The rubric that plays a major role in determining whether I will consider an album “good” is, as with everything around these parts, a little flexible and open to interpretation. That said, some criteria are fairly stalwart and unmoving. A good metal album must, in my eyes, have proficient instrumentation. It must display cohesion. The vocals need to be enjoyable--or, at the very least, they must spark some synapses other than those indicating that the vocalist in question can’t sing. It needs to elicit some sort of emotion response. Lastly, if it’s steeped in a genre that lives and dies by the axe, its gotta have riffs. Full stop. In the case of today’s artist in question, I’m happy to report that all of the criteria are present and accounted for...no, wait. We’re missing one. But y’know what? Let’s just roll with it.
First: the good. While not a concept album per se, Icelandic rock quartet Kavorka's Internal Rituals bares that deliberate cohesion that this particular Villager seeks out--in other words, it ain't just a series of songs with no overarching them or aesthetic that binds them. Here, from a lyrical standpoint, most tracks touch--and in many cases, focus--on mental illness and issues related to substance abuse. There isn't a narrative per se, but nothing feels out of step when listening through the album as a complete piece. The second aspect of cohesion comes from the instrumentation, which remains consistent across the board. There isn't a track on this thing that doesn't carry itself with a little heft in the step--call it swagger, call it confidence, call it rock 'n' roll braggadocio. Judging from the instrumental performances, Kavorka have successfully delivered an accessible rock album with the vibes we all love and crave. A little of trad metal's boisterous aggression, a little of hard rock's stomping groove, a little gritty grungy angst, a little fuck-you attitude of 2000's era alt-metal.
The guitarwork, however, is Kavorka's greatest strength by far. Riffs, alternating between "crunchy" and "doomy," is consistently headbang-inducing. There's some real gems here in terms of reoccurring motifs--take the repetitive central riff of "The Cadavers," the Iommian dirges laid across "Juggernaut," or the more laid-back approach of album standout "Wino." If you like stoner, doom, grunge, or...well, hard rock in general, you'll undoubtedly find a riff or lick herein that grabs you with meathook gravitas. The bass, while subtle, holds down the low end ably enough, and the drums do exactly what they are supposed to do in the context of a solid rock album. In other words, Haukur Þór Finnbogason does his job without stealing the spotlight from the guitars and vocals.
Speaking of, it's time now for the...less good. Namely, the vocals. While I can appreciate a little unhinged and otherwise manic energy in the vox department, both the off-key lead and backup vocals herein feel simultaneously flat and overenthusiastic. The sing-shouted choruses barely meld with the instrumentation, and the attempt at harmonics stumbles consistently. Were the vocals buried subtly in the mix, it may have worked a tad better--see the backing vocals on the chorus of "Black Halo, for example--but as it stands, Kavorka appears to have made the blunder of putting far too much emphasis on their weakest element. The gruff rocker appeal works when it feels like a component of the music as a whole, but here, the disjoint is far too significant. The so-so lyrical content only adds to the discomfort, but, seeing how these guys are, y'know, Icelandic, we can let that one slide.
In sum? Like, say, Blood Ceremony, this is a band I would consider myself enjoying in full, if not for those bar-band vocals. The songwriting is tight and built around catchy hooks and riffs--but yet, ample space remains to breathe. See the extensive instrumental passage on "Hindsight 20/20," which is truly a work of beauty, recalling something Bright Curse or perhaps Obsidian Sea might cook up betwixt choruses. If you have a stomach for vocals of the raw variety, I wholeheartedly recommend you give Kavorka a listen. If not, however, maybe wait 'till they tighten things up in that particular arena.
Kavorka - Internal Rituals was released March 20th
We provide thoughtful reviews of music that is heavy, gloomy...and loud enough to wake us from slumber. Written by a highfalutin peasantry!