Those aware of the vicious nastiness of Birmingham UK’s Fukpig will be more than familiar with key member and ex-Anaal Nathrakh live bassist Paul Kenney. Five years ago, Kenney began Occult Doom outfit Kroh as a duet, and has resurrected it to stunning, electrifying effect with second album Altars (Devizes Records).
A less murderous-sounding beast than his more senior outfit, the ice chill of Fukpig’s blackened heart is replaced here by a heavy, melodic crush.
After a delicate, lilting native Folk opening, the album proper explodes with a new take on this ever-more saturated genre. The buzzing, swerving riffs of ‘Mother Serpent’, while shattering the senses, possess the jagged, electronic edge of Industrial metal: something not wholly unexpected from a Kenney project yet refreshing and enlivening in this setting. Oliwia Sobieszek’s haunting powerful vocal here and in the howling ‘Break the Bread’ evokes the pain-filled harmony of Julianne Regan whilst the whole, underpinned by Rich Stanton’s booming yet cushioned drums, has a strange Gothic air reminiscent of latter-day Siouxsie and the Banshees. This is further examined in ‘Living Water’: a track drenched in power and tragic emotion, the pulsing riff battling for supremacy with Sobieszek’s soaring, impassioned voice which sends chills down the spine.
There is sinister, sharpened drama too. Choral effects and lead oscillations decorate the stabbing guitars and hollering wails of ‘Feed the Brain’, with more of those pounding rhythms underpinning the track’s strength. The early gentle meander of ‘Malady’, meanwhile, is laced with warning, steadily yet mournfully ebbing and swelling to a mighty, passionate coda. Delightfully eerie atmospherics sweep haunting melodies through the early winds of the occasionally Torch-infused ‘Stone Into Flesh’: and while the edgy, harmonic voice is an obvious juxtaposition with the dirty, slow chords and weight of the music, it’s with euphoric results.
Whilst not in open competition with the likes of Lucifer the similarity in style cannot be ignored. Yet Kroh seem to have far more in their arsenal, a more emotive edge and added versatility than the usual sound allows. ‘Cold’s clashing, metallic onset warps through a steady rhythm, opening the way for Oliwia’s spoken vehemence and creating a feel wonderfully reflecting the track’s title. The harmonies of closer ‘Precious Bones’ possess both beauty and terror, the chords sparse yet setting the teeth on edge when crashing in, the stickwork again dictatorial.
Every year there’s a fear that the Doom bubble will burst, the scene growing ever larger as the scope narrows. With this sparkling and vital album, Kroh show that there’s still plenty of room to flex and breathe.
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