Review Summary: One of the most powerful, uplifting and original artistic statements of 2013
Locktender's debut, Kafka, can be placed comfortably within the spheres of post metal and progressive metal, two genres that are not without great merit but have become somewhat stagnant, since many artists who perform them seem to do so according to a formula that they have acquired from other, better established artists (Dream Theater and Neurosis are perhaps the contemporary cornerstones for each respective genre), and regardless of how good these new artists may sound, their potential is restrained through this creative shortcoming, which keeps them from being truly groundbreaking or inspiring. However, since the tried-and-tested road does offer a better chance success, and many bands that try to push the boundaries and experiment fall flat, is there really room for originality and true vision?
Enter Locktender, who prove that it is still possible to display intelligence, originality and - get this - the utmost quality whilst playing music that is easily recognisable as part of a familiar genre. Kafka combines the abrasive aesthetic and climactic nature of post metal with a much more progressive structure than the standard peak-valley modus operandi of the genre. The result is a beast of an album that reaches dizzying heights whilst being convoluted enough to bring Franz Kafka's The Trial
to mind. However, the defining aspect of Locktender's Kafka is its energy, and not just any energy - this album has a distinctly positive sound, which is expressed through a significant degree of heaviness but actually sounds happy at times (notably Aphorism #87, the middle section of Aphorism #63 and the outro of Aphorism #17 ("These hands will lift you up")). How many times do you get that
from a post metal album? But it's not only the louder parts that resound with energy; the quieter moments buzz with anticipation in such a way that keeps each song continually engaging, contrary to the immersive ambience that artists such as Isis deploy instead. The best example of this is the first minute or so of Aphorism #63, which is saturated with restrained power.
The album was clearly written and produced to come across in a wall-of-sound manner; everything fits seamlessly together, and whilst the musicianship is excellent in itself, each instrument is better viewed as part of a whole than as of being of significant individual merit. The same can be said for the vocals, which compliment the music rather than steal the show. If anything is deserving of being singled out, it is the production, which is absolutely spot-on; everything gets its own space, but the focus is always in the right place and the album retains a raw feel without seeming overly unpolished.
The song that first stands out is Aphorism #87, which sees them ditching the complexity of the songs that surround it and opting for the standard post metal approach of start-quiet-then-build-up-then-get-f*cking-huge, but it is kept concise (at four minutes) and as a result works wonderfully, not only because it is pretty damn epic in itself, but also because its simplicity prevents the album from being smothered by the intensity and complexity of Aphorisms #17 and #63, and as a result it feels even more refreshing and powerful. In fact, I must say that the album is paced extraordinarily well, opening with the crushing power of the nine minute epic Aphorism #63, allowing the listener to be further hooked by the shorter, more accessible Aphorisms #16 and #87, taking things as far as they can go with the eleven minute Aphorism #63 and then finishing calmly with the #103, which drifts along beautifully for a time, swathed in acoustic guitar and clean vocals, before climaxing one more time and trailing out on a note of satisfaction. Kafka is neither too long nor too short, and does everything it can within its runtime without dragging in the slightest.
Naturally, the album is not without its flaws. The slightly muffled clean vocals can be slightly irritating at times, particularly at the end of Aphorism #63, although they are effective at others (Aphorism #17's finale and Aphorism #103). Also, Aphorisms #17 and #63 can be somewhat confusing, as they both start and end memorably but come dangerously close to confusing anyone who has not had the benefit of repeated listens in their midsections. Finally, Aphorism #16 doesn't stand up to the towering quality of the other songs; whilst it is very much respectable, it lacks their sense of awe and power (and, towards its middle, sounds eerily similar to Explosions in the Sky's Catastrophe and the Cure). However, the pros far outweigh the cons and to avoid this would be to deprive oneself of one of the most powerful, uplifting and original artistic statements of 2013. Highly recommended.