Keep of Kalessin

Keep of Kalessin’s last album, 2008’s Kolossus, blended the typical heavy, harsh elements of blackened death metal with tasteful acoustic passages that had a jazz-meets-prog flavor to them. Make no mistake: the brutal was brutal, from second track “A New Empire’s Birth” and onward. The mix of very dense, heavy passages/songs with lighter pieces/sections was, to these ears, very satisfying. Also noteworthy was the sense that the group was offering an album with a theme, a story with an historic bent (I’m not sure of the period or setting, real or imagined) not completely unlike Nile or Ex Deo. This element of Keep of Kalessin’s music adds to the overall appeal.

Reptilian, then, sees the band following some of these strands and abandoning others. The theme approach remains—I can imagine this album as the extreme metal soundtrack to some Lord Of The Rings-type film drawn from the writing of, say, Anne McCaffrey about a dragon kingdom—and Reptilian is certainly heavy; in fact, its all-but-unrelenting heaviness, done up with full cinematic bombast, will appeal to fans of the fast, loud, and heavy that doesn’t quit… but those who enjoyed the shifts in mood and intensity that made Kolossus a great listen may be disappointed. I fit the latter category.

Relatively speaking, standout tracks bracket the album: opener “Dragon Iconography” does build from a single guitar melody into a bracing, operatic track full of tempo/time signature shifts. Its seven-and-a-half minutes cover a lot of ground. Mirroring this is closer “Reptilian Majesty,” which, at double the length of the aforementioned track, expands on the epic nature of the music. Both, however, do retain, with only momentary exceptions, a ferocious assault on the listener. As a frame for the album, they work exceptionally well in tandem. Unfortunately, their shadings really make most of the rest of the album somewhat nondescript. Even after many listens, I don’t find much in tracks two through seven that stands out as distinct from or superior to anything else. This is a bit of a disappointment, for it registers as a lack of growth, even if the intensity has its place. And the Eurovision Song Contest entry, “Dragontower,” is catchy enough but not in a way that reads as genuine. It’s as though that track represents the seeds of this album that were, at the time of the contest, not fully gestated. Perhaps the band’s failure to triumph at Eurovision led them to finish the album with more of an edge than they had originally intended. Note: some fans cried foul when the band participated in Eurovision, a somewhat more legit (but still questionable) contest not far removed from American Idol… not the expected stomping ground of a band as serious as Keep of Kalessin.

And I guess I must be getting old: my initial listens to Reptilian were marked first and foremost by what you may recognize as “Death Magnetic syndrome”: somewhere in the production-mixing-mastering chain, folks decided to push the volume levels to the extreme, resulting in a rippingly loud but ultimately fatiguing listen. I can’t help but wish there was a bit more “air” in these tracks, more dynamics so that the individual pieces, played by really solid, capable, and impressive musicians, had a stronger sense of differentiation from one another. I enjoy a good face-melting as much as the next guy, but some variation in aural intensity is preferable. On a related note, the vocals seem to be an afterthought in many spots, offering requisite growls or flashes of melody that fit within the context but do so without a whole lot of genuine appeal.

So, if you thought Kolossus was a bit too wonky and mature in its application of milder, more sophisticated textures within the seething maelstrom, you’ll love Reptilian, which comes at you and does not let up. If, however, you were curious to see and hear the progression of a band that was willing to mix it up and cover a fair amount of ground in pursuit of its various personalities, you’ll have to wait until Keep of Kalessin’s next.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Donald Kyle
June 23rd, 2010


  1. Commented by: Biff_Tannen

    This band has gone downhill since they peaked with that little EP that Attila sang on….

  2. Commented by: Joe

    I just can’t believe the mediocre press these guys get: KoK is an amazing band with incredible songwriting skill. This is one of the most “metal” albums I’ve ever heard and it seamlessly mixes the modern and classic styles of metal along with the pageantry that made so many of metal icons great.

  3. Commented by: DK777

    Hey, Joe (two points to me for the Hendrix reference)…

    I don’t necessarily mean to diss KOK, but REPTILIAN is, to me, a step backward–or a failure to step foward–from KOLOSSUS. This IS a good band, but I think they’ve yet to produce something that really defines them as separate from/superior to other bands that are loudandfastandgeneric… and we all know there are plenty of those.

    Still, I do appreciate your opinion and will give this yet album another listen. That said, I won’t yield on the “the whole damn thing is too loud and lacks dynamics” point. This, to me, is the death of many a modern band, no matter how good the players and/or the material!

    Cheers, brother…


  4. Commented by: DK777

    Oops… too late to be writing: “Still, I do appreciate your opinion and will give this album yet another listen”…

    And to think, I wound up writing for this fine site by complaining about the editing!!!

    Humble pie, your order is ready. Bring a BIG fork…


  5. Commented by: Joe

    well just to be clear: I think the reviews on here are exemplary and professional whether I agree with them or not.

  6. Commented by: Cynicgods

    This is not a step backward for them, this is a step in the right direction if they want mo’ money. “Dino Burger did it and now Shagrath’s dating an actress, so why can’t we?” :P

    It’s still a decent album, though.

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