Review: Kontinuum – Kyrr
Icelandic post-rock? Polar expeditions gone awry? Yes, please!
Kyrr (meaning “Still” in Icelandic) occupies a space between the despondent melodicism of slightly more metallic groups like Insomnium or Ghost Brigade and the goth-rock swagger of bands like the now defunct Beastmilk and Kontinuum’s fellow countrymen in Sólstafir. It is certainly easy, then, to get lost in a sea of imitators, especially in the over-saturated climate of post-rock/post-anything. However, Kontinuum manage to carve their own path through the ice-choked arctic waters of musical comparison, whilst still paying tribute to their genre elders (looking at you, Sigur Ros).
The band’s singular focus on song-craft really shines through out the entire record: songs are kept relatively succinct, all while dynamic structures allow for the songs to breathe. Kontinuum avoids the common pitfall of excessive song lengths that is commonly associated with the genre, capitalizing instead on metallic riffing and bursts of energy (“The Red Stream”). Whereas other post-rock outfits might find satisfaction in lapsing into drawn-out, lethargic wanderings, Kontinuum are at their best when driving forward with the urgency of a man attempting to outrun a blizzard. In this way, the songs never outstay their welcome and the intense melodic statements therein tend to have more impact upon subsequent listens.
Also of note is the vocal delivery, and with that, the lyrical themes that form the overarching concept for Kyrr. The vocal melodies have obviously been constructed with care and a masterful ear. I find myself walking around during the day humming the vocal lines, sometimes even attempting (poorly) to sing along with the Icelandic lyrics; the timbre of the vocals paired with the despondent melodies is, to me, inspiring. Kontinuum’s vocalists employ a very straightforward approach: cleanly sung vocal lines with a hint of gothic crooning (hence the earlier Beastmilk allusion). They refrain from histrionics and other attempts to impress, instead opting for a vocal timbre with deep, masculine authority, which, when paired with the richly intoned Icelandic lyrics, sounds as if some Norse god is singing, commanding the listener to persevere through their own personal, elemental struggle (“Hildargotu Heimsveldi”).
It is also important to mention the organizing theme behind album, which in this case is exploration and discovery: the elemental forces of our world and the men and women who have struggled to conquer them. Inspired by a number of Arctic and Antarctic explorers of the past two centuries, Kyrr’s thematic content deals with icy winds and rough seas just as much as it deals with the self-doubt and introspection that comes along with being an explorer of the last remaining blank spots on the map. “In Shallow Seas” really drives the point home both lyrically and musically. The opening riffs evoke a perfect sense of danger and the anxiety that comes with knowing that you are thousands of miles away from your home and family in a dark region of the Earth where mankind has never set foot before. One misstep, one fleeting moment of distraction, can and will doom you to an ice-locked tomb with no witness to your quick demise. As such, the equally despondent and urgent nature of the music perfectly compliments the concept, proving that some of the most metal things in the universe can be located right here on Earth.
The production is fantastic without distracting from the musicality: every instrument and vocal line has a crisp, icy quality to it, but without harshness; the guitars crunch satisfyingly when appropriate; the soundstage evokes the space and vastness of an Arctic wasteland. However, as a minor suggestion, I would have liked to have heard the synths and other ambient elements brought up in the mix a little bit more. A complete transition into the more Krautrock-type sound would really cement the band’s greatness in my mind.
Part goth-rock, part grandchild of the great Icelandic tradition of post-rock/metal/everything, Kontinuum happen to be among my favorite new finds of the year, and Kyrr has definitely secured their position high on my list of bands to watch in the future.