Musician Christian Kolf‘s long running and oft experimental side-project Owl featuring ex-Valborg bandmate and former Centaurus-A drummer Patrick Schroeder is an unquestionably amorphous foray of evolution over these last eight years. Conceived as an outlet for death metal songwriting towards an interest in industrial rock/metal and technical extreme metal Owl has gone places many wouldn’t; It is all the more surprising that this third full-length goes to a familiar, warm place within that industrial-tinged gothic doom metal sound only hinted at on previous releases. In fact ‘Nights in Distortion’ is not technically the follow-up to the gargantuan modern sludge of their ‘Orion Fenix’ EP released earlier this March but instead offers a polished rethinking of the lessons learned between the various EP releases from the project from 2014 to 2016. It is a step back into time a couple of years to an album that was either shelved or sat on until now.
If that was the case then I’d first wonder why, because this is easily the most accessible and least ‘extreme’ release from Owl thus far. A greater shift towards a melodic form of industrial rock influenced gothic death/doom metal offers a polished, engaging sort of gloom not unlike Godflesh‘s ‘Selfless’ crossed with Type O Negative‘s later work as they moved out from Paradise Lost‘s shadow. It would seem like an imitation of sorts if it wasn’t for the three previous EPs that were released/recorded in tandem with it’s conception. ‘Into the Absolute’ (2014) laid some of the groundwork with a new guitar tone beyond the death/sludge of ‘You Are the Moon, I Am the Night’ (2013). From there ‘The Last Walk’ (2014) introduced a sort of industrial rock flavored vocal style in with an enormous epic doom/sludge metal track, a grand and blazing peak in this period of experimentation. ‘Aeon Cult’ (2015) pulled in guitar ideas from Gorguts‘ dissonant ‘Obscura’ and a touch of Meshuggah-esque tone. Recorded and mixed towards the end of the summer of 2016 ‘Nights in Distortion’ acts as a capsule of where the project was at the time.
The most surprising detail was that Kolf had brought in a collaborator in bassist René Marquis for these sessions and this perhaps explains why ‘Nights in Distortion’ feels separate from the more extreme metal focused output of the band previous. The subtle melodic shading that Marquis‘ bass work appears to have softened Kolf‘s penchant for darkness, at least tempering his aggression into something more musical. Unfortunately this album appears as a posthumous document of his work since Marquis passed away March of this year. So it might be worthwhile to suggest that this record isn’t written to mourn the band member, rather it was co-created by him and released some years after it was finished. It would be easy to be mistaken, though as ‘Nights in Distortion’ is a brooding, atmospheric post-metal/sludge album even without context.
Kolf‘s gothic rock/industrial metal influenced vocal style must be conjured on some cosmic parallel with mid-90’s Justin Broadrick as his inflection reaches new and beauteous personal heights on this record. There is a warm but listless feeling to this eclectic expansion of Owl‘s sound that is as ethereal as it is nearly suffocating. It would seem that the conception of ‘Nights of Distortion’ was a catharsis to begin with and the passing of one of it’s collaborators only serves to add depth to it’s sour, mournful soul. It is easy to feel some empathy for the artist’s hard times even if the main context given comes after the fact. It might help that I am already a fan of Owl‘s and have been following their work since mid-2014 and the evolution has been a truly interesting development over time. Recommended as catharsis for frustration and grief.
Sorrow’s paralysis overwhelming. 3.5/5.0
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