posted on 1/2011 By:
A long-running figure in the U.S. black metal scene, Krieg has never attained the notoriety and reputation of projects like Leviathan, Judas Iscariot or Xasthur, but that hasn’t stopped main-man Imperial from churning out five full-length albums and a bevy of splits and EPs with a variety of different backing musicians since the project’s inception in 1998. I can’t claim to be terrible familiar with Krieg’s library of work, but what I’ve heard in the past has never intrigued me enough to investigate the project’s back catalogue in depth. The Isolationist, while a solid album in many respects, continues this trend.
Krieg’s style is rooted in both traditional and forward-thinking aesthetics. The musicianship and structuring of the songs are classic black metal, but many of the riffs carry a hazy, menacingly dissonant feel more reminiscent of work from bands like Blut Aus Nord despite the tone of the music remaining much more organic. Breaking up the streams of cloudy, eerie chord progressions are elements of both sad melody (“And The Stars Fell On”) and punk-fueled aggression, as well as various ambient and industrial interjections spliced into the mix. Topping it all off are Imperial’s hoarse, aggressive screams, which vary little throughout the course of the album but fulfill their purpose just fine.
And that sentiment kind of describes the album as a whole, honestly. Despite having all the requisite ingredients for quality black metal, none of the songs on The Isolationist really go anywhere or do anything particularly special. I generally try to avoid making such vague declarations when analyzing music, but I can’t really think of any other way to express my reactions regarding this work. The soft, slightly muffled guitar sound renders even the more “evil riffs” with a passive, almost relaxing tone, and the nondescript drumming and straightforward vocals only add to the strange sense of general blandness that seems to permeate this disc. If black metal isn’t intended to feel urgent or intense, it should at least be engrossing and atmospheric enough to stimulate the imagination and emotions of the listener. Krieg’s music doesn’t really appear to strive for either of these goals; instead we’re left with nothing more than a somewhat atypical black metal sound that, while far from unpleasant or awkward, doesn’t really engage my interest or attention in any noticeable way. It's aggressive music expressed in a fairly passive manner, and that doesn’t quite cut it.
Krieg’s sonic recipe is by no means devoid of interesting elements. The Isolationist is most entertaining when things get more experimental; moments like the pseudo-industrial breakdown in “Depakote” or the ensuing tribal interlude of “Religion III” speak of Krieg’s ability to effectively conjure atmosphere and mood, and more unusual riffs like those found in “Decaying Inhalations” and “All Paths to God” are much more ear-catching than the waves of typical tremolo-driven fair that constitute the bulk of this material. Ultimately, Krieg’s work here seems filled with the potential to be awesome, but the unfulfilling delivery of a lot of the riffs and themes means The Isolationist often becomes relegated to background-music status despite containing some fairly intriguing ideas. Try before you buy.
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