KAMRA – Cerebral Alchemy (2022)REVIEW

Self-control is something for which I do not strive. Self-control means wanting to be effective at some random point in the infinite radiations of my spiritual existence. But if I do have to draw such circles round myself, then it will be better for me to do it passively, in mere wonderment and gaping at the tremendous complex, taking home with me only the refreshment that this sight gives […]” Franz Kafka, The Zürau Aphorisms

When confined and forced to confront the internalized horrors of the subconscious as they inevitably surface into view the typical human mind collapses into the clenched desperation of survival, absolute self-control and surety that all-else be damned. Most have yet to wake up from their own variation of this primal nightmare today, still racing towards the light at the end of their mind’s sewer-sopping tunnel vision, though a rare few instead made the choice early on to begin refracting ancestral daimonian insight back into the darkness of the mind, discovering a bioluminescent world deeper within which is unreal yet exponentially enriching. Birthed within a chamber yet pointedly thinking outside-the-box with every willful neuron Slovenian avant-garde black metal quintet Kamra create a world within a world on their debut full-length, a place of confinement for the outsider-in-truth to explore idiosyncratic realms untouched and unbothered by the desperation of the herd. ‘Cerebral Alchemy‘ is just as suggested en titre a journey intent to whirl within immense psyche as much as it is an occult séance to conjure the infinite wisdom and weirding of the dead.

Kamra‘s work began in 2020 during the first wave of worldwide pandemic illness, a moment of agency shared between at least two participants who’ve opted to remain anonymous, of course I can generally figure who the two original members are but it isn’t vitally important unless you are a nerd for Slovenian heavy music trivia. A little over a year later they’d managed to release a very well-received two song mLP (‘Conversing with Ghosts‘, 2021) which’d professed some love for Norse prog-black, modern dissonant black/death, and such but ultimately aimed to challenge set notions and insert their own emerging voice into said stewing ideation. I’d picked up on some Ved Buens Ende, an eased hint of 2000’s Mayhem and potentially a bit of Aeternus alongside some atypical dissonant guitar ideas but that’d be beside the point, though their idea appeared well-formed it was still formative compared to what ‘Cerebral Alchemy‘ achieves here as a quintet a little over a year beyond that point. Expect an avant-garde and expressive form of progressive black metal which veers between dissonant eldritch contortions and late 90’s avant-gothic extravagance, arguably having more in common with black metal of the Eastern Bloc, Czechia and Italy and the immense illustrative guitar work of modern black/death metal yet manifesting a work which won’t at all deter fans of <code> and Virus from seeing a bit of their own reflection while gazing into the wound herein.

Within orchestral space ether-dipped basslines and a basin set drumkit introduce the spatial resonances of ‘Cerebral Alchemy‘ as downward pulsed yet upward refracted precision, a sprawling yet cavernous entrance felt within the struggle through the portal that “It Burns Without a Fire…” presents up front, a brief lead-in for representative opener “Death Eternal”. Though we’re soon wriggling through the intestinal writhe of dissonant death guitar resounding and jogging black metal drive in various bursts and connections made Kamra haven’t revealed themselves as entirely exceptional, a sort of Oranssi Pazuzu level of strange ’til the vocalist begins his initial rant, a Virus-esque stumbling and crooning hit of prose which gives way to motorik basslines. For a moment it sounds as if the band cannot recover, around ~3:13 minutes in it is as if they’ve lost their bearings entirely but if only for a moment.

The premiere astute progressive/avant-garde black metal fandom will have been cheering from the sidelines already but for those entering this world blind it is likely initial descent will be turbulent ’til “Lantern of Ghostly Unlight” unveils the nature of ‘Cerebral Alchemy‘ in wailing, creeping, and freaking out splendor. Though I am admittedly an enthusiastic fan of estranged and surreal black metal traditions which you’ll definitely find here to some degree the varied and personalized performances of the vocalist especially stood out within this piece and his showing is complimentarily on par with the variety of guitar tones and darts of riff found throughout this particular piece. The clean guitar progression at ~3:35 minutes in speaks a particularly brilliant tension-building language to my ear yet I’m not sure I was necessarily on board with the changes made to this piece beyond its EP version until I’d sat down with both versions, here it is the vital centerpiece for the first half of Kamra‘s debut in an impressive umpteenth draft beyond the first. The next piece, “Resurgence of Temporal Malignity”, continues this thread in variation and rounds out the big event of the first half.

Haunting, creeping, horrified and occasionally introspective the first half of ‘Cerebral Alchemy‘ entirely builds the foundation for its second half to flourish upon so that it may wheel out unperturbed, and freely explore the rhythmic possibilities beyond. The effect this produces in terms of the full listen is an initially wondrous and weirding frontispiece then a more freely motile second act which fills its sprawl with larger and increasingly dramatic pieces which drone and waft towards their respective conclusions. That isn’t to say that the nearly ten minute hill that is “Oozing the Thirteenth Hour” merely rides the wave but that it represents one, an uncomplicated storming up and out which may surprise folks who’d become entangled in the wiles of Side A. With heavier guitar runs, gorgeously crooked-ringing chords and a return to the narrative wilding of the vocalist up front “Colossal Blight” ties everything together in finale, a satisfying reprisal of the dynamic of “Lantern of the Ghostly Light” in a more harried, unstoppably flowing motion which appears to overtake, to possess the band as the piece concludes. A great chasm expands before Kamra on Side B and to the listener following along intently it may very well appear more lax, steadier focused on sleek black/death metal rhythms to start but this does wonders for the listening experience by allowing the album to take deeper, longer breaths in its second half.

Though I’d initially felt parts of the ‘album ‘Cerebral Alchemy‘ could’ve been more detailed and others read a bit rushed with uneven bouts of statement this was more a side effect of ending up in a different place than I’d started with Kamra. Besides, I’m not sure any extra or interstitial pieces would’ve helped the flow of the record’s transition between halves the purpose seems to have been the sense of motion or transition between worlds. With the bigger picture set in reflection it reads as an initial descent through introspection unto realization, wherein the second half marvels at the sights of a new world beyond (or within) death. It isn’t the most memorable off-kilter black metal album I’ve been impressed with this year but it does manage some palpable experiential value within a psychedelic, introspective bent that’d proven appreciable as I’d delved deeper in. Well worthy of a high recommendation, though largely aimed at folks interested in progressive or avant-black metal with heavier black/death metal nods.

High recommendation. (80/100)

Rating: 8 out of 10.
TITLE:Cerebral Alchemy
LABEL(S):Avantgarde Music,
Edged Circle Productions
RELEASE DATE:November 18th, 2022

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