Every now and then, a record comes out of the blue that takes you totally by surprise – and Klimt 1918’s first album in eight years is very much one of those releases. The initial signs were not hugely promising – wistful, misty artwork, a double album (help me…), a stunningly clichéd and pretentious press release (‘Please, no references to Katatonia, Anathema, Novembre, it’s demeaning!) – this reviewer was gearing up for a fist-biting odyssey of sub-Alcest wannabe-shoegaze, a tornado of song-free, reverb-soaked blandness.
‘Sentimentale Jugend’ however is anything but. Indeed, across the 110 minutes and 19 songs that constitute this opus, the Italian four-piece, far from churning out some hackneyed sub-MBV frilliness you might expect from those steeped in a metal background instead demonstrate a genuine understanding and empathy for the genre. Quite simply, this is a truly colossal offering of melancholic shoegaze.
From the opening chords of ‘Montecristo’, rolling in from the distance on a wave of modulated and sweeping reverb and frontman Marco Soellner’s quasi-synthesised sounding vocals (all dense echos and chorusing), Klimt 1918’s MO becomes clear – billowing waves of guitar-led shoegaze built upon a background of melodies rooted in the more melancholic tones found in 80s synth and dreampop.
Soellner’s songwriting is deft and finely balanced – the insistent refrains of ‘Comandante’, the soaring crescendo of ‘La Notte’, the shimmering introduction of ‘It Was Meant to Be’ – and this is just within the first few songs of the opening disc. It’s something of an achievement – one might think that the relentless density of the sound with its generous, almost reckless use of reverb, delay and layering effects might become numbing after a while, however it never does. Like the masters of this approach – the UK’s very own Slowdive – Klimt 1918 never use their effects as a crutch, instead ensuring the tones and textures serve the song completely.
In this, comparisons to The Verve’s seminal debut ‘A Storm in Heaven’ are more than appropriate and in their wistful reflections and Soellner’s plaintive tenor, I don’t think it’s unfair to suggest the Pet Shop Boys spring to mind on more than one occasion. As we move into the second disc, other reference points become apparent – ‘Fracture’ offers up slices of The Cure and Interpol, a touch of latter-day Swans pope up with ‘Caelum Stellatum’ (all ambient sounds and confessional samples) and of course our old friends My Bloody Valentine on the opening surge ‘n’ squeal of ‘Resig/Nation’.
Nearly two hours later and it’s a complete about turn from me – what initially smacks of pomposity and pretentiousness instead manifests itself as ‘heart-on-sleeve’ honesty, a rarity in this day and age. In an increasingly ironic, commodified world, we instinctively shun the overtly intellectualized or the overly-sincere, retreating into havens of post-modern sneering. ‘Sentimentale Jugend’ however is an unashamed outpouring of conviction that torpedoes such notions, it’s affecting melancholia, evocative ambience and absorbing songwriting enough to pierce the most jaded of veneers.
There’s a time to take music seriously and for me, this is it – the last few months of 2016 have seen some immense releases slam onto the radar of the metal scene without a doubt but as an artistic achievement and immersive listen, ‘Sentimentale Jugend’ manages to stand tall amongst them. A work that’s almost elemental in terms of scope and achievement, this is a record that deserves to be heard by all.
(9.5/10 Frank Allain)