Review Summary: Kaizers Orchestra bring us their fanciful carnival ride; unpredictable, thrilling and a little dizzying... with much more to come
Kaizers Orchestra is a Norwegian band who've recently released their 7th LP (the first of a 3-part series), Violeta Violeta Volume I
. If you haven't heard of them, it's alright, I hadn't either. Not that the Kaizers (each band member has a stage name ending with “Kaizer”) are particularly obscure (they're quite popular throughout Northern Europe) or have an inaccessible sound, quite the opposite. However, hailing from a country renown for its typical exports of black metal and appeasing, Anglo-expressed music doesn't do this native-tongued, whimsical six-piece alt. rock outfit any exposure favors. Kaizers Orchestra fills a very specific niche, with alternative rock being far too big a blanket to toss over these gents. Are they an orchestra? Maybe a little, what with their insertions of eyebrow-raising instruments within the context of rock music; oil barrel drums, contrabass and a pump organ to name a few on previous releases. Their sound is hard to pin-point without name-dropping a multitude of acts that have nothing to do with each other. Tip of the iceberg would allude to their unpredictable style reminiscent to that of Tom Waits
' unpredictable, slightly vaudeville-esque sound, their grandiose, put-together production similar toThe Dear Hunter
's works and their gypsy-tinted quirks a la Gogol Bordello
. Pedantry aside, Kaizers Orchestra are of the few bands one would likely not hesitate to call “original”.
Violeta Violeta Volume I
comes to us as evidence of 11 years of the band's progression. They've remained consistently hard-hitting over the years, not musicians to be subtle about their stylings, but this particular release shows Kaizers Orchestra running a much tighter ship; cleaner jazz-infused guitars, a tone-down on the 'dirty gypsy' elements previously flaunted on certain earlier releases (Evig Pint
and Ompa til Du Dør
) and overall, a much more refined accent. They're pirates who've just shaved and put tuxedos on, still raucous as ever at their core being.
Kaizers' vocal approach, though their all-Norwegian style may be intimidating to non-Norwegian listeners (and Norwegian speaking folks alike, considering vocalist Janove Ottesen's unorthodox jæren dialect), makes regular rock act vocalists look like monotone deadweight place-holders for their obligatory shallow content. In technical terms, Janove's pronounced singing voice is perfect to the point where I start to wonder if he himself is not a custom-manufactured, finely-tuned instrument. That is to say Violeta Violeta Volume I
may as well be classified as an instrumental record, as the vocals do not play the role of typical vocals, sharing and leading harmonic and melodic space just as much as literally any of the other instruments. Content-wise, the group's lyrical themes vary from album to album and frequently feature characters in a story-like concept connecting all of the songs. For the continuing Violeta Violeta trilogy, the lyrics are based around 3 characters, a deranged mother, Beatrice; her daughter, Violeta; and her father, Kenneth who has taken her away from Beatrice and they now only see each other in their dreams. A plot line fitting to the mood that the Kaizers often create within their music and very much centered in magic, as Ottesen has stated “similar to a Tim Burton film.”
The versatility of their musicianship is equally astounding, boasting no tracks with the “sounds too much like the last one” issue many distinguished rock bands suffer from. The hard hitting, almost garage-rock like Diamant Til Kull
(Diamonds to Coal) pulls any rock fan in with its boisterous guitar wailing and driven, thick drumming and a catchy chorus, in a “I don't even know what I'm singing along to, but it's great” sort of way. Leading into Femtakt Filosofi
(Philosophy in 5/4 Time), an off-kilter tune with a marching pace and a rather sinister vibe, with a certain creepy, carnival-like quality, a unique element present in much of their work. En for Orgelet, En for Meg
(One for the Organ, One for Me) is another standout track for its combination of accordion and whistling segments, an aspect, like many in their music, that is often a little too
ridiculous to handle, as well as the amusing, impromptu female rap interjection in the middle of the track. One of the singles off the album, Hjerteknuser
(Heartbreaker) is much smoother and approachable sounding than the rest of the album, suited with a n elegant string section, multiple bridges and a captivating chorus. There's something interesting to find in every track on Violeta Violeta Volume I
. Few musical acts can pulls off the amount of surprises at every turn like the Kaizers can.
Having already peaked for an impressive 18 weeks at the number one spot in the Norwegian album charts this year (competing with the likes of Rihanna
and Lady Gaga
), it's extremely surprising that Kaizers Orchestra haven't gotten much attention overseas. Perhaps it's because they're a little much to digest at a time, jam-packing every well laid-out concept they can into this 40-minute carousel ride, or perhaps the Americas are far too preoccupied with listening to the same monotone vocals and predictable song structure again and again. Nevertheless, the fact remains that Kaizers Orchestra are a band with considerable technical talent, inspired minds and even rarer in music of this age, a grasp on dazzling composition. With hesitance to call the indulgent Violeta Violeta Volume I
their magnum opus, in lieu of the promising Vol. 2 and Vol.3 set to both be released in the next year and a half to complete the trilogy, it is definitely not indulgent to call this the best “rock” album of the year, if not one of the best albums of the year so far.