The Old Chamber

Germany’s Klabautamann wowed me with their 2009 release Merkur, which featured a surprising Opeth-meets-Enslaved progressive black metal sound. I was particularly impressed by the soft, jazz/lounge-inspired interludes and the inventive compositions. The fact that the vocalist sounds like a dead ringer for Grutle was a bonus as well, so I slotted the album in at #6 for the year.

Their follow-up, The Old Chamber, made my 2011 list as well, but in a different category – one I called “Sorry Guys But the Last Album was Better.”

That’s not to say that this is bad – not the case, as it’s well-crafted and nicely produced. The problem is, it’s just kind of dull. The band has said in interviews how they wanted to go “back to their roots” and drop the progressive elements for this one, but going to back to their roots also means taking a step backwards. And after achieving such a unique sound on Merkur, I don’t think this was a great idea.

The album establishes a mid-paced trudge right from opener “Mary’s Abbey,” and rarely picks up after that. There are ominous melodies galore, and they’re actually somewhat pleasant to listen to, though not terribly exciting or innovative. (I did like the sustained notes held above the droning guitars in that first track though.) “Bog Spawn” is a bit better, with a shimmery Enslaved riff which sounds like it could have been on Below the Lights. This glides into a lovely section woven with multiple strands of acoustics – a nice sign that Klabautamann hasn’t totally abandoned their diverse talents from Merkur.

A few other moments catch my attention as the album drifts by – some Gorgoroth-lite meets old Slayer licks in “Dead Marshes,” the uniquely braying keyboard tones at the end of “Gloom,” some lurching, Opeth-y riffs in “Death’s Canvas,” and the old-school Swedish death riffs in “The Maze.” There’s also the instrumental title track – an eerie, off-kilter acoustic dirge with dancing gypsy fingering – which nicely matches the cool, peculiar cover art.

On paper, that all sounds interesting enough, but these snippets are all lost in a mostly muted, sedate and drab black metal record which, if you’ve been listening to the genre for the past two decades, does really nothing new at all. And once again, this was likely Klabuatamann’s point – to pay homage, strip things down and get back to basics – but now I’m really hoping for two steps forward next time.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jordan Itkowitz
January 20th, 2012


  1. Commented by: Odovacar

    Kind of a shame to hear Klabautamann fall like this. Merkur is one of my favorite albums. I’ll still listen to this, hopefully next time.

    Good write-up per usual by the way.

  2. Commented by: E. Thomas

    yeah- this was a snoozer- bored me to tears

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