There is a magic in creating music that speaks to humans on several levels at once. KARG seems almost harmless at first listen, especially if you’re brand new to folk-based, blackened, melodic death metal (which is a damn accurate description). I say this because the arrangements are simple and elegant. There is a distillation of the essence of extreme metal.
The second listen finds you grabbing onto catchy riffs, naked bass, deep percussion and haunting background vocals that create the perfect contrast to Karl Beckman’s voice. The third listen, you sink into each song and discover hidden layers of sound. I heard the subtle hum of other melodies but couldn’t tell if it was a separate instrument or an as yet undiscovered harmonic effect of the group mind of KING OF ASGARD’s:
Each song is discrete. No two sound alike and yet there is a unity created by the ordering of the tracks. The members were of one mind when they recorded this. Without sacrificing the power or passion of their previous works, they’ve stripped their sound down to its basics and returned to the fundamentals of musical craft.
01 The Runes of Hel
02 The Trickster
03 Highland Rebellion
04 Remnant of the Past
06 The Heritage Throne
09 Total Destruction (Bonus Track)
“The Runes of Hel” starts with what sounds like a rain of fire and death and takes you there and back with lyrics about how every man, woman, and child must come to Hel’s hall. When I talk about distilling the essence, this song is what I mean. This is the song I will always associate with my first taste of that crazy genre I cited up there in hyperlink blue.
“The Trickster” has a Beowulf epic feel. If you are familiar with the Norse tales, there is one name that isn’t uttered aloud unless there are the forces of Order around to constrain it. Then there is the theatrical breakdown about two –thirds of the way in. It isn’t a surprise so much as an inevitable twist that surprises you after you go, “Oh, this is a breakdown.”
“Highland Rebellion” is a war song. I can hear the battle horns as a slow-groove guitar weaves through the ominous rumbles of the bass. The vocals are war chants while the drums hammer away like stomping feet.
“Remnant of the Past” comes on strong and then backs up to only the vocals accompanied by a naked bass line. If someone whispers after they’ve been hollering at you, it forces you to listen. A few moments after that is a clean vocal chorus that raises gooseflesh. Since the yell-whisper-croon change-up sounded so good the first time, they did it once more, but only that once more because there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.
“Omma” starts out with haunting piano. There are many layers of sound to this intro. A soft, atmospheric opening is becoming an oft-used device to create a counterpoint to the relentlessness of the music. When done in desperation, it becomes a non sequitur. When done well, it weaves through a song like a stream flows around rock. The “Omma” arrangement works as the piano’s theme flows throughout the guitar work, and the clean vocal chorus added another layer. It doesn’t hurt that the chanting male voices brought to mind a horde of shirtless, brawny Viking men either but that’s probably just me.
“The Heritage Throne” is the gloomiest of the songs. I was inclined to name it my least liked track but it fits so well with the other songs and has such evocative lyrics that I would be lying. This song best represents that stripped-bare-and-left-to-the-mercy-of-the-elements desolation of KARG, which translates to “barren.” This is what organic simplicity sounds like.
“Huldran” is the angriest song. I hear a phantom melody again like a subliminal whine of stress just under the grim drone of the guitars. The drums are brutal, incessant blast beats but the heads are tuned low enough to give it a throbbing percussive sound.
“Rising” illustrates the brutal beauty of the scoured landscapes that the word “karg” probably captures while the English-equivalent word “barren” implies something lifeless. There is life in each of the songs and the one that seems the most sentient is “Rising.” This song breathes. There is a perfect tension amongst the instruments, like a well-balanced wheel with the drums at the hub and the vocals at the rim.
“Total Destruction” (Bonus Track) is straight up-heavy-fucking metal. Oh my gods, what a great song. It just barrels along, heedless of anything in its path. The minor chord progressions are portentous. The bass, rapid-fire drums and vocals are all present in just the right amount. This is where the band pays homage to early influences and it is as fitting and ending as “The Runes of Hel” is a beginning.
I really connected with KARG. This very well could be KING OF ASGARD’s opus. Though …TO NORTH and FI’MBULVNTR are excellent albums (i.e. I’m getting them too), they are the inevitable progression to this third album. This is a band I would definitely go to see if they tour the U.S. I can count on one hand the bands I would drive four hours one way to see (BATTLECROSS, ALL SHALL PERISH, AFTER THE BURIAL, NILE, and REVOCATION). KING OF ASGARD has taken it to the two-handed level.
KARG is set to drop on Tuesday, July 22nd via Metal Blade Records. We’d love to hear what you think about the album.
You can also check out my exclusive interview with bassist Jonas Albrektsson HERE.
I.O. Kirkwood is a Metal Descent contributor. You can check out her personal blog at http://iokirkwood.com.