I was pretty shocked when Krallice released Years Past Matter this August. If I remember an interview with the band I watched correctly, their first three albums–Krallice, Dimensional Bleedthrough, and Diotima–had all been written by Mick Barr and Colin Marston at roughly the same time. A very clear progression distinguished each, and by Diotima significant influence by drummer Lev Weinstein and bassist Nick McMaster was apparent, but the foundation had been there all along. I expected a rather lengthy break between Diotima and their next release, as I figured the band would be working more from scratch at that point. Instead, Years Past Matter appeared on the scene just a little over a year later.
The surprise worked out rather nicely, because I didn’t have time to build up unrealistically high expectations. Diotima was the best new album I’d heard in a decade, and I really doubted Krallice would be able to top it any time soon. They didn’t, and that’s just fine, because Years Past Matter is still outstanding.
I feel like it is a somewhat subdued work in comparison, far less explosive and dynamic than Diotima. Almost every Diotima track had a total mind-fuck moment or two: The intro track, Inhume at the beginning and at 5:25, Diotima at 5:35 and 8:50, Telluric Rings at 2:55, 6:40 and 10:35, Dust and Light at 4:45. I’ve yet to find any moment on this album where the music slaps me upside the head with a brick and makes me stair wide-eyed mouthing “holy fucking shit”. That being said, last.fm claims I’ve listened to Diotima over a hundred times. Krallice isn’t the sort of band you can fully appreciate on short notice.
It also seems like the drumming and bass have reverted to the secondary roles they had on Krallice and Dimensional Bleedthrough, not function as equal players in the manner of Diotima. There were a lot of instances on Diotima, especially on Inhume, where I think the drumming actually managed to trump the guitars in delivery. That might not be a matter of performance so much as production, and it’s worth noting towards this end that my dear, beloved cd player in my 2005 Nissan Sentra finally passed away this summer. I swear its stock model had better sound quality than any high-end sound system I have ever heard. It might just be the case that these elements on Years Past Matter feel slightly less overwhelming because my shoddy computer headset fails to do them justice.
But in light of the lofty and exclusive pedestal I place Diotima upon, these are modest complaints. Over all Years Past Matter feels a lot like Dimensional Bleedthrough to me. That was an album which, unlike their 2008 debut, I completely failed to appreciate initially. It wasn’t until Diotima had raised my opinion of the band through the roof that I began to revisit Dimensional Bleedthrough and really recognize its quality. I’m not going to make the same mistake with Years Past Matter, but it’s going to take more than the few dozen listens I’ve given it so far to really grasp its full worth. The myriad subtle complexities only become apparent bit by bit over time, and in the absence of Diotima’s explosiveness there is little to immediate grasp hold of. Like Dimensional Bleedthrough, the songs progress slowly and require a substantial attention span to fully engage. What works so well for both that album and Years Past Matter is that the atmosphere they generate makes for ideal background music. You can let it play all evening without ever growing tired, and when you do temporarily tune in what you encounter is always outstanding. My experience with these albums has been one of a gradual piecing together of the parts I happen to engage, building up over countless rewarding listens into a big picture that I know by heart from start to finish.
The physical presentation of the album actually adds a lot too. Along with one of the most compelling album covers I’ve seen in a while, Years Past Matter offers no printed lyrics or meaningful track titles. I haven’t gotten a chance to try and decipher any of the lyrics as sung, but I don’t think they are meant to play an essential role in the songs the way they do on Diotima. The feeling is more of some abstract, dehumanized vision of outer space. This isn’t so much a change in the sound–the vibe I get from it is essentially the same as on Dimensional Bleedthrough–but it places the music in a slightly different context from the outset.
If you don’t care for what you’re hearing on first listen, this band probably isn’t for you. Their unique take on black metal has remained fairly consistent throughout the years. But if you do appreciate the technical precision and the overall atmosphere, don’t be too quick to write off their song-writing. What may sound meandering at first will in time coalesce into a brilliantly crafted song. The big picture is a lot more accessible on Krallice and especially Diotima, but it was there to be had on Dimensional Bleedthrough too; I just tried too hard at that time to extract it. Years Past Matter has been a great experience for me this year because I’m not trying at all. I’m enjoying the ride and letting the full vision of their songs emerge naturally over time.