Black metal has an image problem. It’s not just that one of the genre’s most revered figures is a racist, arsonist, and murderer; it’s not just that shitty production and lyrics about hating Jesus are reactionary aesthetic dead ends, not the foundations of a vital art form; and it’s not just that corpse paint and bullet belts look more silly than scary. It’s that the narrow version of black metal encapsulated by those three statements is all most people know—or care to know—about the genre. Which leaves a band like Brooklyn’s Krallice out in the cold, to a degree.
The quartet, co-led by guitarists Colin Marston and Mick Barr, emerged as a sort of underground supergroup in 2008. Marston was known to fans of brainy instrumental metal for his work in Dysrhythmia and Behold . . . the Arctopus (he has since joined Gorguts, too), while Barr was a demigod in noise/skronk circles for his guitar/drums duo Orthrelm, his membership in the Flying Luttenbachers, and his solo releases as Ocrilim and Octis. The idea of these two collaborating quickened many a beardo’s heart, but their decision to explore black metal (with Bloody Panda’s Lev Weinstein on drums) came as a surprise.
Unsurprisingly, Krallice has created its own brand of black metal. The songs are long, frequently passing the 10-minute mark, and while there are lyrics, they take a backseat to screaming guitar leads that owe as much to Mahavishnu Orchestra as they do to Marduk. The group’s third album, Diotima, is the kind of album that requires multiple listens, possibly alternating between headphones and speakers, to absorb. Assaultive at first, it gradually blooms: The guitar lines separate, and the intricate ebb and flow of the rhythm section (Weinstein and bassist Nick McMaster, who joined after the debut) becomes more and more clear.
Marston, reached by phone on the road, is pleased with this reaction; it’s what the band is after. “Almost all my favorite records have been like that for me,” he says. “You hear it the first time and it’s interesting, but you’re kind of mystified by what the hell’s going on and there’s a little bit of mystery, like a hurdle you have to overcome before it really clicks and makes sense to you emotionally.”
He adds that the group’s tendency to go long isn’t deliberate; their songs just work out that way. “I think I’ve always been a little bit predisposed to writing long songs, even in other bands. Like, there’s a Dysrhythmia song I wrote on the last record that’s the long[est] song on the album, and a lot of the ones I write for Arctopus tend to be the longer ones.” Similarly, Orthrelm’s most notorious release was 2005’s OV, an album-length piece that combined minimalism and relentlessness into a sound like huffing a wasp up your nose and letting it roam around in there for 45 minutes.
Diotima not only gets better the more you listen to it, but it also gets better as it goes along, peaking on its penultimate track, “Telluric Rings.” Slower than the relentless, blasting epics that have preceded it, “Telluric Rings” actually has a groove, and it gives McMaster an unprecedented prominence in the mix. At about the eight-and-a-half-minute mark, his instrument bubbles up out of the lower reaches of the sound, challenging the guitars for prominence and, for a thrilling moment, making the band sound not all that far from 1970s Rush.
In a lot of black metal, the bass is a shadow of the guitars—adding fullness to the mix, and little more. In Krallice, it’s a third voice, making McMaster as important to the group sound as Marston or Barr. “Nick’s been able to do a lot with the idea that the bass is its own line most of the time,” says Marston, adding that “he ended up writing all the bass on the new album, I think. But that idea has been part of the band the whole time, of having each of the strings be independent.”
Weinstein, too, is a creative voice, and not a mere timekeeper. Many of the band’s songs are driven—for 10 or 12 or 18 (!) minutes at a time—by hard kick-snare “blast beats,” but he throws in subtle fills that create just enough change to keep the listener from completely trancing out, or, one assumes, his arms from falling off. Their hour-long sets may only feature four or five songs, but that’s plenty. “Last night, we played two songs in a row without a break, and after the show, Lev told me, ‘I don’t wanna do that again,’ ” says Marston with a laugh.