Review: Krieg – Transient
Many bands make grand boasts about “maturing as artists” or undergoing “artistic evolutions” when their music either remains unchanged or descends into mediocrity. Since their inception in 1995, New Jersey’s Krieg have proven themselves to be adept at incorporating many sounds into a cohesive whole, while never sacrificing their integrity.
From the dissonant, howling blasts of Rise of Imperial Hordes and the demented anguish of The Black House to Blue Miasma’s downer (supposed) swansong and The Isolationist’s rebirthed rage with a newfound sense of nigh-psychedelic melody, each successive album has brought with it a style of its own, yet always anchored in the core Krieg sound.
On Transient, Krieg’s seventh album, the band shows off yet another new facet of their ever-changing style while still harking back to previous entries in their catalog. Anchored by Neil Jameson’s most fantastically angry and deranged vocal performance in years, Transient cuts down on some of the eerie atmospherics of their previous albums (while not getting rid of them completely) in favor of a more immediate crust-driven sound.
For sure, familiar elements from each of the band’s albums are present. “Circling the Drain” channels The Black House at its punky best, while the chiming, atmospheric guitars of “Walk with Them Unnoticed” call to mind the more experimental cuts off The Isolationist before picking up halfway through and riding out the song in a flurry of fast-paced instrumentation punctuated by Jameson’s tortured growls and a return to the song’s lush opening. The album’s title proves apt at describing the ephemeral sound of the album, always moving from sound to sound while always managing to keep a consistent musical identity throughout.
Opening track “Order of the Solitary Road” shows the band at their most primal and vital in years, yet still offers a sophisticated expansion of their core sound with the addition of a persistent electronic soundscape. On the surface the song is all violence and carnage while below the surface lurks a darker beast, waiting to be unleashed. While Krieg have been in touch with the more atmospheric side of black metal since their debut, Transient shows the band incorporating these elements with newfound purpose, allowing them to assault the listener with visceral thrashing while simultaneously taking the time to whisper litanies of horror right in their ear.
The songwriting here is the real high point of the record. While Krieg never ventures into “soft” territory, it’s moments like the last minute of “Order”, all martial drums and shouted declarations, which show the band’s masterful control over dynamics, a new side of the old Krieg.
The crusty violence of “Return Fire” leads straight into “To Speak with Ghosts”, where the pace slows to a crawl and the listener finally has a chance to take a breath of the suffocating riffs when, without warning, the intensity starts to ramp up for the next few minutes before breaking down into a reprisal of the opening riff and the heaviest moment of the album so far.
“Winter”, one of the album’s highlights, takes a direction heretofore unheard of in Krieg’s catalog. A quick build on the snare hints at more of Transient’s blackened crust before transforming into a lurching quasi-groove almost like something off the latest Pyrrhon album interspersed with skittering pick scrapes and Jameson’s yells. Thurston Moore may be a douche of the highest order, but it’s undeniable his contributions to Twilight’s most recent effort yielded great results, seen here with a fresh vivacity.
Like the aforementioned “Walk with Them Unnoticed”, “Ruin Our Lives” brings the melody to the forefront, with walls of layered guitars transforming a simple chord progression into beautiful, densely orchestrated harmony. This section is abruptly cut off by a slow electronic beat and oscillating synths reverberating like something out of a trip-hop song before a whirlwind of tremolo picked guitars, blasting drums and howled vocals finally gives the listener a taste of something conventional, no matter how brief it is.
It’s at this point on the album we encounter the unfortunate interlude “Home.” Opening with a grim sample, the song progresses from minimalist synths to an acoustic guitar plugging away before the song just… ends. The guitar appears to be building to something, but it never arrives, instead just fading out to another sample. While there’s nothing offensively bad about the track on its own, sandwiched between two far superior songs, its weaknesses are all too apparent.
Fortunately, the album ends on a high note, with the closer “Gospel Hand”, a fitting song to cap off the album. Opening with all the standard conventions of black metal, the track slows down to focus on sprawling guitar arpeggios with a melodic bass line followed by a buildup into a fitting emotional climax to the album.
All told, Transient can be easily characterized as a diverse album capable of working on multiple levels. While certainly the option is present (especially on the first half) for the listener to be bombard by the brutally primitive physicality of the album, the real power of the album lies in its power to subliminally insinuate a more sinister message into the mind of the listener, its crusty rage belying darker suggestions of hypnotic terror hidden behind waves of raw blackened hatred.