It might just be my nostalgic frame of mind, but I often find myself feeling slightly disgruntled that the general aesthetic of stoner rock has changed over the years. Don’t get me wrong, I like some skulls and general satanic gubbins as much as the next person, but there’ll always be a special place in my heart for album covers based on vintage sci-fi illustrations, photos shown in negative and that od digital font that Man’s Ruin always used. I reckon that Kal-El feel the same way having released four (very soon to be five as this comes out at the end of the week) albums all with a healthy dose of old school science fiction.
Now, Kal-EL are a five piece from Stavanger in Norway and for this release they’ve signed to the excellent Majestic Mountain Records. As you might expect if you’re familiar with their past body of work (or you’re just having an educated guess based on the album artwork), Dark Majesty offers you up a healthy platter of pretty much undiluted stoner rock with spacey themes. And if the album were a platter, then it would be one of those ridiculous over-sized ones that the restaurant gives you a prize for finishing (perhaps an XXXL t-shirt) because it’s a huge record in two ways.
Firstly, the production on Dark Majesty is massive. I’m not sure where it was recorded as it’s not mentioned in the blurb, but it makes me hark back to some of the records that Truckfighters’ Mr. Dango produced back in the day. Everything on it sounds huge and yet all the instruments sit distinctly in the mix. From that point of view it’s one of the best albums I’ve heard in a long time. Secondly, Dark Majesty is seriously long, clocking in at over sixty-five minutes. I’m not generally a fan of records approaching, let alone exceeding, the hour mark but with Dark Majesty I can’t quite make up my mind if it’s a good thing or not. Some of the times I’ve listened to it, it feels like the record has started to drag as it approaches the end, some of the time it seems appropriate for it to be so long as it suits the sprawling space-opera feel the band capture.
Musically, there’s a ton of stuff to like. Album opener Temple gives you a good idea of what to expect from much of the album. Across its twelve-minute run-time there’s a wonderful mix of crushing riffs, melodic vocals and quieter sections driven by the snarling bass. Kal-El totally nail that head-nodding mid-tempo groove that’s defined proper stoner rock since time immemorial and deliver a spacey atmosphere that ties in really well with the album art.
fuzzed-out space odyssey that shows there’s still plenty of enjoyment to be had from sci-fi driven stoner rock…
The other ‘singles’ (that’s how I’m deciding to badge the album tracks released in advance of the album) are equally good. Mica shares a similarly infectious groove and marries it to a properly memorable chorus. The title track is even better, delivering some serious sonic weight while being as catchy as a new variant of Covid. In between these tracks there’s more super-heavy groovy fuzz rock than you could shake a stick at. Assuming that stick-shaking is your thing. I wouldn’t want to pre-judge.
So, while there’s plenty of positives about the record, I do have two minor issues with Dark Mystery. The first is that there isn’t a great deal of variety across the record. On second track Spiral the band put their foot down to deliver a welcome dose of full-throttle thunder boogie, but apart from that it’s all very much midtempo heaviness. Luckily the song-writing is strong enough that it doesn’t start to feel same-y, but a touch more variety could have made the record even better.
Secondly, I do suspect that I’d enjoy the album more if final track Vimana was omitted. It’s not a terrible track by any means, but I do feel like it’s one of the weaker ones on the record. Kala Mishaa which precedes would make a more fitting closer for such a good album: it’s climactic and feels like an album closer, if that makes sense. It makes Vimana sound a touch superfluous and unnecessary. Anyway, I digress. Dark Majesty is a genuinely impressive record: an epic, fuzzed-out space odyssey that shows there’s still plenty of enjoyment to be had from sci-fi driven stoner rock.
Scribed by: Liam Blanc