Starless’, it has to be said, has taken me somewhat by surprise. I remember coming across Ketzer several years ago when they played live with Tribulation in which they delivered a suitably raucous, blazing slew of frantic thrashened black metal to top the evening off. There was barely a second of originality on display but the feverish Germans certainly put on an energetic showing.
Well, much like their Swedish stage-mates that night, the intervening years have seen Ketzer evolve far beyond the trappings of their vigorous-yet-limited origins. However, rather than weaving death-rock stylings and a whiff of old horror nostalgia into the fabric of their sound, Ketzer have instead chosen to play the ‘post’ card – but this is very much of the post-punk as opposed to the post-rock variety.
In this, the sparse and spare rhythms of early 80s acts like Joy Division and Talking Heads haunt the coldly monochromatic soundscapes of Starless, interplaying with staccato guitar stabs and minimalist arpeggios. It’s an intriguing sound that is certain to catch devotees of the more straight-ahead, cartoonish blasphemy of their ‘Satan’s Boundaries Unchained’ debut somewhat off-guard. Nevertheless, though it will almost certainly alienate some of the more die-hard fans of the band’s previous output, ‘Starless’ is undeniably a distinctive piece of work.
A close production enhances the claustrophobic feel that underpins driving tracks such as ‘Godface’ and ‘Count to Ten’, all 1-2 punk beats and propulsive chords. The vocals of the (still absurdly monikered) ‘Infernal Destroyer’ are as acidic as ever, a gurgling shriek that, whilst seemingly at odds with the more restrained nature of the material, serves to enhance the stark, hopeless atmosphere on offer further.
Ketzer will doubtless cop flak for this development (and already the accusations of ‘copying’ Tribulation’s development are starting to float about the blogosphere) but there really is nothing wrong with growing up. And who can blame them for wanting to evolve? With that in mind, work still needs to be done as there is the odd clumsy or naïve moment here – the noodly outro instrumental ‘Limbo’ with its acoustic strumming and ‘guitar shop’ blues lead-lines is definitely a bit too pub-rock for comfort.
By and large though, ‘Starless’ is a success. Not a raging one it must be said – this new path feels a little limited and whilst a lengthy number like ‘Shaman’s Dance’ moves through a pleasing variety of textures, it still doesn’t deviate all that far from the template laid down in the first track or two. More is needed to fully maintain interest across a 10 track album. Ketzer are to be applauded for seeking to move their sound forward but ‘Starless’ only really represents a tentative step in the right direction rather than a bold leap into new and radiant territories.
(7/10 Frank Allain)