So when is a new band not a new band? Well, if you weren’t already aware, when you’re Bal Sagoth, your singer/lyricist/founder decides you’re not so much done as on a frustrating indefinite hold as ‘the hexology is finished’, he goes off to write comics and novels and…the rest of the last band lineup get another singer and Kull appears. I saw (I think) their first ever gig, too, at the second Warhorns festival. Six years ago. Then nothing. Delays. The bane of the underground world..but here we are eventually.
So as the Maudlin brothers, heart of the music of Bal-Sagoth since demo days, are present and correct, what do Kull sound like?
Go on, guess…
From the first drumbeats and keyboards of ‘Imperial Dawn’ you remember why Chris and Jonny Maudlin, with last Bal Sagoth lineup members Alistair Maclatchy and Paul Jackson (ex-Dyscaphia as well as Bal Sagoth) are still so fondly regarded. They still, genuinely, sound unique. The rising, huge keyboard melodies, the riffs that twist and tumble through tempo changes, the martial drumming. This is what Kull sound like. And why not? Why the hell not indeed – this is their sound and they clearly still burn with music from the inside out. It soars into the epic, symphonic mist of myth in a few seconds and, are you a Bal Sagoth fan, I defy your soul not to swell and simply fall into Kull in that first instrumental. No shocks, no surprises, just legendary.
‘Set Nakt Heh’ hammers, chops and rumbles in next and vocalist/ lyricist Tarkan Alp (previously with Dyscaphia and I think Bal Sagoth live) takes his place and… Wow. We have the full death vocals and that half whispering almost spoken style of Byron but also varied, expressive growl to lead the narrative. The music and tempo changes are all here, soft passages wrapped in thoughtful guitar lines as Tarkan intones the lyrics to us, the drumming and bass propelling us forward, those keyboards spreading cinematic wings to let it take full flight.
Oh it’s full on glorious. Huge. And it’s funny how the differences show so much. I mean apart from no longer having to draw a breath halfway through a song title, there is just a little sharper edge, a more direct black/death riff sound to that of later Bal Sagoth. Not streamlined or simplified at all, not in the slightest, but more aggressive maybe? A rediscovery of the hard as steel heart and the heaviness and a focus. When ‘Vow Of The Exiled’ hits its huge stomp of a refrain we see the almost Viking metal style burst through but as ever that unerring sense of melody and bombast are never far away. Songs still shift through those glorious passages of change, guitar runs clambering over keyboards and scampering away into the darkness.
And the vocals? We get more of the death vocals, more singing than talking but that we still get too. Aggressive, more so perhaps, but also expressive and with a perfect feel for what is required in each passage and a superb range. In short an almost impossible job of familiarity and real difference pulled off with aplomb and real talent. Kudos.
Favourite song? Well this is best taken as an album, as a piece, but I honestly can’t pass without mention of the beautiful yearning of ‘Aeolian Supremacy’. I felt the hairs go, the butterflies in the belly, the heart bursting to a melody that should grace some huge epic, dark fantasy film. The horn sounds, the superb vocals, the flowing riff and just…There! The coast! Where’s my sword? Full sail! To me, lads! We sail! Sail for the far shores!
…Sorry, where am I?
Without a lyric sheet I’m a little in the dark as to any overall concept but I’ll chance my arm and say that it’s more a shared world than a full on concept album. Ah, I’m sitting here with a smile and an excitement like starting a completely new series by a beloved author; falling back into the style so easily but full of anticipation for the new tales.
If you have never heard Bal Sagoth then Kull will be a shock; bewildering even. How do you start? Where is the way in to this complex, shifting sound? That though is their genius; sit back and just let the magnificence of songs like ‘An Ensign Consigned’ lead you. They will do all the work, storytelling is their job and they lay hooks and warmth and excitement all along the way.
Hell it’s even got a superb cover. And logo.
Best work since ‘Starfire Burning…’ for me. Mount up and just gallop off to explore this new world. You’ll never want to come home. Never.
Return of the gods. A new chapter opened.
Utterly, stunningly, brilliant.