Mapping The Inner Void – Vinyl / CD / DD
Ripple Music – Release Date: February 25th 2017
Kingnomad is a band out of northern Sweden, and they don’t really mention their actual hometown on any of their biographical information, only that they’re from a small village. I like that, a little mystery right off the bat, especially for a band with supposed occult leanings. I use the word “supposed” because it’s clear from this foursome’s bio that they’re a bunch of down-to-earth dudes in it for the ha-ha’s, not hardcore Satanists intent on destroying the universe by hurling curses from Ancient Grimoire of black magic. That’s fine and dandy, though I’m not sure how many of you caught the recent blog post from the fabulous Invisible Oranges author Joseph Shafer, entitled “Ten Metal Clichés We Can Do Without.” I’m going to doing something that I’ve never done, and link it here for posterity, because it really spoke to me: http://www.invisibleoranges.com/ten-metal-cliches-we-can-do-without/
Give it a read. Go ahead. You might hate the article, and you might hate me for agreeing with the vast majority of what the author has to say. Why do I bring this up within the context of this review? Well, that’s kind of my thing, isn’t it? No album or band exists within a bubble or a vacuum, and I firmly believe that context and relevancy are extremely important. I’m also a firm believer in the Zeitgeist, the “spirit of the age”, and if an album doesn’t in some way, shape or form speak to that spirit, then it’s simply not for me.
I may constantly chastise myself for my tangential reviews, though there’s a method to my madness. I have two diatribes to launch into for this review, and luckily, they flow pretty well from one to the other.
Firstly, did you read the Invisible Oranges article? If you’ve read some of my reviews, you’ll probably know by now that I’m highly critical of quite a number of these things listed. I remember seeing the title of this article and thinking “Man, they had better have Satan as the number one cliché or I’m going to be extremely disappointed in humanity.” Thank you, Invisible Oranges, for delivering the goods – I’ve had enough disappointments with the whole of humanity as of late.
Kingnomad manage to encapsulate and incorporate three of the items on the cliché list: Black Sabbath worship, Satan, and Cthulhu. I’d like to emphasize that the aforementioned article calls for moderation and thoughtfulness, a “less is more” approach rather than an outright abolition of some of metal’s most traditionally treasured golden calves and sacred cows. I could use plenty of examples from occultism and esoteric traditions to illustrate the validity of this argument, though I’ll instead drudge up one from contemporary popular culture. In the Star Wars mythos, one of the main ideological differences between the Jedi and the Sith is their interpretation of the Force, beyond the light and dark sides of it. The Jedi believe that the Force is like a candle, and that a bright burning flame can be used to light many more candles, while the Sith believe that the Force is more like venom, and to spread it out too thinly is to dilute its potency. When it comes to metal, I’d have to agree with the Sith on this one. The reason that lyrical subject matters that are traditionally held as taboo carry so much weight and power is their relative scarcity. It’s the fact that they’re not the norm that makes them so alluring. The ritualistic and artistic deconstruction of societal barriers releases a wave of liberating cultural energy that can be harnessed into transformative effects. That’s the basis for a whole system of esoteric practice that’s intrinsically linked to metal, The Left Hand Path (let’s save that particular can of worms for another review, though it is worth mentioning here). However, as these themes become overused and ubiquitous, they lose their ability to shock and awe; their potency is diluted. They cease to be the language of counterculture, heterodoxy and ultimately liberation, and instead become the manifestation of a mindless adherence to a tired and cliched orthodox blueprint. Anything that holds the potential for liberation also carries with it the threat of oppression when it transitions from the realms of the fantastic and abnormal into just another lame-and-tame inevitability of the mundane world.
In that regard, Kingnomad are not one of the more egregious offenders, as their references to Lovecraft and Lucifer His Dark Majesty are used sparingly and light-heartedly. The band openly admits that they’re in it for the fun, and that’s just fine with me. Ghost set the stage for the whole “Scooby Doom” school of metal, and it looks like the good times are here to roll. As far as the Black Sabbath worship, well…. if you’re playing metal and feel like you’re not indebted and influenced by The Sabs, then you’re doing it wrong. I’ve attempted to defy the unquestioned supremacy of Sabbath for many years now, to cast doubt on their reign in hopes of finding other worthy usurpers to the crown who’ve lurked in their shadows, and I’ve come to the conclusion that Black Sabbath are kings, lords and masters wherever The Heavy is concerned. This you can trust. Plenty of their contemporary proto-metal protégées from the late 60’s and early 70’s left their marks and signposts, though none blazed a trail the way that Ozzy and crew did from the moment that the iconic tri-tone of their title track was committed to tape.
On Mapping The Inner Void, Kingnomad mine the Sabbath treasure troves for what that they’re worth, though their incorporation of the more psychedelic elements of bands like Witch and Mammatus sets them in a place firmly above a mere Sabbath clone. They’ve got more of that indie rock vibe that started creeping in from the neo-psych movement that Dead Meadow brought to the forefront of the stoner scene. They’re able to use some of those fuzzy, major key riffs that Dead Meadow pulled off with such poise on their debut and also dive into some of the more nuanced, layered sounds that made Feathers such a breakthrough album. They’re also going for some of the pop hooks and harmonized vocals that turned Ghost and Uncle Acid And The Deadbeats songs into such mesmerizing ear candy.
Herein lies my second tangent, which is the continued resistance to the melding of the metal and indie worlds. I bring this up because Kingnomad wisely call themselves “doom rock”, rather than doom metal. This may seem like a small distinction, though it’s a very important detail to some. Metal carries with it a sense of tradition that lends itself to puritanism, while rock is more open ended. I’m a pragmatist who also doesn’t like to falsely advertise; if you’re a traditionalist or purist who is turned off by the bands that I’ve name dropped above, then this album very well may not be for you. I personally have never been turned off by indie rock getting its proverbial peanut butter mixed in with metal’s chocolate. I’m a steadfast believer in one of the central themes of the Russian dramatist Anton Chehkov’s continual literary themes: that art needs new forms.
With two tangents down, it’s time to get this review back on track and talk about the music itself. Kingnomad write slow to mid-paced fuzz-fests characterized by an overall ethereal vibe. All the songs have a delightful other-worldliness, from the juxtaposition of super saturated and squeaky clean guitar tones, to the wispy vocal delivery and the smidgens of choice samples from horror movies that the band laces into their songs. There’s some cool synth sounds too, which I’m always a sucker for. There are seven songs total; the entire album clocks in at just under 40 minutes, so it’s the perfect length for vinyl, and it won’t test either your attention span or your patience. All the songs are good, distinctive and memorable, making for a inclusive and cohesive listening experience that deepens with repeat listens. I don’t really have a favorite song, though ‘Nameless Cult’ certainly burrowed its way through the canals of my inner ear and lodged itself unwittingly into my memory with its haunting chords and major key dalliances. Similarly, the closing track, and the longest of the album, ‘The Waiting Game’ is also a highlight in its epic take on heavy psych rock freak-outs. Even the shortest track, the instrumental interlude ‘Whispers From R’Lyeth’ confidently stands on its own strengths. This is fine album in my eyes, especially for a debut.
In case you haven’t noticed, I also have a penchant for offering constructive criticism when I think that it’s pertinent. With that being said….guys, keep it fun and keep it fresh as you move forward with your musical career. This is an extremely imaginative release, and you’re going to have to up the ante on your next one to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump. Look into all the weird fiction that’s out there beyond the wall of sleep. There are lots of great anti-heroes that you can draw upon for inspiration besides The Adverse One. Keep drinking your beer and writing your riffs, because you’re obviously onto something, and no one can take that away from you, not even me with my feeble pen and polished words.
Reviewed by Andy “Esteban Dinger” Beresky