Back in 2007 guitarist Mick Barr had an idea that was so simple in theory that when people heard the end result many were wondering why he hadn’t tried it sooner. Best known as the guitarist for Orthrelm and the creative force behind Ocrilim, Barr has always excelled at, sometimes even annoying listeners with a style that utilizes hyper fast tremelo picking and repetition to the point where it starts to resemble a dentist’s drill rather than a guitar. With Krallice, his project with Dysrhythmia/Behold…the Arctopus guitarist Colin Marston, Barr simply placed that decidedly avant-garde technique within a straightforward black metal template. On paper there‘s not much to it, but sometimes the simplest concepts can yield extraordinary results, and that was certainly the case with 2008’s debut Krallice, which felt half-traditional, half-revolutionary: the template was familiar, but we had never heard anything quite like it before.
2009’s daring, extremely challenging Dimensional Bleedthrough saw Krallice evolving and expanding its sound even further. The addition of bassist Nick McMaster was a crucial one, as he went on to make significant contributions to numerous aspects of the band’s art, his songwriting and massive roar of a voice bringing in an undeniable death metal influence, with his lyrics and album artwork enriching the overall experience even further. McMaster’s involvement freed up Marston from worrying about playing both guitar and bass, allowing him to develop his own ideas on guitar, and the way he and Barr interwove their riffs on the record was fascinating to hear. Most importantly, with four committed members, including drummer Lev Weinstein, Krallice now felt a fully-formed band rather than merely a “project”. Now fully committed to touring as well as writing and recording, it felt like there was even more untapped potential in this band than ever before.
One thing that’s so surprising about Krallice is how it’s capable of the most challenging music in extreme metal, yet the band has been churning it out with surprising regularity. Not even a year and a half since Dimensional Bleedthrough, we now have Diotima, yet another extraordinary piece of work that raises the proverbial bar once again. What’s so striking about the new album at first, curiously enough, is just how focused it starts off sounding. Always incredibly economical players, Barr and Marston minimize their approach even further on the 12-and-a-half-minute title track, dialing down the complexity in favor of a startlingly straightforward approach, the duo even playing the same riff at times. Additionally, by having Weinstein tinker with the tempos more, it creates a far more dynamic version of Krallice than what we’re used to. This time, “Diotima” ebbs and flows, first with drumming reminiscent of Weinstein’s doom project Bloody Panda, to more of a cruising sludge groove, and ultimately exploding into the frenzied blast beats we know so well from these guys. This isn’t just experimental; it’s genuinely catchy.
Old habits die hard, though, but then again, when we listen to Krallice we want to hear something daring. And we certainly get that during the last half hour of the album, which easily ranks as the best music Krallice has created to date. At nearly 14 minutes, “Litany of Regrets” is a strange, stunning piece, the use of tremolo effects on the guitar in perfect time with Weinstein’s 2/4 drumming making it sound riveting from the get-go. Like the first record, we’re back to hearing a similar use of repetition as what Burzum did so well in the early-90s, but typical of Barr and Marston, they elevate it to a completely unique, far more hypnotic level. “Telluric Rings” is a lot more insidious, starting off with some of the, dare I say, prettiest interplay between Barr and Marston that we have ever heard on record, the melodies delicate and memorable. However, the tide slowly turns over the course of the song’s 11 minutes, and by the conclusion we’re swept away by a thrilling cacophony of sounds. The concluding “Dust and Light”, meanwhile, is a lot more impenetrable than the previous two songs, Barr screaming atop a much more muddled mix of guitars and drums, his voice awash in reverb, a far cry from McMaster’s more decipherable growls on the bulk of the record. On this track McMaster’s bass is the driving force, anchoring the song brilliantly as the guitar duo shifts into overdrive, careening to a breathtaking climax.
Produced, mixed, and mastered by Marston, who is steadily becoming as reputable a studio whiz as Sanford Parker and Kurt Ballou, Diotima, like the previous two records, will surprise new listeners with its clarity. It’s strange how something so seemingly dense and difficult to fully comprehend upon first listen can be so structurally simple, each instrument clearly defined. It’s one of the most fascinating aspects of this peculiar, paradoxical band, and it’s something that will keep listeners riveted every time they put out new material.
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