Klabautmann’s wondrous spin on black metal dives into new twists on fascinating ‘Smaragd’

Black metal is an area that, despite claiming to be about chaos and disorder, has a hell of a lot of structure built into its DNA. Bands that veer beyond the very rigid boundaries established long ago often meet scorn by those who miserably defend its borders. But that’s a pretty boring act, no? Why not try to do something a little more interesting?

German progressive black metal boundary melters Klabautamann have been disintegrating rules sheets for years now (nearly two decades, if we’re being exact … and we are), and over the course of four mind-bending albums between 2003 and 2011, they made listeners rethink what it even means to play black metal. Folk-tinged passages, interesting vocal patterns, heady prog, and crushing black metal are some of their most visited territories, and that expands even further on their stunning new record “Smaragd.” This 10-cut, 53-minute album wrecks and blows to bits anyone’s notion of what black metal is and what it should sound like. There are moments on this thing where the music is downright dreamy and easygoing. That shouldn’t scare anyone away as there are plenty of obliterating assaults splashed all over this thing, and it can be as heavy as it is intellectually moving. The band—its core members are vocalist/guitarist/bassist Tim Steffens and guitarist/bassist Florian Toyka (Valborg)—is joined by a healthy list of guest players here, who add many other instruments and voices to the mix, helping make this one of the most interesting black metal records of the year so far.

“Into Depression” is a thunderous start to the record, at first sounding like a prog epic before tearing out its guts and spreading them everywhere. Melodies and savagery are ensnared, as the band takes on a tone that reminds a lot of early Enslaved. Clean singing intermingles, as part of the song feels emotional and vulnerable, with things ending with engorged roars and muddy punching. “My Terrifying Mirror” is scary and nasty at the start, with the song thrashing and then heading into speed. The riffs spiral and mangle your brain, as maniacal laughs spread before the song goes into chilling playing. Later, the cut catches fire again, as the playing is compelling before it ends abruptly. “In My Shadow” is really different, as the band pulls things back, and the singing is similar to 1960s-style torch balladry, only with a sinister edge. That element itself makes this stand out, not only among black metal tracks, but among bands that also push the envelope. “Under Feral Skies” is spacious and wondrous at first, but then the flesh is ground off. The track storms hard, as the pace charges, and the playing bounces violently. A sense of calm spreads, as guitars glimmer, but then a monstrous assault rips toward the finish. “As the Snow Melted” has guitars bleeding in and joining up with organs, while the band harmonizes cleanly, jazzy playing bubbles, and a whispered message unleashes ghosts.

“The Murderers” is interesting, beginning with muddy, blinding power, only to allow violent bursts to take hold and shake everything to its core. Windy, contemplative sections blow into the scene, building the drama, but then the explosions do damage. “Everything was taken by the fire!” Steffens wails, as the assault continues, and everything bleeds away. “Enemies’ Blood” eases at the start before the floor drops and destroys bones. Parts of the song float along in gazey atmosphere, though the bass pops and charges through this. Later, the slashing picks up again, leading to a maddening end. “Saturn” is clean and dizzying, taking its time to accumulate momentum and eventually taking off heads. The band rushes into chants and what feel like spiritual messages sent to the stars, as they rhythmically blurt, “Ooo, ahhh!” like they’re paying homage. Then they send things out on a proggy note. The title track has guitars spurting and drizzling textures, while the growls emit ugliness. The guitars spiral and make the room spin before a calm takes over and adds post-thunderstorm cool. That’s a temporary thing as the track explodes anew and takes the song to its fiery end. Closer “Frozen in Time” is clean and wintry, with Anna Murphy taking over the singing, putting an icy, otherworldly final touch on a stunning record.

Every visit with “Smaragd” is a completely different one, as new elements pop up, and other colors become more apparent. Klabautamann never settle into a single territory and always spread their interests wherever they see fit. This band is one of those keeping black metal’s body alive, thriving, and expanding, and everything they do is worth poring over for hours in order to absorb every moment.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/Klabautamann/

To buy the album, go here: https://klabautamann.bandcamp.com/album/smaragd

For more on the label, go here: http://www.zeitgeistermusic.com/