In my constant search for the darkest, strangest and most brutal music from around the globe, sometimes all it takes is an interesting band name to get me started down a new path of exploration... and that's exactly why I found myself drawn to Italy's dark fantasy-metal team Krampus. Some of you out there, being fans of strange and macabre folklore, may already be familiar with the band's namesake: a mischievous and downright sadistic demon from Germanic legend who is quite literally the "Anti-Claus." Said to travel through the land on the same night as St. Nicholas, Krampus served up punishment to all the naughty children... while Santa rewarded good little boys & girls with presents, Krampus would throw the brats in a basket and drag them to hell.
I'm frankly amazed that a metal band didn't pounce on that years ago, but now that I've found them, I gotta say their mini-album Shadows of Our Time and their new follow-up EP Kronos' Heritage would make that crafty holiday demon proud. Check out a review of both discs below...
This band has actually been around since 2009, going through several lineup changes and reshaping their sound along the way before Shadows found an official release this spring. Now it appears that they've found a solid foothold in the folk-metal genre, as well as a steadily growing following beyond Europe. After hearing the band's unearthly blend of down-and-dirty death metal riffs & guttural vocals with Celtic-style string & wind instruments and eerie incantations, I suspect their rep will grow even more over the next year. The music calls up images of lurking forest creatures, ghosts, witches and other figures of ancient folklore, but it's also shockingly brutal, horns-worthy stuff. Much like Finnish folk-metal band Finntroll, there's a touch of fun and mischief underlying the thundering riffs and troll-like growls summoned up by this talented band of eight, but for the most part the soundscape they create is very dark and menacing... and often strangely beautiful.
The short instrumental overture "Echoes from the Ancients" reveals their mystical side, but the album's title track which follows blasts that pensive, earthy mood to splinters in favor of full-on melodic death metal with a distinctly nightmarish edge. "Tears of Stone" is one of the strongest tracks on the EP, finding a solid balance between the traditional ingredients, which include violin, woodwinds and female backing vocals, with equal portions of technically tight power metal and death metal chunkiness. "The Rocks of Verden" is heavier and speedier, but with a dreamlike break... while there's no punches pulled on "Witches' Lullaby," a more chaotic piece that delves deeper into experimentation and well-handled by the wide variety of talents onboard; there's a very good mix of very harsh and clean vocals here, as well as some impressive keyboard arrangements, all of which mesh together in the album's most powerful and memorable song. Toward the end of the record, we get a better sense of the band's more playful side, with "Howl" showcasing some excellent violin work, and "Wooden Memories" which balances the folk and metal elements for a frantic and celebratory final dance.
The only downside I could find with this amazing record is its short running time of under 30 minutes; knowing now what this band is capable of, I immediately wanted to hear more... and thankfully the band was able to satisfy that urge almost immediately with Kronos' Heritage, which adds three new tracks to Shadows, bringing it up to full-album length. Kronos picks up immediately where its predecessor left off, but bringing the melodic death elements a bit more to the forefront, with the Celtic instrumentation providing more of a rustic edge to what is otherwise a lightning-paced collection of furious riffs and melodies.
The title track is the most melodically straightforward of the EP, but it covers every end of the metal spectrum in terms of vocal and playing styles, and the layering of instruments is given more weight by sweeping keyboards and backing vocals. "Aftermath" strays a bit further from death metal territory, but it still packs a lethal punch. "My Siege" draws the trio to an amazing conclusion, adding ground-shaking bass and even some modern synth elements to the band's already varied concoction of old and new sounds; this one's every bit on par with the amazing "Witch's Lullaby" from the previous EP.
I'm very glad to have come across this talented and unique band, and I'd consider these two releases among the best offerings from the growing folk metal niche. Krampus is definitely one of the coolest dudes in the history of folklore, and these cats are totally worthy of their namesake. If you've been naughty (and I know you have), you'll definitely want to be dragged away to a dark place by this band of musical mischief-makers.