Karg – Traktat (2020)REVIEW

It’d be fair to say that capability and ambition would most consistently align within the works of Hariki For the Sky vocalist V. Wahntraum‘s solo project Karg as each record began to subtly incorporate elements of dark metal and post-rock. In these formative years the soul of the artist shone through most earnestly on his third album (‘Apathie‘, 2012) where modern guitar techniques and the sour-spirited gloom of his lengthy compositions managed more approachable depressive black metal dirges. This sound and concept was not entirely ironed out into broadly reaching resonance until Karg would release their Art of Propaganda debut (‘Weltenasche‘, 2016) having made strides in recording quality while emphasizing dark/melodic metal lead guitars and the dramatic lilting of post-black metal. A prolific and emotional artist with a flair for excess and dramatics, it begins to feel as if ambition sometimes weighs upon Wahntraum, to provide a signature record every couple of years that builds upon his long-winded ‘blackgaze’ style while advancing an increasingly personal and cathartic narrative. In this sense ‘Traktat’ is a success, sounding just as professional and emotionally self-driven as a seventh full-length from a young artist should.

If we’re primarily considering the global spheres of mention and influence it would be ‘Dornenvögel‘ (2018) that broke Karg‘s name into the ears of post-black/blackgaze fandom beyond old depressive black metal stragglers or Harikiri for the Sky fandom; For good reason, too, it was a slicker and more sullen atmospheric piece with a sound recalling classic Forgotten Tomb, October Tide hooks and modern atmospheric black metal variants alike. What’d likely keep it off the lips of some more mainstream tongues, then and now, comes with the lengthy nature of each piece; Each album averages roughly 80+ minutes across 8-9 tracks with the lyrics are almost entirely in German. This doesn’t deter the greater impact of Karg‘s emotional heft but does leave interpretation up to tonal resonance and sometimes grammatically muddy translations. The main reason I’d highlight ‘Traktat’ beyond that analysis of communicable catharsis is that this record offers a clear enough personal torment, a depression aching for light, even without a moments attention paid to the wordy narrative of the lyrics. Yes, it feels like an 80 minute album but the immersion Karg offers some strong value without repeating or self-cannibalizing on a noticeable level.

The shoegazing sinking feeling provided by the opening bars of “Irgendjemand wartet immer” may prove the only respite offered before ‘Traktat’ bulldozes even the most resilient and callous dark metal/blackgaze listener. After several full listens you’ll no doubt feel the first half of the record is front-loaded with hooks, crescendos, and impassioned shouting but much of this comes from the sheer exhaustion provided by Karg‘s compositional style. I hate to repeatedly bring up Harikiri for the Sky as that project is fundamentally different in some key ways but, the use of repetition and slight variations while building a lengthy mood piece out of each core idea is a characteristic shared between the two projects. The major difference at this point comes with the aforementioned melodic/dark metal lead guitar emphasis that has crept into Karg‘s sound with each record. “Jahr ohne Sommer” and “Alles was wir geben mussten” are perhaps the most directly screaming of techniques used in the grey area shared between classic melodic death/doom leads and the dark metal developed beyond. I know there are more modern variations upon those methods shared with depressive black metal but Karg‘s reach for hooks and style will likely connect well with fans who are dabbling in post-black metal rather than saturating themselves on a regular basis.

Despite its slow-built first hump, the unquestionable pièce de résistance of ‘Traktat’ comes with one of the longest pieces on the record, “Alaska” — A connection with the vastness of nature, the longing for its perceived eternity, almost as if the artist is scattering their ashes throughout the memory of this place hoping to maintain that awe in death. The atmosphere of this song connects with my own loose interpretation of the theme and anchors the first half of the album in a more objective sense. The follow-up and longest track on the album, “Abgrunddialektik”, balances out the high prior with a muddy low, an unsettling piece that feels damning and occasionally unfocused as if we’ve crashed after the rise of “Alaska”. It is the only song that’d momentarily detract from the depressive tunnel vision that ‘Traktat’ creates, though it does offer some variety and deeper aggression compared to the pieces that surround it.

Some fatigue for the shouted vocal style’s steadiness would eventually set in as I’d strike beyond my eighth or ninth full listen of Karg‘s latest. It is a stylistic choice that communicates the nature of the record well enough but for the most superficial examiner it’ll appear less dynamic for the plain-but-impassioned shouting that persists for the full ~78 minute run.  I’d warm up to ‘Traktat’ on the second full listen and begin to feel some exhaustion for it by the tenth listen. This is a satisfying amount of mileage in a short period of time but it should be a comfortable record to return to thanks to its memorable (and long ranting) post-black metal guitar techniques and elaborate personal narrative throughout. A moderate recommendation for this one, it is undoubtedly the most engaging and emotional set of songs from Karg to date with some capacity to pull melodic/dark metal fans over towards the post-black metal side of things.

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Artist Karg
Type Full-length
Released February 7, 2020
BUY & LISTEN on Art of Propaganda’s Bandcamp! Follow Karg on Facebook
Genre Post-Black Metal,
Blackgaze,
Atmospheric Black Metal

Moderate recommendation. 3.5/5.0

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