It’s frequently the third album that’s all-important, signaling whether a band will be stepping it up a notch or forever remaining in the shadows. For some bands, that means tweaking their sound to take a stab at greater commercial success, and heavy metal’s timeline is littered with acts that shifted into the big leagues off the back of album number three. However, for countless other metal bands the third album has nothing to do with any commercial aspirations, it’s simply the moment when a band is sure enough in its footing to stretch out artistically. In the best cases, everything falls into place as a result.
Sole Creation, the adventurous third album from Swedish sludgy doom duo Kongh, definitely falls into that category. In broadening the band’s sound, guitarist, bassist and vocalist David Johansson, and Drummer Tomas Salonen, have beefed up Kongh’s constitution significantly. With tremolo flickers, a guest appearance from John Doe from Craft, increased vocal variations, and an intensification of the thundering atmospherics, they’ve created a dynamic, groove-laden odyssey that eclipses their previous work.
To be fair to Kongh, although Sole Creation is a silver-backed menacing monster, the band was hardly a lightweight to begin with. Kongh’s 2007 full-length, Counting Heartbeats (nominated for a Swedish P3 Guld Award), and 2009’s Shadows of the Shapeless were mammoth works of feedback-framed riffing. However, as great as those albums are, in the overflowing pool of sludge and doom artists, any halfway decent band can sculpt albums of intimidating size—if it’s one thing metal isn’t short of, it’s monolithic riffs. But what Kongh have achieved on Sole Creation isn’t about elevating its sound to more ominous heights, it’s about expanding its dimensions.
On Sole Creation, Kongh shows astute handling of its tonnage. The new album is more imaginative, melodic and nuanced than past work, but doesn’t sacrifice an ounce of the band’s intrinsic brute strength. In terms of its sheer sonic magnitude, Sole Creation is an awe-inspiring endeavor. Produced by Peter Lundin, and mixed and mastered by Cult of Luna’s Magnus Lindberg, the album has a Herculean guitar tone. But what Kongh does best is exhibit a finely tuned integration of a post-hardcore mood, and more progressive and psychedelic doom.
Sole Creation consists of four songs, and clocks in at over 45 minutes, which, as you’ve no doubt surmised, means there are lengthy tunes within. However, like the work of a similar marathon songsmith such as Yob, Kongh wrests control of its strident sound to engulf, not mangle. Kongh balances the titanic weight of Sole Creation expertly, ensuring the richer melodies are not trampled by the leviathan riffs and accompanying waves of distortion. The band constructs tensile songs that are technical, but not so technical that they become lost in a progressive haze.
The clearest indication of how Sole Creation differs from Kongh’s previous releases is its density. Previously, the band was thickset enough, but the bass-quaking dirge of “The Portals”, the pitch and sway undercurrent of “Sole Creation”, and the steamrolling 13 minutes of “Skymning” (with its doomscape psychedelia in full flight) sees Kongh stack riff upon riff—lurching between rumbling, acid-dripping passages, droning sections and juggernaut rampages.
It’s all a firm lesson in composure, because no matter how tumultuous it becomes, the gradients of the rhythms and tremolo pickings are never smothered by the glutinous riffing, or the corpulent bass. That’s not to suggest Kongh has held back in any way; Sole Creation is highly abrasive and treacherous. But a track like “Tamed Brute” shows just how much Salonen’s strapping yet shrewd percussion adds to the album, and the more varied vocals from Johansson (clean, melodic, howled and growled) work to support the harmonies within.
Such elements give the album an old-school temper in parts—albeit one shaking with the full-force seismic strength of contemporary sludge. Still, there’s no denying that Sole Creation feels very much like an album that tips its hat to fundamental blues-soaked doom—and that’s there in every furrow that every song plows. The album feels organic and authentic, and there’s nothing forced or disingenuous in Kongh’s decision to expand its sound.
If album number three from Kongh doesn’t bring increased attention, nothing will. Sole Creation is an absolute colossus, and just like its large-headed, short-necked simian inspiration, there’s a great deal of intelligence behind its abundant strength.