Epic. The word has become commonplace in our everyday parlance. When even the most mundane and banal works are attributed this term, is it still appropriate to use it to describe pieces of art that strive for loftier heights? If Keep of Kalessin‘s Epistemology is any indication, the answer is a resounding yes.
In its original sense, an epic was a national tale of heroism intended to transcribe a rich oral tradition and relate the most esteemed virtues of a culture. Beowulf tells the saga of the titular warrior-king who inspires his men to heroism and unrivaled bravery. The Epic of Gilgamesh told of a valorous antediluvian king who risked all to achieve wisdom. These two values, courage and wisdom, much like the other traits of man’s heroes woven throughout the fabric of our greatest oral traditions, are deeply intertwined into the essence of Epistemology, and the end product is an epic unto itself, rich in valor and grand in design.
Keep of Kalessin have always been a band I have admired. This is the group that is largely responsible for granting me access to the esoteric world of black metal. This is a band that has written timeless songs of immense scope. This is a band that has always hinted at something greater, at the transcendent virtues to which we all strive, but up until now, the music has only granted us glimpses of that grandeur. Armada was an exercise in the endurance necessary to withstand the rigors of existence. Kolossus was written with the hope of ascendance. Reptilian explored the arcane wisdom of beyond. However, each album up to now, although excellent in its own right, fell short of the full majesty of which this band is capable. But the shackles have been broken, and Keep of Kalessin has finally told the story they always wanted to tell, a story of might and majesty.
And what a story it is! Epistemology is huge. Each track is a righteous and winding path of tremolo riffs and duels between major and minor chords that ascend over soaring peaks and descend through breathtaking valleys. Equally immense vocals compliment the precise riffs. Powerful verses lead to even mightier choruses that set the heart aflame as extreme and clean vocal efforts interplay and divide and conquer. I can’t remember the last time I heard an album that left me feeling so empowered! Each of the long tracks, from the blistering “Dark Divinity” to the monolithic “The Grand Design” is an epic tale unto itself, distinct and yet somehow familiar, revealing another splendid fragment of a much larger and greater portrait. All throughout, the arcing riffs and rising vocals are anchored by an unrelenting rhythm section. At times I can’t believe that drummer Vegar “Vyl” Larsen is capable of maintaining such a blasting, inhuman barrage, but both the bass and the drums race along, providing a terrestrial tether for Obsidian C’s beckoning vocals.
I think it is important to note that Obsidian C’s front work is a huge component of what makes this album so appealing and inspiring. It seems that after Thebon’s departure, the band took stock of itself and focused on perfecting its already copious strengths. As a three-piece, this band sounds more in command and stronger than ever, injecting every song with nuance, subtlety, and hints of the sublime. This sort of confident songcraft could only be possible through a self-assurance born of the knowledge of one’s own abilities, and, dare I say, knowledge. Epistemology is a fitting title indeed.
Black metal fans seeking grit, filth, or depressive tones will likely be disappointed in this album. The songs here are uplifting and heroic. The chords are ascendant and sprawling. Although aspects of this album are still extreme, there is beauty and resplendence throughout. This album will enable your spirit to rise above the corporeal and pass beyond the trappings of pain and sorrow. This is an anthemic and empowering listen from start to finish, and I can find little fault with it.
Epistemology is already out via Nuclear Blast, so if you’re a fan of the band, melodic black metal acts like Borknagar, or spirited and soulful music, be sure not to pass it by. This is easily the best album the band has written. Keep of Kalessin have truly come into their own and have crafted something that can only be described as epic.