Kraków – diin (Dark Essence Records, 14 September 2012)
Kraków – amaran (Dark Essence Records, 09 February 2015)
Kraków – genesis (Dark Essence Records, 07 August 2015)
Hey, folks. So last week as you may have noticed, we had a bit of a blast from the past: I wrote about an album that came out in the latter part of 2012, one which I have enjoyed listening to immensely since I first heard it, and one that likely would have found its way onto my list of that year’s best releases if I had just gotten around to hearing it sooner. Well today, we’ll be taking a look at another album that also came out around the same time — late 2012 — and has become one of my favorite things to listen to since I first discovered it. That album is called diin, and was the second to be released by Norwegian post-rockers Kraków. Today we’ll also discuss that band’s third record amaran (and the EP that closely followed, genesis) — and since I’d made the mistake of finding that earlier album too late and excluding it from my 2012 list, I made sure to rectify that when it came time to put together my list for 2015, since those two (jointly) happened to rank among the best things I heard last year.
Anyway, that’s surely enough in the way of introduction — you can just expect that we’ll be covering several entries from this band’s discography — part of which I was sorry to have missed once, and all of which you would be wise not to miss now!
First of all, I’d like to address the band’s name. Since they come from Bergen, Norway, it seems odd that they would name themselves after a Polish city (Stołeczne Królewskie Miasto Kraków). Well as it turns out, that’s only part of the story. Let’s back up a bit. When I was growing up, I was always a huge fan of the Calvin and Hobbes comic strips. I probably had half a dozen books that anthologized these cartoons, and I read them frequently and enthusiastically. One of these just happened to be the first time my younger self had ever encountered the word “Krakow” — referenced both as a former Polish capital and onomatopoetically as gunfire via Calvin’s imaginary “Spaceman Spiff” persona. At the time — I may have been eight years old? — I had to look up the word to understand the joke. But ever since then (and still to this day), every time I see or hear “Kraków” it instantly reminds me of that strip. And this happens fairly often, since that city seems to be a pretty popular destination for bands who are touring Europe, and it also happened when I first stumbled upon the band Kraków. Incredibly, soon after I had first heard this band, I found an interview they had done with Queens of Steel (the original is in Spanish but here is the English translation they posted) in which they mentioned that exact same comic as the source of their name! If I hadn’t already become a huge fan based on the music itself, that probably would have done it.
Anyway. Kraków can be characterized as post-rock, post-metal, with random assortments of atmospheric spacey psychedelic stoner trippy goodness at any given time. diin‘s opening track “Hymn to the Winds” (and later track “Into the Distant Sky”) starts out with some almost bendy, de-tuney guitar notes in the introduction, which brings to mind one of my favorite bands, the always-interestingly experimental Imperial Triumphant. This gives way to plenty of fuzzy post-metal, but the metallic (growled and shouted) vocals alternate with some cool harmonized parts — reminiscent of another of my favorites, Selim Lemouchi and His Enemies (as well as the various things I compared that project to when I wrote about it). The semi-melodic talk-singing in the next song “Future Past” sounds even more like Selim, while some of the guitar parts and arrangements here evoke thoughts of the brilliant experimentalists Hail Spirit Noir. Only eight or so minutes into this material, and we’re already categorizing this band with some truly amazing company!
Many of these songs (throughout both albums) are successful at holding your interest because of dynamic contrast: diin‘s “Termination of Origin” starts out chugging along rhythmically, but then drops to a half-time feel (built around a rather minimal guitar lead that will claw its way into your brain forever); “Omen” starts out somewhat aggressive, but then drops off to almost nothing with a gently intoned chorus part, switching back and forth between the more aggressive sound (with guitar solo) and the quieter part (the last iteration of this goes on for several minutes, incorporating a heavily distorted organ throughout); “Mark of Cain,” with its ethereal keys and far-off vocals, occasionally gets punctuated by a bit more fuzziness (and, just for fun, a guitar that chimes in once with a lead tone borrowed from The Cure‘s “Love Song”); and that album’s closing track “Sense of Space” is — of course — generally spacey and atmospheric, with almost jazzy guitar chords and soft nearly-spoken vocals over top of the bass groove, but a louder distorted part kicks in from time to time, before the whole thing kind of drifts away. amaran opener “Luminauts” starts out a bit spacey, with a similar feeling to the opening of diin‘s last song, but then lots of fuzz kicks in, before everything drops out and returns to the intro part, and then the fuzzy and spacey stuff and everything all at once; and “Vitriol” features vocals that are even more deadpan than those found elsewhere, accompanied by very slow and dirgey music — and it’s only within the last minute that it actually starts to SOUND vitriolic (much heavier, and the vocals become very caustic).
Elsewhere, some of the other songs don’t vary quite so much — “Of Earth,” the longest track on amaran (nine minutes) is full of slow, droney chords throughout, overwhelmingly feeling heavy, black, pendulous. The band also does up-tempo songs well too: diin‘s “Possessed” is a bit faster and more aggressive, as is “Pendulum” (with its almost industrial-sounding background — built atop these pulsating dirty beats in waltz-time) and “Genesis” (which is filled with dissonant chords and a dark and sinister vibe courtesy of some theremin-ish sounds) from amaran. The latter track, in fact, is one of a few quicker and more straightforward songs that were written and recorded during the amaran sessions, but they didn’t necessarily all fit together on the same album, which is why the EP genesis was put out a few months later: this contains the album track “Genesis” as well as three others (“Blood is God,” “Conjuring,” and “Demise”) all in a similar vein. “Into the Distant Sky” from diin also consists mainly of driving, chuggy rhythms, and adding a counterpoint to the guitars here is an angrily vibrato-ey sax sound just like in that song by The Revels from Pulp Fiction — just another example of some of the various bits and pieces they throw in here and there to keep things interesting.
Throughout both of these albums (and accompanying EP) there isn’t a single bad song — you really could start anywhere and find something to love. But if I absolutely had to pick a favorite, the epic (nearly thirteen minutes long) centerpiece of diin, “Mound,” throws layers and layers of guitars at you, very gradually building in intensity over the majority of the track (almost the first nine minutes), surrounding an organ part that weaves in and out (that reminds me quite a bit of the organ from “Careful with that Axe, Eugene”), until things abruptly change course as an acoustic guitar joins the party, leading into a brief vocal section, before finally the song really reaches stratospheric heights.
All three releases are available to buy in MP3 format (diin, amaran, genesis). You can also grab them on CD from the official Karisma/Dark Essence web store (EU). Furthermore, just within the past few weeks, it’s been announced that the labels have also partnered with AISA to create an official web store for North America as well — this does not have any Kraków merchandise available yet, but I’m told that they are in the process of adding more items, so keep an eye out for that!
Additionally, you can preview everything by streaming in the respective Bandcamp players:
* * * * * * *
Pingback: Happy 2017(?) | Valley of Steel
Pingback: Krakow – Alive (2017) | Valley of Steel