KALEIKR — Heart of Lead (review)

KALEIKR — Heart of Lead album cover Album · 2019 · Atmospheric Black Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
Necrotica
Kaleikr have re-ignited a question I’ve been asking for years: at what point does repetition become good or bad? Truth be told, I don’t think I’ve ever found a clear-cut answer to that question. It’s fascinating that we can praise a Sunn O))) or Lightning Bolt record for the exact same reason we harshly criticize the latest pop-rap snorefest by the likes of Pitbull. Is it because of the intent behind it? That’s probably one of the strongest answers, but I don’t think it fully illustrates the entire reason. Repetition can be used for cynical cash cows like Pitbull, but many pop and dance jams that revolve around repetition are still enjoyable, regardless of intent.

But Heart of Lead partially answered my question by offering something a bit more unique. This actually goes back to my Eleanor Friedberger review from last year; in that write-up I explained how Rebound’s hypnotic qualities are a perfect foil for more interesting experiments to crawl out of the woodwork. Similarly, Heart of Lead uses a mesmerizing brand of post/progressive black metal as a deceptive cover for the varied contents within. “Internal Contradiction”’s brutal mid-song riffage and tempo shifts are suddenly more effective when they’re clashing with more esoteric soundscapes. The title track’s explosion of screams and anguished tremolo picking is much more earned when you’ve got such a beautifully melancholic buildup to precede it. “Beheld at Sunrise” also benefits from a great buildup, using rolling drums and a mournful piano to properly foreshadow its gutting riffs and doom-laden atmosphere. It’s almost like some twisted form of cinematic grief.

The formula that makes Heart of Lead so great seems so easy, but it’s incredibly difficult to master. How many bands have tried to use this contrasting ebb-and-flow format and fallen on their asses? Luckily, much like fellow metal bands who have miraculously succeeded with these contrasts - such as Opeth and Giant Squid - Kaleikr seem up to the challenge. Much of their appeal comes from how they’re already on their way to mastering the art of atmosphere, mostly revolving around melancholy and solemn contemplation. Even at their heaviest moments, such as the dissonant breakdowns of “Of Unbearable Longing” or the downtuned doom riffs that fuel “Eternal Stalemate and a Never-Ending Sunset” (that’s one hell of a title), the umbral mood remains thick and unceasing.

But perhaps most importantly, it still comes off as very colorful and textured. There are many layers to peel back on Heart of Lead whether you’re focusing on the treble or bass end of the production; on certain moments, especially when the blastbeats and tremolo guitars merge as one single beast, there’s a strange beauty to the aggression. It often takes me back to Ulver’s early days as a black metal outfit, and that’s certainly a good thing. Heart of Lead is an album that knows how to manipulate a listener’s patience and understanding of dynamics, and I’m sure that will come in handy as they continue to evolve. So, to answer the original question: what makes this repetition good? That’s because the record immerses in its possibilities, as Kaleikr are aware that they could pull the strings and play around with the repetition as needed without compromising their sound. Quite an impressive feat for a debut album, I'd say.
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