Tuesday 21 April 2020

Kolossus - The Line of the Border (2020)

Country: Italy
Style: Black Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 19 Mar 2020
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The kind folks at Satanath Records in Russia sent me a virtual stack of new releases, which I'll happily dip into over the next few weeks. I've already reviewed one, a Cuban black metal album from Skjult, and it ended up on my Highly Recommended List with an 8/10. Let's see if that was a fluke or if there's a whole lot of other quality underground extreme metal on their schedule.

This one from Italy is pretty good though it's no Skjult. Kolossus is a one man band from Genoa, that one man going by Helliminator, and his particular brand of black metal is supposed to come with a Viking metal flavour but I'm getting a gothic sound out of it. When he's at full tilt, which is the vast majority of the time, the sound is rather like the Sisters of Mercy at about quadruple speed.

And that's an interesting sound. The drums are fast but surprisingly varied. The guitars are an abrasive sonic wall. The bass comes out to play in slower sections but it's just part of that same sonic wall in the faster ones. The vocals are deep in the mix, so deep that they're not far off just being part of the same increasingly layered wall. What's left to keep a sense of melody is another guitar over the top throwing notes out surprisingly slowly, as if the player isn't even part of the same recording session (though he follows the time), which is even more odd for a one man band.

I like that sound but I need more on an album that runs three quarters of an hour. The quieter or slower sections are important to keep a variety and add a contrast to the release. They work very well in this regard, because they aren't the usual quieter or slower sections on black metal records. This one features a lot of ambience in the form of whispers, hints at choral backdrop and what might be spoken word poetry, sometimes accompanied by vinyl pops.

The more I listen to this, the more I feel the density of that sound and the more I find myself moving into it. This is far from a one listen album. The uninitiated are going to find this impenetrable, but black metal aficionados who listen a few times will feel it dragging them inexorably into its sound, almost like a quicksand bog. As long as we don't struggle, we can enjoy the majesty of it. If we struggle, though, we'll become yet another victim, like the girl who keeps whispering at us in French, I think, not Italian.

Maybe my quicksand metaphor is a bad one. Sometimes, especially on Journey, it feels more like a tornado, where it throws us up instead of dragging us down and, as we're whirled around in a maelstrom of noise, we keep catching glimpses of interesting things that have been snatched up along with us. It feels like pieces of the song come into focus before being whirled away once more to be replaced by others. In this context, the guitar solo is somewhat ghostly.

I liked this and, looking at my favourites, I see that I prefer my Kolossus at length. Fog and Sin are two of the three songs on offer that exceed seven minutes and they're two of my three top picks here. Journey, on the hand, is a mere five and a half, plenty more than the three interludes that run for a minute and change but much shorter than the longer songs.

Helliminator founded Kolossus in 2014 and this is his debut release at full length, following a split with Manon, another one man black metal band from Genoa, a couple of years ago. Of the two Kolussus tracks proper on that, one shows up here too, so I presume Norge is the oldest song on offer. It's also the most tortured, with Helliminator's vocals more present and more overt. I guess he's moving more into black metal soundscapes, though without actually slowing down and turning into atmospheric black metal.

If that's the direction he's taking, I'm really interested in hearing what's coming next. Hopefully the reuse of Norge doesn't mean that Helliminator is an extra-slow songwriter and Satanath can put out another album sometime in the next couple of years.

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