The Old Chamber
posted on 12/2011 By:
At one point early in my collegiate career, I was in art school. I never much bought into the philosophical / existential / post-modern side of all of it (I did gain a keen sense of spotting peoples’ post-rationalized bullshit), but on the actual physical art side of things, there were two lessons that resonate with me to this day. First, the process of planning a composition – as opposed to just tossing shit at the wall to see what sticks – and therefore not screwing oneself in the late stages of production. Second, the skill of knowing when to stop. In other words, having an idea of how many brush strokes and colors are too many, ultimately undermining the original intent of the artwork.
The Old Chamber, album number four from Germany’s Klabautamann, really brought these lessons back to mind. There is an earnest simplicity here that can only come through if the music is naturally-yet-thoroughly conceived by the artists (those being Zeitgeister regulars Florian Toyka on guitar/bass and Tim Steffans on vocals and guitar/bass), and if these artists knew when to leave well enough alone and let the album be finished. (Call it the Reign in Blood rule.) Klabautamann clearly knew when The Old Chamber felt done, and the result is a very organic and flowing album constructed of songs that don’t necessarily try to be organic or flowing. That is the key: this album works because it doesn’t necessarily try to be much, and as a result, it achieves quite a lot.
For the uninitiated: Klabautamann is the most blackened of the Zeitgeister horde, and like many of their member-sharing label mates, their output is both unpredictable and quite dependable. From the folk leanings of the debut, through the more primal tones of Der Ort and the Enslaved-gone-dark-metal vibe of Merkur, the band wasn’t so much evolving within their sound as playing what they wanted to at any given moment, and The Old Chamber gives off that same honest moment-in-time feel. Upon first listen, it appears to resemble Merkur if the softer, more subtle moments were eschewed in favor of a more straightforward approach, but further listens give way to a realization that this has a depth all its own. There is often a stark nakedness here – mostly brought on by Steffans’ very harsh and unprocessed vocals – that can feel simultaneously chilling and welcoming, but some moments bring a toe-tappin’ rocktitude, capable of moving the neck like a classic metal riffer. (The pulsating intro of “Death’s Canvas” would be an apt example.) Guitars vary from straightforward chord plods to shimmering tremolo riffs and are always offering some combination of rhythm, melody and countermelody in a way that never even remotely approaches self-indulgence. Session drummer Patrick Schröder (also a Zeitgeister stalwart) offers both a dynamic and subtle performance, ranging from very straightforward rock to blast beats.
The album’s overall aura is that of a strangely comforting menace. “Gloom” begins with harsh half-whispers and a chiming dissonant riff pattern, but soon changes its tone into a slow driving section lead by gentle leads. The riffs in “Dead Marshes” (which is totally based on The Lord of the Rings) bring a baleful tone to the proceedings, but the chorus (“Don’t follow the lights!” GOLLUM) creates a veiled impression that the band may indeed be having fun. Even highlight “The Crown of the Wild,” the blastiest of the bunch, doesn’t bleed aggression, as the beautiful tremolo-tinged climax gives the listener an unforgettable resolution. It is as if Klabautamann wants to give you the comfort to fall asleep, but in the back of your mind plant the idea that there could very well be a big fucking scary monster in your closet. You can’t see it, and you can barely hear it, but one of these days you will be collected.
By the time closer “The Dying Night” really kicks in with its wonderfully unabashed Ruun vibe, it starts to become clear how much hidden variety Klabautamann has stuffed into The Old Chamber. Initial spins may give the impression that this is rather homogenous music, but further visits reveal exactly how thought-out each individual song is. Where there is simplicity, it works because the song structures were planned as frameworks, and frameworks are successful because the band only filled them with what was necessary. Anything else would have harmed the barren honesty and forced Klabautamann to be a band they’re not. This is cold without being alienating, stripped down without being rudimentary, musically adept without shoving notes down your throat, and most importantly, refined without forcing it.
A final note to seasoned fans of the band: This sounds like Klabautamann, but don’t expect it to sound like past albums. Those who have heard the other three know that the band never quite repeats themselves. We all probably have our favorite (Der Ort likely remains mine), but the great thing about a band that always changes it up is that favorites really don’t matter, because each album stands strong on its own. The Old Chamber is no different.
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