Krallice’s Surprise Release “Mass Cathexis” Ushers in New Black Metal Dimensions
The fact of Krallice's new surprise is itself not a surprise. This release methodology, after all, has been their bread and butter since their return to the recording world with 2015's Ygg Huur. This change in strategy seemed to come paired with a comparative shift in the band's methodology, leaning into the inherent shock tactic of unannounced albums with material that is substantially more experimental within the context of the group.
This is all relative, of course; middle-of-the-road for Krallice is still cutting edge progressive black metal, feeling more often like the insectoid 5-dimensional hypercube metallic spawn of King Crimson, Yes, and Weakling than anything resembling a heavy metal cliche.
Still, these post-hiatus releases have seen the group showcasing other vectors of influence to compositions that in retrospect have clearly always been there, from the sci-fi proto-tech metal prog of 1970s Rush to the emotionalist prog-sludge/doom explorations of Neurosis and even to more abstract and punky terrain. It felt often like the machine disassembling itself so that the four-headed AI that piloted it could examine the moving parts to better understand itself.
This second phase of their career is seemingly built off of albums that are predicated on some twist which then becomes the organizational center of the material.
It's intriguing, then, that the twist at the center of Mass Cathexis is one of synthesis. Some quarters have been calling this a return to form for the group, and certainly there is something to that notion. The arrangements here feel suddenly -- eight years after their first period closed with the release of Years Past Matter -- like it would fit snugly against those records (or the period-relevant Hyperion EP for that matter). It's not so much a matter of density: Wolf and elements of Prelapsarian pushed the level of avant-garde abstraction this band was capable of, sometimes even within spitting distance of Colin Marston's former Behold the Arctopus bandmate Weasel Walter's Lake of Dracula avant-punk project, but even on those records there were tracks that could sit comfortably beside previous neutron star-grade hyperdense brain-melters like "Monolith of Possession" and "Dimensional Bleedthrough."
Instead, the returning x-factor that situates Mass Cathexis suddenly much closer to that first period of the band's lifespan is in the conspicuous way the guitar lines weave around each other in an avant-prog braid. That initial tantalizing proposition of Colin Marston and Mick Barr's already 7-dimensional crystal minds entwining into a single 13-dimensional hypercomputer had an undeniable allure, and American post-black metal seemed on paper to be the perfect vehicle for each other's particular blends of hypertechnical progressive extreme metal. Bassist/vocalist Nicholas McMaster and drummer Lev Weinstein would quickly establish themselves as utterly indispensable elements of the group's dynamic and compositional shape, but that initial tantalizing element of dueling tech/prog guitar wizards locking blades in black metal wastes still drove a lot of the magic of those early albums.
But the thing that makes Mass Cathexis more than a blasé return to form, as incredible as that form certainly was and is, is precisely that the band seemed to recognize how much more potential the four of them had as players and composers than that mere initial concept. There are traces of every Krallice album on Mass Cathexis, from the occasional frantic and punkier approach to bass and guitars shown on Wolf to the more spacious and meticulous high prog of Ygg Huur to the lush crystal-cavern synthscapes and 1970s Rush traces from Go Be Forgotten. Perhaps most satisfying for me on a personal level is the return of Dave Edwardson, most famously of Neurosis, appearing on a few tracks that feel like deliberate expansions of the ideas present on Loüm, the group's full-length collaboration with him.
There was an inconsistency across the second period of Krallice's career, one inherent to work that's serious in its experimentalism, but seeing those explored and individuated characteristics synthesized together into one seamless whole on Mass Cathexis suddenly makes them all make sense. The kosmische synths of Go Be Forgotten naturally fill the holes between the notes left on Ygg Huur, while the looseness of Wolf enlivens the former stiffness of Loüm like the breaking of lava flows to reveal the primal red-orange heat of molten magma.
That all of these trace elements are distilled and refined like fragments of a mural reapplied to the compositional paradigm of that magical early period of the group means it by definition can't be a mere "return to form"; the original form never had these elements.
The runtimes on Mass Cathexis exclusively sit in the sub-six minute mark, indicating perhaps the most important lesson they learned from Wolf: that of eventfulness. Their lengthier material was, to be clear, anything but devoid of eventfulness, and even when it was more spare on riffs it was only because the group was more intent on exploring an almost minimalist aesthetic of sheeting riffs, not unlike a black metal Philip Glass. But Mass Cathexis showcases a Krallice that is leaner and more adroit than those earlier albums, executing star-swallowing progressive epics in five minutes or less rather than requiring ten-plus. There's no right or wrong answer to that question, obviously; what matters are the results, which the band has never lacked for.
The fact that Mass Cathexis evokes in so many listeners a "return to form" when the songs here are four minutes long (the ones they are presumably "returning" to are often triple that length) says something about the group's crystallization. Those experiments over the past five years have paid off in spades: Krallice demonstrates in clean, simple virtuosity that they understand themselves, know each of the little fragments of stray influence and compositional thought that make them tick and, in doing so, can now concentrate into seconds what before might have taken them minutes.
There is a sense on Mass Cathexis of a new beginning. It often feels more like the beginning of some unmapped third phase in the group's career rather than necessarily a discrete continuation of the second. There's suddenly a sense again that all the group needs to do, all we want as critics and fans, is more of this. That means, of course, that the next one will undoubtedly be different; nothing about the arc of Krallice's career indicates that these four are interested in taking the easy road like that.
But there's a certain sense of being refreshed, at least as a critic and listener. The second period of Krallice's career was a set of records marked most commonly by their difficulty, an opacity suddenly not of notes but of forms. Each album would in turn open up slowly like a flower and reveal itself, but it would be an obvious lie to act like they weren't challenging listens, especially as a long-time fan who treasured those early records and hoped somewhere deep down that we might get at least some material in that vein again.
Mass Cathexis, meanwhile, arrives like the prestige of a magic trick, a final shocking turn where all the seemingly unrelated intervening stages arrange themselves with a snap, revealing themselves to be pieces of a single unbroken larger image.
Mass Cathexis released August 7th, 2020 -- vinyl coming via Gilead Media.