I think I just have one final album to write about before I wrap things up for Christmas, and maybe I’ve saved the best until last – at least from my perspective. David understandably loved the Das Body album (you can read his review here), and I absolutely see why he liked it so much. But for me Kalandra‘s new album ‘The Line‘ pulls me in far more personally, and takes me on a journey across mountains, oceans, as well as making me consider my (probably futile) attempts to ‘grow up’ as a person - and all from a band who’ve been with us on the NMR journey since the very start.
Of course not everyone will have come across Kalandra before, and the epic cinematic folk trio (or alternative pop if you prefer) have been on a pretty amazing journey themselves over the last few years, developing their sound at LIPA in Liverpool, almost becoming internet ‘sensations’ with a cover of a Wardana track, writing music for an HBO series and then going through the tough process of constructing a full album – which thankfully was released not too long back, with support from the excellent By Norse label.
It’s those trials and tribulations that form the basis of the album, as the band explain: “An album years in the making. Written in a period of our lives which has been subject to a lot of change and introspection. The songs are reflections of the conflicting emotions that come with growth. The feelings of wonder, anger, loss and acceptance at watching both your own life and the world around you unfold. The Line talks about those different boundaries we come across in life. Be it mental barriers, lines on a map or the walls we put up between ourselves. Life can be a wondrous and terrible thing but we’ve found that ’Somewhere along the line, it gets easier."
Well Covid aside it does, I promise.
It’s certainly true to say that ‘The Line’ will take a while to grow on you. Not because it is indecipherably complex, such as the recent Hey Elbow release was, but simply because of the depth of sound, the dynamic shifts and the atmospheric swells of sound that capture the spirit of the vast Nordic wilderness. And it’s not quick travelling anywhere like that, so be prepared for the journey.
It opens with ‘Borders’, a hymn to the oceans and the natural elements, with singer Katrine’s haunting vocals both setting the mood and the boundaries for the album. “I see the forces for what they really are / yet I’m reminded of my beating heart”. I keep coming back to this track, it’s such an imaginative opening.
We reviewed the ‘The Waiting Game’ previously, opening with subtle instrumentation, before it builds just so gradually, with percussive elements accentuating the sounds, and then a gorgeous expressive instrumental section which carries the track away.
’Slow Motion’ focuses back on the mundane realities of growing up in life ‘I’ve a million ways I could spend my time, keeping me from who I need to be”, and the chorus has a typically Kalandra sound – a Celtic folk influenced melody, wrapped with a mystical twist and then belted out like a Nordic diva (think Aurora and Dolores O’Riordan), and then developing into the most sensational climactic ending, where a counter melody about 4:15 takes the track to an even higher plane.
Strangely I wasn’t sure about the opening of ‘Naïve‘ on 1st listen, but when the guitars blaze in after 2 minutes, we’re suddenly in the midst of a belting rock track, and the versatility of not only the bands sound, but Katrine’s extraordinary vocals, becomes apparent.
The contrasts with the acoustic guitar in ‘Virkelighetens Etterklang’ is very clever, and it’s probably needed too, because you can’t just keep going at that intensity. It’s a lovely song, with lyrics in Norwegian, and an enchanting melody, that just weaves into directions and places you won’t quite expect – in many ways it’s my favourite track, even though I don’t entirely understand it.
The rhythms of ‘Ensom’ beguile before another anthemic thumping chorus, but again the highlight is those epic instrumental sections, the cut off to Katrine's vocals and yet another wall of guitar and drumming sound. It’s a complex mix, that’s for sure, and they’re never afraid to throw the kitchen sink at their music.
‘Brave New World’ is probably a good start for new listeners, with a catchy melodic opening, even if it’s still desperate and melancholy sounding, but inevitably that sound slowly builds, rhythmic ‘world’ influenced drumming, dramatic swells of instruments and it ends with another sudden cut off. I guess they probably need to find other ways of ending their songs, but it does work.
Despite my attempts to attach ‘cinematic’ labels to them, i guess Kalandra are a rock band at heart, and it’s good to hear a track like ‘On The Run’, with belting guitars riffs that are possibly throw backs to how they started - I really they hope they never lose that ‘edge’, it’s probably needed for live performances.
Again it’s the lyrics which capture my attention in ‘Wonderland’, with the beauty of the natural elements again used to convey the emotions of the mind, “If you wonder where I’ve been / I have retreated to scale my mountain / don’t worry about me or where I am, I’m in wonderland”. Meanwhile Katrine’s vocals skip between powerful and intimate in a split second, and similar to other songs, there are different phases melodically to the track – they seem to play with the formats of songs like a post or progressive rock band, and very welcome that is too.
I thought ‘With You’ might be the album concluder (I’m making a wild guess there was some debate over track order), it has that type of feel to it, with gentle strings accompanying the middle section of the track and a simple acoustic ending. But it actually ends with ‘It Gets Easier’, another with a hymnal feel, and a positive ending too, with an understanding that the hardest days of growing up might be over and the days for really ‘living’ might be starting. Of course they tell the story in the only way Kalandra know, with the a big crescendo of noise, building slowly to a climax and fade.
‘The Line’ is a mightily impressive release, which feels like a band that have reached maturity, rather than a group of youngsters (and they definitely still are) finding their feet with a debut release. Powerful and dramatic, with such a distinct Nordic feel that you will find yourself floating across a windswept fjord towards an impossibly beautiful mountain, Kalandra have created something very special on this album, and both the instrumental sound and vocals at times genuinely give me ‘goosebumps’.
I guess the only two questions which remain are whether Kalandra can make something ‘more epic’, with even bigger contrasts in sound, without losing that intimate feel. And why do Spotify algorithms insist I should listen to the Downton Abbey soundtrack straight after I’ve listened to them? One of those questions I’ll probably never know the answer to, but I am convinced that Kalandra know exactly what they’re doing, and that ‘The Line’ is just the start.