Album Review: KALL Brand
Some might dismiss Sweden’s Kall as Lifelover on life support, but the band's 2014 debut album showed real attempts to go in a different direction. Kim Carlsson’s crazed vocals still had the melodramatic appeal of depressive suicidal black metal, but Kall's instrumentation had Cvlt Nation making comparisons to The Velvet Underground. Six years later, the band is finally ready to release its sophomore full-length. Brand (Swedish for "fire") takes Kall away from its namesake (Swedish for “cold”) and blazes new trails of psychedelic despair. Though it comes from a band that originated in frigid misanthropy, this album brings warmth and color to Kall’s tortured aura.
Once the main riff of “Rise” kicks into high gear, the question immediately becomes, “what drug was that bassist on during the take?” Phil A. Cirone dances all over his fretboard while guitarists H. and Fix lock into a black ‘n’ roll shuffle with drummer Peter Lindqvist. Kall’s repetitive motifs evoke urgency and hypnosis in equal measure, but the band also comes through with haunting leads and smooth beat changes. Carlsson sounds as insane as ever, shrieking in hysterics over the driving rhythm. His unpredictable timbre makes his voice an unbridled conduit of emotion—especially the elongated ghoulish croaks he implements at opportune moments throughout the album.
The psychedelic element of Brand properly manifests on “Fervour,” as spacious chords and swaying three-count beats ebb and flow alongside Carlsson’s muttering and wailing. It also introduces Kall’s newest member, Sophia, on saxophone. Her intuitive soloing guides the band to a climax of thick distortion and dreary leads. At one point, she seems to trade bars with Carlsson's despondent cries, revealing an interesting aspect of the guys’ voice. His willingness to just open his mouth and expel his angst has a disregard for control comparable to jazz improvisers.
The album’s free-form passages allow tracks like “Eld" to consume listeners gradually, yet forcefully. Most of the song sounds like ‘90s alt-rock with DSBM vocals, featuring head-bobbing grooves, melancholic chords and a solid guitar solo. Its last two minutes drop into flickering, cyclical drones, which puts lyrics like “Your last breath was carbon monoxide/ You have been left alone/ Yet we are all next to it/ The smoke rises with your soul” (translated from Swedish) into perspective. Kall presents fire as a force of both destruction and transcendence, ushering in the 17-and-a-half-minute monster “Fukta Din Aska” with a crackling field recording.
The song’s stomping groove and harrowing riffage carry a semblance to Lifelover’s self-destructive vibes—especially these blunt words of discouragement: “Tired children, drink up/ And let's taste death/ And abandon hope here.” Carlsson’s brooding drawls and whispers have an effect similar to Niklas Kvarforth, playing into Kall’s downer rock vibes before his inner pain boils over.
More than half of “Fukta Din Aska” delves into protracted jazz fusion and—inexplicably—speedy blast beats under earth-scorching woodwinds and eerie clean guitar arpeggios. It’s as strange as it is fascinating. Kall’s deep chemistry uses empty space as tastefully as it does oppressive walls of sound. Though three minutes shorter, “Hide Below” sports a similar penchant for exploration.
Rumbling tom-toms and earthy guitar strums slowly build momentum under Carlsson’s paranoid, creaking voice. The musical foundation remains more akin to dark indie-rock than black metal, but Kall leaves no stone unturned within its chosen parameters. Mournful chords and vocal wretches hang in the air, setting up Cirone’s loudly-mixed bass melodies and Sophia’s sheets of saxophone notes. The band exudes striking emotion at its quietest and most personal, while its Luminous riffs overflow with intensity.
Closing track “Fall” brings some of Carlsson’s most horrifically passionate vocal work, as Fix, H., and Cirone contrast dreamy polyphony with crushing psychedelic doom. Sophia’s saxophone reaches higher as the guitars plummet lower, erecting a fervent funeral pyre for Carlsson’s deathly howls. It plays like watching a forest fire in slow motion, as Kall burns to a smoldering end of one-chord drones and ashy whimpers.
Branching out from its roots in black metal’s most claustrophobic micro-genre, Brand confronts the dichotomy of life and death. By examining the harmful and nourishing sides of fire, Kall finds solace in mortality: "Like all leaves, you are meant to fall." For all its hopeless abandon, this album comes packed with transportive jams and nuanced musicality. By leaning into their eccentricities and playing off of each other, these musicians have entered uncharted territory both for themselves and the scene they came from.