From the bleak wastes of North Leinster (I’m kidding; it’s mostly commuter towns, rural villages and farmland) comes Raum Kingdom, a new post-metal quartet that’s at least trying to do something novel within the confines of that decidedly conservative sound. Once upon a time it was different, perhaps, back in the early 2000s when bands like Isis and Cult of Luna transmuted Neurosis‘ tribal trance metal and Mogwai‘s sometimes burly, often beautiful post-rock into a new kind of meditative heaviness, borrowing guttural growls and crunchy guitars from hardcore and sludge, and leaning heavy on the repetition. But then that repetition began to extend across whole albums, and entire catalogues, and while some could break free of its spell (Pelican have taken a more interesting path, even if the results have varied) the post-metal idiom has spawned legions of groups—a metal landfill’s worth—content to ape the moves of their favourites, no better than cover bands.
So it’s hard to get excited at the prospect of a new post-metal band in 2014, but there’s a bit more than meets the ear when it comes to Raum Kingdom. There’s the name, for one, a reference to demonology, and coupled with the “kvlt” runic cover art it lends an occultish tinge to proceedings before even pressing play on their self-titled, self-released EP. They say EP, anyway, but their recorded debut is rather a short album, with five tracks and running just shy of 30 minutes. And it’s a set that, beyond the unavoidable comparisons to the genre’s titans, is studded with the band’s own notions.
Those ideas don’t emerge right away, though. Opener “Wounds” might as well be an Isis outtake, ticking all the typical boxes: rough, throaty vocals from Dave Lee; Andrew Colohan‘s downtuned guitar swelling to crescendo; Ronan Connor‘s anchoring bass, low in the mix; and Mark Gilchrist‘s solid but no-frills drumming. It’s nothing to write home about. Better is “Barren Objects” which, while still beholden to the NeurIsis blueprint, at least demonstrates Raum Kingdom have listened a bit more broadly than the usual suspects. Lee’s vocals here are cleaner, reminding the listener of Stephen Brodsky when Cave In went space rock, and lending an otherwise workmanlike effort some necessary melodic counterpoint.
“Cross Reference” comes next, and it breaks the post-metal spell just enough to make a difference. It’s much closer in spirit to “Punk Rock:”, the opener of Mogwai‘s groundbreaking post-rock opus Come On Die Young, which paired a snippet from a frustrated Iggy Pop being interviewed on Canadian TV with a gently mournful melody. Raum Kingdom‘s twist samples the big speech from the end of “Fifteen Million Merits,” an episode of the satirical sci-fi anthology show Black Mirror, over an ominous electronic pulse and a simply plucked, heavily reverbed guitar line. Obviously derivative and arguably lazy, but still, there’s some sense of care here in terms of varying the overall tone.
That feeds into “These Open Arms,” a much more musically interesting track, both for its concision (under four minutes) and its eschewing of the usual slow build to the climax, breaking down the rhythm before the rot sets in. And while they slip back into those Isis motions on the nine-minute closer “This Sullen Hope,” even that song is saved from complete monotony by Lee’s distinct vocal lines—clean belting, multi-tracked roars and unsettling whispers—plus a fist-pumpingly good swerve into note-bending sludge for its denouement.
It’s only on listening to the record as a whole that Raum Kingdom‘s notions percolate to the surface. Though they certainly sound the part—it’s a professional recording, with a full, rich mix by Jonny Kerr—they’re clearly a young band still forging an identity, and grasping for a direction. Let’s hope what they do next plays on this record’s more remarkable aspects, and leaves the NeurIsis noodling to the cover bands.
Stream the whole thing on Bandcamp (it’s a free download):