1000 Flavors of Heavy: Kadavar, Kadavar
Goodness knows, I am no metal purist. I’ve been listening to heavy music for thirty years, and I’ve always been an advocate of the big-tent metaphor; the very title of this feature should clue you in to my feelings about inclusiveness as regards the genre. And although I can understand, given the mainstream’s history of alternately condescending to and co-opting metal depending which way the wind is blowing, why the purists get a little prickly about definitions, I’m not really sure where it gets us in the long run.
Certainly I don’t advocate that the tent gets so big that the walls flap out from underneath it. Getting exiled from the metal ghetto is a positive thing for some bands, in fact; for others, it’s just a natural progression with no value judgment attached one way or another (Baroness is a perfect example of this). But the reaction that baffles me the most is how certain strains of extreme-metal guardians have kicked certain strains of heavy hard rock off the reservation. I’m not sure how widespread this attitude is, since I try not to listen to people like this, but every time I champion some atavistic, throwback, slow-and-low metal outfit — and that’s pretty often, because I love that shit — someone, usually from the death camp (well, not an actual death camp, but…you know what I mean) tells me that I’m welcome to my taste, but that shit ain’t metal.
I have to confess, I’m not especially bothered by this reaction, but I certainly don’t understand it. Of course, metal has progressed in many directions, and I certainly understand why its most extreme manifestations get the death-to-false-metal crowd in an uproar, but as we say in the South, you shouldn’t get above your raisin’. No one can deny that the blitzed-out, deep-bottomed, fuzzy stoner rock revivalists are conjuring a flavor of heavy light-years removed from anything being practiced by the trü-kult cabal, but they’re also plugging into the same amps used by the people who invented metal. Saying that hard rock, stoner rock, doom metal, sludge, or whatever you want to call the more tuneful, low-velocity, knuckledragging shit that exists at the other end of the spectrum from fast ‘n’ screamy — and here I will assure you, I love fast ‘n’ screamy — isn’t metal? That’s like saying Chuck Berry isn’t rock ‘n’ roll, or Run-D.M.C. isn’t hip-hop, or Sidney Bechet isn’t jazz. It may not be to your taste, and you can certainly make a decent argument that the style has been superseded by time, but its provenance cannot be disputed without getting involved in one of those tedious arguments about realness that leaves the music unconsidered in favor of trench-digging definitional games.
All of which may have nothing whatsoever to do with the self-titled debut album from Kadavar, a Berlin-based trio of Cro-Magnons who won me over thirty seconds into the first track. To my complete lack of surprise, they’re signed to Tee Pee, who are better at isolating and perfecting this sound than anyone; if I were the type of person who gets stoned and drives around aimlessly under the baking Texas sun, and I’m certainly not suggesting that I am, the playlist I would create for the activity would have a shockingly large number of Tee Pee artists.
Their press materials toss around the words “doom” and “Sabbath” like there was a fire sale, and there’s no denying those elements, although “doom” is quickly becoming a shorthand for ”70s-throwback heavy that we want to convince you is bad-ass before you actually hear it’. Graveyard and Witchcraft (and, going all the way back, Pentagram) are the more obvious touchstones (just look at that album cover!), but for me, the real kick for Kadavar — and what makes them more distinctly German, less obviously Scandinavian, and so compellingly playable, are the truly massive washes of psychedelics and Kraut-cooked heavy prog that they layer into their best material. They’d be a top-notch retro-spooky hard rock band without them, but the kick is these almost Farflung-esque sheets of spacey psych-metal; that’s what puts them over the top.
The album’s lead-off, “All Our Thoughts”, starts off with a deceptively modern riff, a thorny piece of work that might almost come from Dawnbringer, before stuttering into a suprisingly poppy ’70s hard rock feel that shows off drummer Tiger’s chops in an impressive fashion. Bandleader Wolf Lindemann (yes, two of the guys in Kadavar are named Wolf and Tiger, and if you don’t get why that’s awesome, demand a refund on your tuition from Fun School) has the perfect voice for this kind of material, with a slightly Ozzy-ish high keen, but clean solid delivery that gets the point across without ever being too histrionic or getting in the way of the powerful music. “Black Sun” is likewise a different song when it starts than when it ends (fair enough for the album’s second-longest track, a six-and-a-half minute steamer of a workout), riffing heavily at the beginning and then settling into an almost jazzy blues groove that is the most explicitly Black Sabbath-influenced of the set. “Forgotten Past” is a real screamer, probably the most contemporarily heavy, but still with a distinct odor of funky decay. It’s a sheer headbanger that gets its twist from the mid-tempo rhythmic roll.
It’s also a good gateway to the album’s pulverizingly psychedelic second half, as the last few minutes let Lindemann really rip it up with his guitar solos. By the time “Goddess of Dawn” (Kadaver‘s debut single) rolls in, you really get a feel for where they’re going with the material: laying down a killer riff, then slowly letting it expand and breathe until it starts to acquire a whole new feel. Lindemann’s solo here is a fiend, short but hugely listenable, and the whole song holds together while reaching out into unexpected directions. This really pays off in the fantastic “Creature of the Demon”, which goes all in for Kraut-rockin’ psychedelics in its latter passages and threatens to become totally unhinged but never quite does thanks to the rhythm section (Tiger and Rivoli bass-wielder Mammut) holding Lindemann’s expansive, galactic guitar excursions in a tight framework. The album-ender, “Purple Sage”, is a curious beast; it begins sounding a little off (something about Lindemann’s voice sounds strange here, a little over-processed maybe?) and goes on about a bit too long, courting tedium at the end. But oh, the middle passage! Easily some of the best instrumental work on the album, it turns into a cosmic psych workout about four minutes in that rivals Hawkwind at their most fucked up. I could listen to six of its eight minutes a half-dozen times a day, and come to think of it, I have.
Critics of more mainstream music like to pick their ‘summer jams’, an album or single characterized, usually, by a light, breezy tone, a flip lyrical message, and enough pop hook to make it endlessly replayable at BBQs, block parties and beaches. Well, goddamn it, metal fans deserve their own summer jams, and I’m declaring Kadaver to be mine. It’s perfect summer music for open-minded, thrill-chasing headbangers, whether you’re tearing shit up in a bug-zapper-lit backyard patio or behind the wheel heading to a summer festival in brutal daylight. It’s enjoyable as hell, crammed with head-pounding riffs, and the only real problem with it is that it’s so short it’ll immediately leave you wanting more. If that ain’t metal, then I don’t care to know what is.