Music that showcases many styles and layers to encompass a band sound is always welcome to me. I enjoy reading about the aspects of a group’s sound before delving in aurally. With Klabautamann, the black metal foundation and prog, folk and jazzy elements were very interesting to me. So with that description, I decided to give their most fifth and most recent album Smaragd a listen.
With the band comprised mostly of the duo of Tim Steffens (vocals/bass/guitar) and Florian Toyka (guitar), featuring longtime session drummer Patrick Schroeder along for the ride, I was interested to hear what the trio could bring together. There are a myriad of guest musicians on this album to help broaden the horizons, so I’m intrigued to say the least.
‘Into Depression’ starts off the album with an airy acoustic opening with light organs, bass and drums. A guitar solo is weaved in to the mellow vibe, and that entrance quickly dissipates as an immediate blast-beat black metal onslaught takes over with the snap of a fingers. Both black and clean vocals are utilized, and I’m reminded a lot of Enslaved in these parts. The song then goes back to the soft vibe of the opening while offering an atmospheric path. There are some interesting sections to be sure, but I feel like the slower parts are dragging on just a bit, especially at almost nine minutes in length.
‘My Terrifying Mirror’ goes for a more straight-ahead black metal approach, thundering drums and chaotic vocals and all, which is welcome as I feel like they’re taking a specific path and can now add layers without it sounding muddled. There are the transitions I found in the opening track, but they’re placed in a better sequence to these ears, especially with a shorter song length. ‘Under Feral Skies’ treats us to a true form of progressive black. It mixes both styles very cohesively and is probably the best representation to me of what the band does best. The soft interlude stays relatively short and adds depth to the overall track.
Surprisingly, ‘In My Shadow’ showcases folky/jazzy guitar and drum patterns with layered vocals which I wasn’t expecting. Whereas ‘As The Snow Melted’ could be used as a companion piece to that aforementioned song based on the short-and-sweet take on their music. Very beautifully played and sung. ‘The Murderers’ gets back to the metal with a mid-paced death-like approach to the vocals. Some low-key horns are used to keep the depressive and atmospheric ambiance at a peak level as well. I feel like the whole vibe of this track really showcases their progressive talent as it brings the song together, going from soft to forceful and back again while using the prog as the glue that holds everything together. This is my favourite track on the album.
‘Enemies Blood’ is probably the most up-tempo I’ve heard the group on this release, with some great syncopated guitars and keyboards tying everything together very nicely. ‘Saturn’ follows with a bass and drum driven push which turns into meaty riffs. The title track keeps the Enslaved influence present again like in the opening track, but here it’s not only in the music, but in the vocals as well which mimic Grutle Kjellson from the aforementioned band in an eerily similar fashion. Finally, ‘Frozen In Time’ puts a bow on this collection of tracks with a soft piece that is accompanied by vocals from Anna Murphy (ex-Eluveitie).
I was afraid that with ‘Into Depression’ that I was being given a snapshot of how the whole album would sound, with a somewhat bumpy progression in songwriting, but as the album moves forward, I was treated to a more expansive and original product than I could have anticipated. Now I can’t speak to the rest of the band’s catalogue as this is my first foray into their material, but this album offers a lot to the listener.
The band comes across convincingly with the black metal foundation and adds a generous amount of atmospheric prog to the mix to keep things interesting. There are lots of layers, talent and influences which go into the band’s sound, which I’m impressed by. I feel like sometimes the band lacks focus as far as sticking to a songwriting formula. Where one song can go back and forth, another can be a light piece. However, this is my only somewhat negative impression to be honest, and this detail is used very sparingly.
I feel like there’s only good things to come from this group, and perhaps with a focus on maturing the marriage of styles more cohesively, then there would be no denying that Klabautamann would rise up to a higher level among their peers. I don’t say this as a slight, as this is a wonderful album. I just want those specific tweaks addressed for myself so that I enjoy their future releases that much more.
01. Into Depression
02. My Terrifying Mirror
03. In My Shadow
04. Under Feral Skies
05. As The Snow Melted
06. The Murderers
07. Enemies Blood
10. Frozen In Time
Playing Time: 53:35
Tim Steffens – grunts, bass, guitars
Florian Toyka – guitars
Patrick Schroeder – drums
Christoph Graf – guitars
Ingo Kerstjens – clean vocals
Chester Gerritse – clean vocals
Anna Murphy – clean vocals, Hurdy Gurdy
Fredy Schnyder – Hammond organ
Sebastian Hack – keyboards
Clemens Toyka – trombone