OR – The Life And Times Of “Dark” Krummi and the perils of the Musical Reference….
Man i really need to start doing more record reviews. It’s been so long since the last one. OK i promise I’ll try to do at least one a month from now on, Got that?
One thing i do like from time to time is when you have an album that actually causes a bit of a stir/mixes things up a bit within the local scene. And such an album is ‘Fearless’, the debut album from LEGEND. Legend consist of local musos Krummi “Minus” Björgvinsson and Halldor Björnsson. Together they’ve worked before on the boregasm country rock outfit, Esja. But ‘Fearless’ in several ways is a very different album to what they’ve done before.
‘Fearless’ also has the slightly dubious honour of being the most musically referenced album in 2012 so far. In just two local music reviews alone, LEGEND’s music has been compared to mid ’90s Depeche Mode, DAF, Cabaret Voltaire, Fever Ray, Bauhaus, The Cult, Jean Michel Jarre (?), and of course, Nine Inch Nails. Shit man, why don’t we just go the whole hog and say that the opening bass fuzz of “Benjamite Bloodline” sounds like Muses’ “Time Is Running Out”? Or that “Lust” sounds like John Foxx and the Maths? Or instead of John Michel Jarre, many of the synth sounds all over the album have a passing resemblance to Vangelis? Of that most of the sounds on this album could have come from any number of electronic bands from the last 30 years?
It’s a well-known fact that when reviewing music, you often fall back to referencing other works. We all do it (fuck, I’m one of the worst offenders), and when you’re working to a short word count, it’s a very a useful tool. But often it can go too far to the point where an review simply becomes a shopping list that goes, “Blah, blah, Nine Inch Nails, blah, blah, Depeche Mode, blah, blah Bauhaus. These are a bunch of cool bands that this album in some way sounds like. 5 stars!!” This actually tells you nothing about whether the album is really any good or not.
Of course the real reason why this band is getting so many music references, is that in our own ham-fisted way, we’re trying to convey the fact that ‘Fearless’ is DARK. Dark as in sexy-death dark. Dark as in heavy gothic shades of decaying grandeur dark. Dark as in those horror films where you have that scene where someone says, “Uh oh. It’s going to get dark soon, and they only come out when it’s dark,” whereupon the sun falls behind the horizon at lightning speed. That kind of dark.
Because Iceland music doesn’t really do “dark” at all. I think i can count on a crabs claw the number of current bands whose music and aesthetic you can truly describe as dark (Two Step Horror and a couple of Vebeth associates, possibly NYIÐ… um… that’s it really). Meanwhile, there’s never really been a proper goth/darkwave scene in here in Iceland, not to the level where’s it’s a really burgeoning scene But out there in the big bad world for a while now, goth and darkwave have never been so strong. in fact, almost independently of what LEGEND are doing, we’re seeing a new obsession with creating dark, bleak, scary music, that has taken the darkwave/goth/industrial sounds of the ’80s to its heart and reappropriated it for this new uncertain age that we live in.
At the forefront of LEGEND is the emergence of “dark” Krummi, the latest incantation of the musician’s id. Dark Krummi is dangerous, a musical beast of dirt and blood, swaying and brooding, who sports shamanic face paint and sports some natty black rags and an Odin-style wide-brimmed hat. It’s a persona that, from seeing Legend live and from listening to ‘Fearless’,seems to fit him rather well. He looks way more comfortable doing this that the guff he was doing in Esja. It’s something you certainly wouldn’t get from Hjaltalin, that’s fer sure.
While listening to ‘Fearless’ (and here’s MY reference for y’all), it brought to mind a couple of recent albums from acts that have taken the aesthetics of goth and classic darkwave to their base sound. Firstly there’s the self titled album from french electronica band UNISON and ‘Flatliner’ from witch house act ∆AIMON. Both of them, like FEARLESS, use synths combined with guitar sounds and gothic overtones to produce some decidedly icy, woebegone music.
But while UNISON and ∆AIMON come from Witch House electronic backgrounds, LEGEND’s background is definitely rock-based. Or, with “City” and “Devil In Me”, the two weakest tracks on the album, that should be RAWK as they unfortunately sound like Esja played out on a synth. When Krummi warbles “In the citeh-h-h-h!” on “City”, you almost expect him to start singing “Every Rose Has It’s Thorn” in a South Park parody manner. Also, there is a certain amount of stiffness to these songs, with a plodding 4/4 rhythm as if they’ve been weighed down by concrete. It drags and impedes, instead of being grand and sweeping.
But these are minor quibbles for most part because much of ‘Fearless’ is pretty damn great. The opening track “Amazon War” is just… brilliant. There’s Krummi vocal frying all over the shop in some kind of approximation of some mystic mantra from a distant land, before the rhythm, synths and blackwash guitars kick in with a fair amount of cinematic heft. It’s strangely balletic and ambitious in a way that you don’t often hear enough of in this country. Meanwhile “Runaway Train” has the energy and Teutonic brute force that can definitely kick it with the best darkwave out there, while “Lust” is a piece of proper grown ups synth pop that ain’t for the kiddies and their alcopops.
And while they haven’t reached the levels of nihilistic degradation that you got with NIN on their “Broken EP” (unless they make a video can top THIS ONE), anyone who makes a song that starts with the lyrics “I think of death/ walking through/ these empty streets/ where millions walk beneath my feet”, such as on “Violence” is definitely more than willing to pick at the scabs on their psyche.
Even though everyone is trying these days to be all positive and happy, the reality is that sometimes it does the soul some good to wallow in a bit of sadness, fury and misery. I’m actually surprised that it´s taken this long for someone to really start making some truly feel bad music for our times. And with ‘Fearless’, LEGEND have certainly at least provided some kind of alternative from the glitter-dayglo–whatsa-matter-you-everything’s-all-cool-baby-I-see-no-negativiity blah that pretty much represents the norm of Icelandic music right now. I certainly hope that if they continue to go further with this line of musical enquiry, they decide to really let loose and plunge down the rabbit hole of despair. Then things will really start to get interesting…
You can stream the whole of ‘Fearless’ right HERE. I recommend that you do.