating Diotima’s other exceptional masterpiece, Telluric Rings.
Unfortunately, the studio cut of this track seems to have been recently removed from youtube. I’m not sure what’s up with that, but out of respect for the band (especially since all other tracks were left up) I will hold off uploading my own copy of it until I find out why it’s gone missing. None of the live recordings are quite sufficient to pick up all of the subtitles I intend to describe, but it’s nice to display some of their visual intensity, and you really ought to buy this album anyway.
This song sweeps you off your feet in the first second–a beautiful, captivating flow of sound perfectly paced to mesmerize. The perfect bend in the midst of tremolo picking around the 25 second mark just blows my fucking mind. Diotima might sport my favorite moment on the album, but Telluric Rings is by far my favorite song over all. At no point, not for a single second, does it ever let go. The lyrics to the opening movement might make no sense to me, but they are somehow beautiful, and more discernible than most of the album. “The eye seeks a desert. / The anchorite sits, pensive, / thought encumbered. / Pillars of cracked rock and the catarrhs of coarse winds”.
The first transition begins about 2 and a half minutes in, allowing a few seconds of obvious escalation in which to wave goodbye. There is a bit of sadness in its coming. You sense correctly that the bliss of the first movement will never return. But the moment the actual transition ends and the second movement begins your attention involuntarily shifts focus. The violence and brutality of what follows is overwhelming. Here again the song is paced to perfection, indescribably captivating in its new form. McMaster’s vocals reach their finest on the album with the rhythmic belting out of “where lie old dreams of caverned maws and light in gulfing void.“
The next transition happens far more abruptly. Around 6:40 the guitars explode in pure desperation, perhaps the most emotional moment on the album save the title track, underscored and amplified by a creative baseline.
At 9 minutes, everything stops. The band all hang their heads, and nothing on the stage moves save Colin Marston’s fingers. A twisted melody drowns itself in distortion. There is nothing beautiful here–nothing like the solo guitar segment of Diotima. This is just pure morbid foreboding. You know it will break, it does break, and well, enjoy.
Dust and Light
Diotima’s final track, Dust and Light, is also its most difficult. It leaves nothing of the bad taste of Litany of Regrets, but neither is its quality immediately apparent. The beginning is a very fitting comedown from Telluric Rings. Mick Barr’s vocals and the blast beats which soon arise are distant now, dissolving in a pure and beautiful haze. The sense of ascension does not last forever, however. The song undergoes three transition beginning around 4:45, first into something more direct, then into something more typically violent and aggressive, and finally into another sort of haze starkly different from the first. No longer is the music dissolving into something greater. Now it is just combusting, breaking apart into a cloud of its own sundered particles. And thus it ends. Perhaps the final lyrical line best explains this song: “Acknowledge divinity’s mortality.“