Song You Need to Know: Krallice, ‘Wolf’

Think of Krallice as the underground-metal equivalent of a gourmet food truck. Much as that set-up allows a chef to make their own hours and cook pretty much whatever they want, this Queens, New York, band’s M.O. affords them an unusual degree of logistical and creative freedom. They tour infrequently, record all their material in-house at guitarist Colin Marston’s Menegroth studio and release music direct to Bandcamp with little fanfare, at whatever rate feels comfortable to them.

If their methods are humble, the end product is anything but. Krallice’s output — like Wolf, a new 15-minute EP marked by daunting musical density and a diverse range of extreme-metal approaches — is some of the more challenging and surprising in the contemporary scene, a fact that’s reflected in their passionate cult fan base. The more they do exactly as they please, the more their renown seems to grow.

A new Krallice release doubles as a reminder of how tough, and probably pointless, it is to try to categorize the band. Their Bandcamp page contains the self-description “black metal or not.” It’s a terse statement but a telling one. Metal remains taxonomy-obsessed, with acts being slotted into ever-tinier niches, from “tech-death” to “blackgaze,” but the best bands don’t seem to pay the slightest attention to genre (or subgenre) signifiers. Since their inception, Krallice have morphed again and again, drawing initial inspiration from Nineties black metal but gradually growing proggier and more imposingly technical, as heard on 2015’s excellent Ygg huur.

It was clear from the start that a band including guitarists Marston and Mick Barr (full disclosure: I’m friendly with both and have worked with Marston on recordings by my own bands) was never going to sound typical, as these musicians’ respective résumés are dotted with deeply eccentric projects like Behold… the Arctopus and Orthrelm. But by the time of twin 2017 albums Loüm and Go Be Forgotten — the first a thorny collaboration with Neurosis member Dave Edwardson and the second a blend of transporting art-metal epics and meditative synths that earned a mention on Rolling Stone‘s year-end metal round-up — Krallice had established themselves as a band for whom nothing was out of bounds.

The title track of Wolf is yet another curveball. It starts out as an agonized downtempo churn, easily one of Krallice’s most spacious musical moments to date, complete with sonically warped vocals from bassist Nick McMaster and a more stretched-out version of Marston and Barr’s trademark trilling riffage. But around the 2:30 mark, the feel changes drastically, as drummer Lev Weinstein leads the band first into a head-nodding midtempo charge and then an ethereal blast-beat section. The song gradually ramps up from there, climaxing in a math-metal workout worthy of Seventies Rush. It’s a head-spinning listen that compels multiple passes to parse out exactly what’s going on.

More feverish weirdness awaits on the rest of the EP — buckle up for closing track “Time Rendered Omni,” which scrambles an album’s worth of musical ideas into a frantic 146 seconds. As a whole, Wolf is another forward-looking dispatch from a low-profile band that’s gradually becoming a DIY institution.

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