Review Summary: Unique screamo from the dreary forests of Norway.
There are few things that I enjoy more than coming across an album that I can't quite place neatly into a specific genre. Sadly, these occurrences are few and far between as of late, but all things considered, it really just makes those rare occurrences that much more special. Shadows, the sophomore release from Norwegian screamo outfit Kaospilot, is one of those rare albums that (mostly) defies categorization. I say "screamo" simply because the scaffolding around which most of the music contained within Shadows is constructed is undeniably that of a screamo album, but the group brings in such a high number of subtle influences from various other genres that to simply label it as a screamo album would be highly inaccurate. Normally, when a band tries to cram a myriad of outside influences into an album, the whole thing tends to become a disjointed and unfocused mess, but thankfully, Kaospilot seems to have more than just a good idea of what they're doing on Shadows.
First off, Shadows is a very, very noisy album, as it features the oddly stacked, dissonant chord progressions, angsty vocal performances, off kilter song structures, and chaotic drumming that screamo albums are known for, but underneath the external layers of instruments, lies a thick undercurrent of ominous atmospherics. Even in the albums most subtle, quiet moments, some distant murmur of guitar feedback, electronic rumbling of some sort, or simply some barely distinguishable frequency always threatens to break through the surface; a feature that gives the album quite an unsettling feeling. In fact, the album has a tendency to become downright oppressive in some instances. This first becomes apparent during the course of the trudging, six and a half minute post-metal epic Ad Infinitum (I told you they brought in an astounding array of outside influences). Underneath all the ominous, reverb laden chord progressions, an ever present combination of feedback and barely noticeable electronic gurgling weaves it's way through the background, before being all but drowned out by the combination of a brooding string section and a vicious vocal line. Special note should be taken to the vocals on the album, as the evolutions they go through are nothing short of astounding. Throughout the album, the vocals evolve from the fairly standard throaty screams possessed by many of their contemporaries, to more vicious high pitched shrieks (almost reminiscent of the vocals found on most black metal albums, but not quite as raw), intense roars, and even a few rather low pitched growls. The throaty roars coupled with the higher pitched screams in The Death Knell are one of the more intense and impassioned moments found within the album.
To be quite honest, the phrase "intense and impassioned" really describes the album perfectly. From start to finish, the album never lets up in it's impassioned assault, but the band manages to keep the album from being monotonous by varying up certain aspects of the album's sound in a very interesting way. Rather than sticking with the usual formula of utilizing various extremes to vary up the sound, the band instead keeps the core intensity at a fairly stable level while playing around with the various elements surrounding it. Basically, rather than constantly shifting back and forth from one extreme to another, the band keeps all of the aspects of it's sound intact throughout the duration of the album, while subtly heightening the levels of certain aspects and downplaying various others, a songwriting technique that isn't normally found amongst the band's contemporaries. At first, this might seem to take a bit away from the wild nature of the album, but somehow, the album manages to retain quite a bit of unpredictability.
To put it quite simply, Shadows is one of the most refreshing screamo albums to come out in quite some time. In the hands of a less capable group of musicians, Shadows would more than likely have turned into a sloppy, disjointed mess of an album, but somehow, Kaospilot has managed to pull together and create one of the most focused albums to come out of any genre this year. Though Kaospilot isn't exactly a juggernaut in the world of emotional hardcore, if Shadows is any indication of future output, the Norwegian group has the potential to do more than turn a few heads in the near future.