Krallice: Classically Inspired, Ambient Black Metal

Queens, New York was at one time the epicenter of jazz in America. While Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald could be heard blaring the new sounds of America, young Sonny Rollins and Thelonious Monk were busy ingesting all they could so that one day, unbeknownst to them, they too could put their stamp on a rebellious sound that was purely American.

Fast-forward to present day Queens and one will find that not much has really changed. Yes, the shops and styles may be different. The roads are wider and the air is dirtier. The “cacophony of rebellion,” as it was described in the 1940s, still looms in the air, albeit often without brass and woodwinds.

“I am not so knowledgeable about the world of jazz,” admits Colin Marston, guitarist for the black-metal band Krallice. “I grew up listening to King Crimson a lot.” Despite the lack of fervor for the music of old Queens, Marston — along with bandmates Mick Barr (vocals/guitar), Nick McMaster (bass), and Lev Weinstein (drums) — has sure-footed knowledge about where the band’s singular sounds have originated.“Classical music, especially 20th Century, which is another influence on how I think about music,” he says. “A lot of ambient music, especially ambient guitar music, has been important to me.”

Krallice’s self-titled debut album quickly shot the band to the apex of what has become the US black-metal sound, combining classic blast beats with ethereal atmospherics. This wildfire can be mostly attributed to word of mouth, a staple in the metal world via messages and music trading. For Krallice, this was especially important because the band rarely tours or plays shows outside the New York area.

“[We put] less of an emphasis on playing out and touring than most other bands,” Marston says. “It is just not a priority for Krallice. We are playing a few shows for the record… five days or something, all around New York.”

But a question undoubtedly comes to the foreground. With the members’ roots and influences in non-black-metal bands (members are and have been in such acts as math-metal trio Dysrhythmia, punk-jazz act The Flying Luttenbachers, progressive death-metal band Astomatous, and melodic death-metal group Solecism), was the self-titled debut a one-off? Something to do for the hell of it? With the band’s second full-length, Dimensional Bleedthrough (Profound Lore, 2009), any and all doubts have been put to rest.

Dimensional Bleedthrough takes the power and atmosphere of Krallice’s debut and pushes it further, louder, and longer. The opening title track lays the foundation for this sprawling, violent collection with its unflinching power and sweeping crescendos from movement to movement. Barr’s vocals are at times in your face and other times seemingly part of the entire atmosphere.

The production, both a seamless blend of clarity and a blinding fog of rage, can be attributed to Marston’s other endeavor: he owns and operates the Thousand Caves recording studio in Queens. Along with Krallice, Marston has recorded electro-grind masters Genghis Tron, avant-garde artist Jarboe, and the scarier-than-hell, now-defunct Khanate.

Though New York City accepts all kinds of art, both outsider and mainstream, Marston feels that the city is not a metal town. “I’ve gone through periods where I think that New York has a decent metal community,” he says. “I go back and forth, though. I mean, there are some pretty influential death-metal bands like Suffocation and Immolation, but they’re really from Yonkers and Long Island, I believe. As far as from Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and so on, there aren’t that many that I can think of.

“There is a lot of experimental music here, which can be exciting even though it is not in the traditional sense [for] a metal band. But, really, I can’t think of a single American city where there are five awesome bands coming out at the same time. When I think of a scene, I always think of the [1980s] Bay Area thrash scene where a lot of bands came from this one area all at once.”

Even though the reemergence of black metal has generated a buzz, just as when any genre becomes more popular, an underground still lurks away from the Internet. Marston says, “I’m not sure I’m convinced of any more interest in extreme metal now than there has been in the past. It seems to me that that just happens every now and then [when] there’s a band from a more extreme-metal background that ends up on a major label. That’s fairly common.”

Safe in the spoken-word world of friends and critics alike, Krallice has achieved a notable following around the world based solely on its two-album catalog. Krallice may very well, and unintentionally, bring the American style of black metal to a wider audience and continue the legacy that the jazz greats of yesteryear did before them without big money or big business, and only with a big heart for what its members love to do: play music.

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Dysrhythmia: Hyperactive Technicality

Strip down, way down, the layers of the moody energy of Brooklyn post-rock metal trio Dysrhythmia’s fifth album, Psychic Maps (Relapse), and you can hear an indication of the agility responsible for the band’s deep intensity: intricately finger-plucked acoustic guitar doubling gained-up electrics. It’s a testament both to the band’s attention to detail and guitarist Kevin Hufnagel’s varied virtuosity on guitar.

“I just love acoustic guitar and the combination of heavy guitars and acoustic thumbing,” Hufnagel says. The guitarist’s style is a big reason why this record sounds so dynamic and compelling after more than one listen. Critics have dubbed the band as everything from technical post-rock, which doesn’t jibe with Dysrhythmia’s jarring immediacy, to prog metal, which again would suggest the music puts on airs that it simply doesn’t.

In the past, the band’s approach to recording has been to bring the forceful energy of its live show to a 50-odd-minute album. Throw in high-profile producers Steve Albini, who produced the band’s highly acclaimed 2003 Pretest (Relapse) album, and Martin Bisi, whose bona fides include working with Brian Eno and producing scores of classic underground artists (Sonic Youth, Lydia Lunch, John Zorn, Sereena Maneesh), and you have the structure that birthed the band’s last two records.

But this time was different. Although the band would’ve loved to work with Bisi again, he had retired. Thankfully, they had a ready solution to the question of who would produce the new album in bassist Colin Marston, a sound engineer who has worked with the likes of Genghis Tron and Child Abuse. The band decided to hole up in their Brooklyn apartment and record the album on their own.

The relative freedom of being able to take their time to record led the band to explore new directions. “It allowed me to do more things guitar-wise as far as adding a lot of orchestral embellishments, more guitar layers,” Hufnagel says. “There’s lots of stuff to listen to in the mix. I wasn’t concerned with it sounding exactly like we do live; that can get boring.”

Although their intensity never wavers, playing live and recording are definitely two different things for Dysrhythmia. Hufnagel is happy to start using the studio as a more exploratory stage to craft songs that the band has played for sometimes up to two whole years before recording.

The lapse in time could be partially explained by the band members’ own hyperactive involvement in other projects. Hufnagel recently released a full-length solo album entitled Songs for the Disappeared; Hufnagel and Marston are new members of recently reformed Canadian metallers Gorguts; and Marston was, until December of 2008, still working with his former band Behold…the Arctopus.

“We all have so many different things now. So rather than try to throw it all into one band and end up sounding like Mr. Bungle or something, we’d rather really focus our energy elsewhere,” he says.

And right now the energy is focused on Dysrhythmia. Where contemporaries such as Mastodon and Isis have taken off in the past few years thanks to a burgeoning interest in independent metal, Dysrhythmia is still lurking in the shadows, nursing a fan base that’s been created during a decade of touring.

Hufnagel sighs heavily when I remind him of his band‘s age — it’s not a sigh of defeat, of course, but simply one of amazement. This is a band that has earned its following, not gained it overnight; and Hufnagel knows that in many ways, that’s the following that you want to have.

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Weekly Music News Roundup

Holy collaboration — Mike Patton and Justin Broadrick are contributing to a score by Fog‘s Andrew Broder and Adam “Doseone” Drucker for a semi-autobiographical “photographic novel” by Alan Moore.  Whoa.

In other news, The Dillinger Escape Plan has signed to Season of Mist, Eyedea & Abilities has a new album, two Rodriguez-Lopez brothers (not Omar) are releasing a debut full-length, and Múm will release a new disc in August.  This and more is in the roundup. Read More

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Ten Random Songs from the iPod of Online Editor Scott Morrow

Begrudgingly, online editor Scott Morrow has joined this decade with the purchase (not by him, mind you) of his first iPod.  To celebrate this sign of the end times, here are 10 random songs from his newfangled contraption.

1. Subtle: “Nomanisisland” (For Hero: For Fool)

One of the melodically and structurally odd songs from this album, “Nomanisisland” isn’t a great starting point for Subtle’s idiosyncratic indie hip hop, but it’s a great mid-album respite on the group’s best album.

2. An Albatross: “Cosmic Gypsy” (Blessphemy [of the Peace-Beast Feastgiver and the Bear Warp Kumite])

Here we have 1:19 of organ-fueled shredding.  An Albatross’ newest album, The An Albatross Family Album, is more epic and twists many different ways, but this song’s album takes no prisoners with its unadulterated force.

3. Phosphorescent: “Wolves” (Pride)

As the third track on Pride, Phosphorescent’s beautiful and minimalist 2007 folk album, “Wolves” has prime sonic real estate.  Though we’re not major folk fans, Pride is so pretty that it made ALARM’s Top Ten Albums of 2007.

4. Tomahawk: “Sun Dance” (Anonymous)

Wow…another entry from ALARM’s Top Ten Albums of 2007.  This song’s album, Anonymous, was a spectacular homage to Native American material that was re-imagined by the lineup of Mike Patton, Duane Denison, and John Stanier.  “Sun Dance” is one of the most rock-driven numbers on the album.

5. Genghis Tron: “I Won’t Come Back Alive” (Board Up the House)

From melodic new wave to crushing metal breakdowns, “I Won’t Come Back Alive” is a great track to experience this trio’s musical dichotomy.  The song’s album, Board Up the House, is an extremely unique album and one of the best of 2008.

6. Luis Bacalov: “Suspense” (The Italian Western of Luis Bacalov)

First, this piece from the soundtrack of 1972 spaghetti Western film Si Può Fare…Amigo revisits the main melody of “Can Be Done,” a preceding piece that features vocalist Rocky Roberts.

Shortly, however, the tune shifts to an upbeat theme that recalls the circus or a cheery old-time saloon.  “Suspense” then fittingly moves to a dramatic string passage before the main melody is revisited once more.

7. Amon Tobin: “Marine Machines” (Supermodified)

The deep sea beckons on “Marine Machines” with countless samples, including dark brass accents and creature-like gurgles.  This song’s album, Supermodified, is the best album from this big-beat DJ.

8. Femi Kuti: “Wonder Wonder” (self-titled)

As group vocals join Femi in the song’s pensive but sunny chorus, the opening track from his 1995 self-titled album brings a great live feeling to a studio recording.  Following in his idolized father’s footsteps, Femi uses his funky Afrobeat to raise political awareness.  Here he asks, “Will Africa ever unite?”

9. Secret Chiefs 3: “Hypostasis of the Archons” (Book of Horizons)

Entirely composed by multi-instrumentalist Trey Spruance, the creations of Secret Chiefs 3 span an incredible range of beautiful, cinematic, and heavy sounds, often working with Indian, surf, and spaghetti Western styles.

This track, however, showcases another of Spruance’s loves: rapid-fire, end-of-the-world death metal.  Otherworldly screams, demonic vocals, and quick-twitching strings join to make this unlike anything on the album other than “Exterminating Angel.”

10. Matt Ulery: “Would You Remember my Song?” (Themes and Scenes)

The 1:48 closer to this great chamber-score album uses harmonium, toy piano, and whistling to create a quirky, merry romp.  A one-time refrain from the composer gives an Old World feel to the album’s final seconds.

(To hear one of his creations, check out my Q&A with Matt Ulery.)

– Scott Morrow

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Weekly Music News Roundup

Femi Kuti confirms US tour dates, Ennio Morricone will write music for Quentin Tarantino, and we have previews for new albums by Andrew Bird, Burnt by the Sun, William Elliot Whitmore, and Powersolo. Read on.

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What We’re Doing This Weekend

Tim Fite

Tim Fite

There’s a lot of excellent bands coming through Chicago this weekend, and the ALARM editors will be seeing the likes of Tim Fite, An Albatross, Man Man, and Genghis Tron…when one of said editors isn’t attending his 10-year high-school reunion.

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