Krieg are the odd man out in the USBM spectrum. “True” almost to a fault, they lack the oppressive, claustrophobic bleakness of Xasthur, the Phil Spector-ian walls of blackened madness of Leviathan, or the psychedelic mindfuckery of Nachtmystium. The few times I’ve tried to get into Krieg, nothing jumped out at me. And yet, after hearing Krieg frontman/mastermind Imperial’s serrated vocals on Twilight’s Monument to Time End this year, it shook something in me. There’s a fundamental rawness to it that can’t be replicated in silly backyard corpsepaint GIFs. And that rawness is all over Krieg’s latest, the chilling The Isolationist. It’s got all the black metal hallmarks, sure, but they’re all tweaked to provide maximum effectiveness. Droning and repetitive to some ears, to others, it’s all about mood. And that mood is suffocating and bleak. It’s relentless hideousness is truly a thing to behold, and with it, Krieg ably prove themselves as major contributors to US black metal.
There’s nothing particularly exceptional on paper about the band: there’s a parade of mid-paced blastbeats, discordant tremolo picking, no audible bass, and some dude shrieking over the whole thing. But the drums are handled with great aplomb by Woe’s Chris Grigg, the guitars are strangely skeletal-yet-intricate in addition to providing the genre’s trademark chilliness, that lack of bass is played by Leviathan’s Wrest, and, as mentioned above, Krieg’s Imperial has a black metal voice to kill for. Usually bordering on self-parody, black metal vocals rarely express the anguish and viciousness of Imperial’s on The Isoaltionist. Like on the Twilight record, they do a ton of work to get across the sense of psychological horror the music churning under it suggests. But unlike that record (even despite the presence of producer Sanford Parker on both), it’s not reliant on funky Moog asides. Just terrifying darkness, the kind black metal often seems to sidestep in favor of silly posturing. Krieg grew out of a scene dominated by one-man projects, and accordingly, the music itself sounds brutally personal. It’s a man’s journey to the center of himself and being incredibly displeased with what he finds. On the rare occasion that it does dip up above the surface (like the melancholy middle of “All Paths to God,” the driving riff in “Inhalation Decays,” or the experimental portion of “Depakote”), one only dreads being dragged back down below.
And enough can’t be said about Sanford Parker’s production on The Isolationist: it’s clear enough not to sound like it wasn’t recorded by a mic with a sock over it, but there’s still a lot of grimy edges that go unpolished. And this couldn’t fit Krieg better: their inherent rawness thrives in those corners so that other portions can be properly illuminated. And while there are certainly other portions, they don’t take away from the whole, as The Isolationist is a dense, disturbing piece of work overall. It’s certainly not for everyone and even may not be an album its admirers bust out often. That being said, you’re not going to hear a lot of black metal this genuinely unnerving. I avoided Krieg for a while because I thought they were too unexceptionally “tr00.” If The Isolationist is any indicator, good fucking God, was I ever wrong. It’s repulsive enough to be offputting, but there still manages to be something there that draws you back in and holds your attention. That’s something your average Joe Grimpack can’t pull off in his obscure basement project with seventeen inverted crosses in the logo. Black metal ist Krieg, indeed.