This is a tough one. Even after listening to Knoest’s debut album Dag at least a dozen times, I’m still not sure what to think of it.
Knoest play black metal and blackened post metal (and rather a garden variety of both), but instead of pairing it with throaty, growly vocals, they combine it with clean, Opera-like singing. And not only is the singing clean, the vocals are unusually loud and uncommonly dominant in the mix. To say that the vocals stick out would be an understatement.
When I played the album for the first time, and the vocals hit me unexpectedly, I cringed. The above-described combination hurt my sense of aesthetics. By now, after repeated listens, I’ve somewhat changed my mind. At times, the combination works really well, at other times it still makes me cringe.
The idea of Dag (day) was born during a trip or a hike the three people in the band took together. The album contains only four tracks, named after the times of the day. It’s starts out with De Ochtend (the morning) and ends with De Nacht (the night), in between are De Middag and De Avond. Just like the band name and the song titles, the lyrics are in Dutch. They were not included in the press material, and apart from some guesses I can’t say much about the lyrical content. Cover and album theme would suggest a focus on nature and maybe also friendship.
The morning is the most glorious part of the day because of the sunrise. The same thing is true for the album’s first track and the vocals: On De Ochtend the vocals are at their most glorious. They lift the track up immensely, despite the music being rather generic.
Although I’ve come to quite like De Ochtend, there is a part that bothers me. Around the two-and-a-half-minute mark a completely unnecessary change in tempo and soundscape occurs, a change which I’ve been dreading with every listen. Out of nowhere and rather sudden, some old school riffage is added, only to disappear again after half a minute. The track would be better and more concise without it.
De Middag moves into post black metal terrain and begins with riffs I have heard many times before. De Avond has the vocals change from Opera-like singing to something closer to spoken word. And this is where I would draw the line: Loud, clean vocals, deep, and closer to speaking than to singing, work well with goth rock and industrial metal, but not so much with black metal, not for me, in any case.
De Nacht closes the album and together with De Ochtend it is among the album’s better tracks. If the whole of the album was like the second part of De Nacht, I would have given it a much higher mark. The track’s first half contains the vocals like I don’t favour them, but the music is less generic, the soundscape more varied, the atmosphere suspense-laden. The track’s second half has the vocals at their best again: glorious and impressive. However, there’s room for improvement here as well. De Nacht could end two minutes earlier, since the dabbling in the end dilutes the impressiveness of the part that came before it. Why not go down in flames instead of just perishing? The former course of action would better suit the dramatic vocals.
In summary: Knoest’s Dag is interesting and well worth a listen. Their concept has definitely got potential, but it does need working on. And they need to hurry up, before someone else snatches their idea away from them. This could turn out to be something really grand indeed.