“Hipster”. Never has there ever been a more conveniently dismissive term for black metal genre purists to throw at any band who dares to take their precious little niche genre too far from the sonic and philosophical themes of years past. Granted, bands like Liturgy unfortunately substantiate that stereotype, but fellow New Yorkers Krallice make beatnik black metal music that’s experimental, without sacrificing vital passion and intensity (and without crumbling under it’s own obnoxious, self-indulgent weight).
I’ll be honest, this is my first attempt at giving the American experimental black metal band Krallice another chance, after being resoundingly disappointed by their previous release, last year’s Diotima. That release struck me upon first listen as suffering from excessive long-windedness, and having a surplus of technical acumen in place of a compelling atmosphere or engaging songwriting. Fortunately, Years Past Matter is a record lacking none of the above, even though it took roughly 7 listens before its truly glorious nature was revealed to me.
Like the unnamed song titles (irritatingly titled as a series of lines), the songs on the album tend to blend together as if the entire disc was one epic, sprawling piece. The opaque, heady songwriting requires many, many listens before any amount of understanding can be gleamed from the music – for the first 3 or 4 listens, a good 95% of the album goes in one ear and out the other. It teases the listener with fleeting promises of some sort of revelation of understanding that ultimately disappear as soon as they appear. Indeed, this is not something to listen to passively. This is not meant to be a knock to the band – it’s as challenging and intriguing as it is somewhat baffling.
Some of the more legitimate criticisms of the band take aim at the somewhat monotonous and aimless songwriting; metalheads who prefer their black metal cold, grim and hateful with an emphasis on riffs will find little to enjoy here – the production is warm and lush, the mood spacey, contemplative and minimally aggressive. Songs like the second track take you on a ride through the infinity of the cosmos, but this is no Darkspace or Thorns. Blastbeats and tremolo picking take the listener on a cosmic journey through gaseous celestial bodies and nebulae, swelling and shimmering and bursting with color. All of the stylistic tropes are intact (repetitive high pitched tremolo picking, mid-paced blast beats, shrieking vocals, illegible band logo, etc.) but seemingly done to an opposite emotional effect. Years Past Matter could even be seen as an atmospheric antithesis to that of traditional black metal of yore – black metal that’s positive and empowering (without sounding hammy and forced).
Love or hate these polarizing New Yorkers, it would be misguided to dismiss such passionate, ambitious and unique black metal as quickly as many metal fans have (including me at first listen). Given the right attention, Years Past Matter reveals itself to be a rewarding, evocative experience.