Picture, if you will, the very concept of music. At its core, it is merely arrangements of sound that some may find pleasing. To the listener, however, music transcends what it is composed of to stimulate the listener's mind and even his soul at times. Each piece of music, in its own way, creates a world, some glimpse of another plane within the human mind, some more so than others. Diotima, the third album by New York progressive metal band Krallice, is one such work; each song a piece of the darkly serene world that the work as a whole creates, one of chaos, yet beauty amongst its ruins.
The intro track "-" (This review may be pretentious as hell, but even I can't justify that title) is brief, but sets the scene efficiently, where tremolo picking and blast beats combine to weave a dark tapestry. It gives way to a solemn guitar riff, which itself crossfades into the feedback of Inhume. There are few moments like this on the album, the other two such moments occurring on the title track and Telluric Rings, but these moments are a stark reminder that despite the beauty of the landscape, its jagged mountains and foreboding gloom still render these lands hostile and uninviting. Krallice are not a band known for being "evil" or "brutal", but the atmospheres evoked by these passages are quite dark indeed, and would work well if reworked into a black metal album. (Note: I don't consider Krallice to be black metal, despite their classification as such. If an artist uses the techniques of surrealism in addition to his own skills and vision, the painting is not exclusively a surrealist work.) Despite the overall solemnity of the album, there are still plenty of points at which some hint of celestial essence can be seen, as moonlight penetrating the clouds. The riff at 5:26 on Inhume, which is repeated shortly after, is an example of this, as is the first climax of Telluric Rings at 6:41.
A work of art is only as quality as its artist, and on that front Krallice certainly deliver. The twin vocalists, Mick Barr and Nick McMaster, complement the surrounding music perfectly, and, while some may find Barr's higher-pitched vocals grating, the album takes more of a focus on McMaster's growls, which are the deepest they've been throughout their discography on this record. The dual guitarwork of Barr and Colin Marston always strikes a balance between flashy and reserved, with solos used sparingly. Special mention goes to McMaster on bass duty; his playing does not mirror either of the guitars, but cuts its own path to augment the surroundings, often to the effect that lesser bands try to accomplish with over-the-top keyboards or orchestras. His work is the subtle undercurrent to the rest of the band's waves.
The album holds plenty of stand-out moments, but the most interesting of which to my ears is the track "Litany of Regrets". The production is compressed heavily, not to produce a lower sound quality overall, but to create a sort of motion to the song based around the bass drum pedal. The song keeps a consistent up-beat tempo throughout, which combined with the aforementioned compression, lends the track a sort of hypnotic quality. The music itself is heavily focused on repetition, with occasional theme changes, but ultimately returning to the central riff. "Litany of Regrets" is essentially the modern metal realization of an ancient shamanic trance ritual, a theme with the lyrics touch upon as well: "And the anchorite dreams/He dreams a shaman carving blood unto/Darkened cavern ribs/While shadows dance/To the ecstatic rhythms/Of the Pacan/He dreams of pages of gossamer and spider web/Whose words will not survive their altercation back to dust." The repetition may easily be seen as a weakness, but it fits the concept quite well. The album ends with another example of one of the things Krallice does best; taking a moment and building upon it until it envelops the listener. While not as bombastic as the last minutes of "Monolith of Possession" (from their previous album, Dimensional Bleedthrough), the outro of "Dust and Light" is a more than satisfying conclusion to Diotima, providing a fitting end to the sonic journey through forgotten lands.
In conclusion, Diotima must be viewed as a whole work, not on a song-by-song basis. It, like all Krallice albums, is not to be viewed on merits of its status as "metal", although to the patient listener, it has more than enough moments to satisfy those listeners as well. It crafts a world within the listener's mind, and then guides him on a journey, bearing witness to both beauty and savagery. If you are a fan of music as an artistic medium, or simply like quality progressive metal, Krallice is certainly a band to check out, with Diotima as another shining example of their status as craftsmen of sonic landscapes.
Krallice are clearly skilled musicians, with plenty of guitarwork to keep metalheads interested, if they can bear a bit of repetition in "Litany of Regrets" and each song blending together to create a whole instead of simply crafting memorable songs with hooks, choruses, etc. It's worth a listen to see if it's your thing, certainly, but I can't guarantee the appeal of it to a standard metal audience.