Review: Kintsugi Empire ‘Shun’

There’s a term used in the cinema world for someone who will not only create a film, but go far beyond, and fully stamp their mark on a whole project, so there will be no mistake who has made it. That term is ‘Auteur’, it is a French word, and described on Wikipedia, as ‘An artist with a distinctive approach, usually a film director, who’s filmmaking control is so unbounded and personal that the director is likened to the author of the film, thus manifesting the director’s unique style or thematic focus’.

Kintsugi Empire 'Shun' Artwork
Kintsugi Empire ‘Shun’ Artwork

With music it is very much usually a case of knowing an artist, or band instantly by their sound, but very rarely does the artistic process take on such an all-encompassing scope that it goes far beyond just making the music, and into the realms of impacting every element of the process, just like it does with a select few.

With that in mind, with Kintsugi Empire, or more specifically Pieter Holkenborg, the grand auteur of everything ‘Kintsugi Empire’, you have a project so personal, on every level, that it goes far beyond merely putting together some ideas, and having a band play them, Pieter Holkenborg IS the whole enchilada.

Kintsugi Empire is his latest incarnation, who already has an illustrious roster of bands and projects he has been part of. Through it all, it is somewhat a culmination of all of those elements into a highly personal project working alongside Désirée Hanssen of Lay Bare Recordings in collaboration with Galloway Recording Studio under the watchful eye of Sound Of Niche, and will be available in a highly collectable format, as unique as the project itself.

Speaking of the album itself, Shun is seven slices of highly eclectic, familiar yet unique sounding masterwork, all designed by the aforementioned multi-instrumentalist Pieter Holkenborg, and covering the subject of people being ‘shunned’ for living on the edge of society or losing control of their lives. It isn’t in any way a sad or morose affair though, and throughout it is a very uplifting experience.

Over the course of the album, there is one thing that stood out, it feels timeless, like you’ve heard it a million times before, but want to listen to it a million times more. In part, it could be because of its being quite accessible to a large market, it isn’t too obscure, not niche enough to only be embraced by a select crowd and is compelling without being abrasive. It has a mostly hard rock feel, but there are some real curveball moments which will leave you pleasantly surprised.

Utterly unique and thoroughly engaging, this truly is a masterclass in doing it right…

Tracks such as album opener The Preacher and Note To Self both have great energy to them. They are both vibrant, pacey, and have a super cool vibe. Clear vocals over hard edged rock give both tracks a real swagger, not unlike the Foo Fighters, but this is in no way a comparison for anything more than the vibe. Every single element throughout each track works so well together, and you would be forgiven for imagining a full band, not a solo project.

Charlatans really shakes things up as it rolls through. With the addition of Patrick Tilon, Rudeboy of Urban Dance Squard and Junkie XL fame sharing vocal duties, it is both punky and proggy in texture. The dynamic really works, and the whole thing takes those two opposites and aligns them to perfection.

If you are looking for soaring guitars, and anthemic six string wails then Underwater Rodeo will leave you breathless in its wake. It is absolutely mesmerising and shows just what a virtuoso Holkenborg really is with a guitar. It is an instrumental track, but who needs vocals when the guitar sings so magnificently.

Ghost Of A Ghost manages to seal the fact that this experience is far from over. With its slower, and moodier tones, and fragile vocal, it shows yet another side to Kintsugi Empire. It has me drawing comparison with Madrugada and for me, it’s the coolest track on the album. Totally unexpected and thoroughly wonderful.

This leads us nicely to the final track with the opus Memories Of A Guardian Hitchhiker. If ever there were a track that is so uniquely different to everything that has gone before it, it’s here. For this adventure its strictly some weirdly obscure Americana themed piece. If this had been put on ANY other album, then you would be forgiven for thinking it’s been accidentally added, but it strangely works here. Showcasing the pedal steel guitar skills of Johan Jansen, it’s an irregular ditty, but it really finishes the album off in such a happy, upbeat way, that far from coming away feeling quite down, this is guaranteed to leave a smile on your face.

Utterly unique and thoroughly engaging, this truly is a masterclass in doing it right and leaving a lasting work of art to be enjoyed for generations to come.

Label: Lay Bare Recordings
Band Links: Bandcamp