By Kim Kelly
The first time I laid eyes and fresh ears on Krallice was in a conceptual artist’s oversized studio, framed by boxes of wire and sticky with someone else’s blood. It was a rainy night in Queens. The Manhattan skyline stood slick and weary in the humid air, and the Hudson slithered by as languidly as a sated python. As summer light died away sweetly and darkness stole quietly into its place, the scent of burning flesh wafted by. A skinny man in a leather jacket brushed past me, and a woman in yellow tip-toed behind him. It was July in the year 2008, and with Dagon in tow, Inquisition had brought their occult black rituals to New York. An intriguing new band from the outer boroughs was slated to open the proceedings. A massive art space nestled on the banks of the river had been called into duty, and an unlikely mélange of leather jackets, cheap beer, silver necklaces and ballerina flats populated this alien slice of the city. Flanked by an upscale restaurant and a loading dock, the “venue” seemed as out of place there as its temporary residents, and no one was quite certain of what to expect. As longhairs and curious passersby gnawed bones and snuck swigs from carefully stowed bottles, a great rumbling came from inside the warehouse’s cavernous depths – a harbinger of things to come. As bodies trickled in, four men fiddled with instruments and twiddled knobs, preparing. And then – it began.
The juxtaposition of corpse paint, bemused and be-V-necked voyeurs, and a severed pig’s head lent an air of surrealism to that arresting, monumentally cathartic performance that that young band with the strange name and even stranger aesthetic had chosen to unleash. Whether or not we realized it then, Krallice had arrived.
Krallice have come a long way since that muggy night by the river. Making the jump from “promising upstarts” to “New York’s best metal band” was not easy, and every ounce of success that they’ve enjoyed has been earned. It’s all been worked towards, paid for in blood, and is now deeply appreciated. Their first album served as an introduction; their second, a statement of intent. Their third opus, the newly released Diotima, is nothing short of a declaration of war. Now, we’re not talking guns-blazing war metal here – there are no panzers splashed across the album’s cover, and there’s certainly nothing bestial about the intricate compositions within. Krallice’s fight is more subtle; a sea change, rather than an invasion. Remember a few years ago, when their self-titled debut dropped – and jaws throughout the American metal scene dropped with it? USBM, the bastard son and redheaded stepchild of black metal tradition, had suddenly become a force to be reckoned with. Weakling planted the seeds, Wolves in the Throne Room relit the torch, but Krallice were one of the first of an eventual wave of American bands that had decided, for whatever reason, to embrace the beauty in brutality, and look beyond the freezing moon into not what black metal is, but what it could be.
It’s been a fair few years since the first wave of USBM hit, and many of the old guard have fallen or paled into wistful imitations of their former strength. For some, the power remains, but regardless, the game has changed. The unimaginable has happened – the meek have inherited the earth. USBM has grown into an entirely different beast than its puritanical beginnings would have predicted, and become an entirely unique entity unto itself. American black metal bands eschew the corpsepaint and spikes of their European brothers in favor of a more human approach. This new breed’s descriptors – organic, progressive, atmospheric, experimental, expansive, earthy, technical, multi-faceted – are a far cry from the European hordes’ focus on occult aggression and Satanic orthodoxy. American black metal cannot draw upon the ancient spells of the fjords, the steppes, the Black Forest. Instead, its inspiration springs forth from the forests of the Northwest, the rolling hills and hidden homes of Appalachia, the urban blight and suffocation that plagues our cities, the wide-open skies out West and frantic pace out East, the poverty-stricken South and economic nightmares up North – our land, our history, our daily struggles breathe life into this darkest expression of musical malady. Maybe we’re all still victims of that “melting pot” mentality so many of our forebears picked up alongside their brand-newAnglicized names at Ellis Island. We as a nation are rather fond of recycling, reimagining, and rebuilding what we’re given to create our own realities. Why would our take on ravishing grimness be any different? A bit of post-rock here, some hardcore there, a pinch of crust, a dash of noise, a hint of folk, a snippet of thrash and a helluva lot of ambience…Call it what you will (“post-black metal” seems to be gaining ground) and point fingers towards its influences all you like, but this scene, this community, this movement couldn’t have come from anywhere else. Krallice couldn’t have come from anywhere but New York – and Abbath’s bombastic winterdemoncy has no place in Queens.
The members of Krallice are musicians and fans, purveyors of the heavy, the filthy, the complex. Their sonic template is as varied and diverse as a packed subway car, and the aural pictures they paint prove that there are many, many shades of black. Their skill levels are practically obscene, ranging from Colin Marston’s technical ecstasies to Mick Barr’s ingenious fretboard wrangling, to Nick McMaster’s flying fingers and Lev Weinsteins apocalyptic drumbeats, and the luxury of having a world-class recording engineer and access to Marston’s cavernous studio within their ranks hasn’t hurt ‘em a bit. Combining a mutual desire to progress, experiment, and explore with a shared love of the blackest of arts, Krallice exploded onto the scene and the aftershock rippled through scores of curious and appreciative eardrums across the world. They were new, they were interesting, but above all – they were damn good.
The debut was a stunner, but its follow-up was more of a grower. Dimensional Bleedthrough was a brave album, one that greatly revealed the band members’ backgrounds in uber-technical, complex music. This time, it really sounded like the dudes from Dysrhythmia, Bloody Panda, and Orthrelm were involved. The difficult second album was just that – a challenging listen, but a rewarding one, and a startlingly mature offering from a band that, for all their chops and know-how, were still pretty new. The material for Diotima was written with dizzying speed, and was already ready for release by the time its predecessor dropped. This album is their most cohesive effort yet, and makes it crystal clear that Krallice have grown into themselves, found their comfort zone, and then immediately, characteristically, pushed those boundaries to the breaking point.
By now, Krallice have grown used to press accolades, top ten lists, and fanboys, but that doesn’t mean they take it for granted; if anything, it seems to push them further.
Each member has settled into his respective role, comfortable with his past and his future in the band. In such a pedigreed project, stacked as it is with the combined resumes of Barr, Marston, and Weinstein, it’s been interesting watching bassist and vocalist McMaster stepping into a more prominent role as a vocalist and songwriter. His budding contributions to the band’s artistic direction (coupled with the visionary work of NYC-based artist Karlynn Holland) only serve to emphasize the fact that the man is a true talent in his own right. With time comes growth.
As you can see for yourself, Krallice are a formidable live band. For being such a complex band, not only do they pull it off in a live setting, but the intensity and raw power emanating from their speakers, strings, and selves amplifies the experience – turns it up to 11, even. The band is selective when it comes to playing shows, and have managed to make every gig and tour count, from their North American runs with Ludicra, Withered and Wolves in the Throne Room to appearances at events like Fall Into Darkness, Maryland Deathfest, and Scion Rock Fest. Less is more, after all, and while road dogs bust their ass and generally get their due, there’s something to be said for moderation as well. A Krallice show is an event, and a special one at that. The live footage that (((unartig))) has so artfully captured is testament enough to that, and says more about the band than words ever could.
Grim Kim | New York City, May 2011
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