Kal-El, Dark Majesty, Sweden, Magic Mountain Records, MMR 030 CD digipak / 2 x vinyl LP (2021)
Call your band Kal-El, you have a lot of expectations to meet and doubts to overcome even if everyone knows none of your members have been anywhere near the planet Krypton. Happily these supermen from Stavanger in southwest Norway know what they’re doing in delivering “Dark Majesty”, a mighty opus of burning-lava stoner / doom metal with psychedelic and heavy blues touches. Led by vocalist Captain Ulven and drummer Bjudas who have been steering Kal-El through many musical adventures – “Dark Majesty” is Album No 5 – and various line-up changes since 2012, the band sets off on a formidable musical immersion through self-contained songs covering sci-fi fantasy, current conspiracy theory about the US government dealing secretly with extra-terrestrial beings and aspects of human nature and psychology, some of which may be personal.
Just experiencing the album for the first time can be mind-blowing as the production gives the music a huge sound and the Captain’s wailing Sabbath-styled voice the quality of a heroic operatic tenor. The rhythm guitars and bass have a thick crumbly sound and the drums are powerful though not thunderous. Lead guitar is usually clear and pure in tone. Opening track “Temple” gives first-time listeners of Kal-El’s work a good idea of what to expect from the band: crushing riffs, soaring lead guitar solos, solid time-keeping percussion and clear singing in a vast space that allows the music to wander where it will and become a meandering tapestry of melody and instrumental jams at varied speeds in ambient detours into far-flung parts of the cosmos. This is followed by a shorter and much tighter and compact rock’n’roll song in “Spiral”, the first of two four-minute rock boogie quickies (the other being “Comêta”) sprinkled through the album. “Mica” lives up to the album cover art in its intergalactic bounty-hunter heroine topic with heavy juggernaut fuzz doom rock groove, slashing riffs and soaring vocals.
The title track is as grand and stupendous in sound and pace as its title suggests while avoiding the bombast it could have fallen into. The captain’s high-pitched singing follows a memorable melody while dual guitarists Doffy and Josh and bassist Uncle J throw out massive chunky riffs and Bjudas provides solid steady support. Ambient effects and a later, slightly acid-etched atmosphere enliven the track as the Kal-El spaceship pursues long extended instrumental paths.
Strangely the last couple of tracks aren’t quite as thrilling as the earlier songs and I’m not sure why the Kal-El crew deliver them as straightforward melodic stoner rock with a doom edge after the more texturally varied and delicious treats that came before. Last track “Vimana”, based on ancient Hindu stories about vimanas (self-automated flying palaces or aerial chariots), especially could have had a full-on delirious psych-doom treatment complete with strange acid atmospheres and odd special ambient effects.
While the band could have dispensed more ambient effects over the songs so that each and every song gets its own particular atmosphere and becomes even more individual, and the wailing can be monotonous, the album is a sterling effort, given that it is actually the current line-up’s first full-length outing together. Confidence and ambition are present in all songs. If Kal-El could bring more variety into their singing and playing, perhaps by featuring additional instruments and exploring their sound more, future albums of theirs could rocket into masterpiece status.