From the late 1990’s until the early 2010’s, Krieg was a regular face in US black metal. From the early all-out violence to the more experimental slant of albums like The Isolationist and Transient, founder Neill Jameson and company regularly pumped out material in both full length, EP, and split form. Transient seemed to be hinting at even more experimentation to come as Krieg embraced hints of punk, post punk, and even some electronic elements, but in the years that followed most of the material was dug up from much older time periods. It wasn’t until last year’s split with Crucifixion Bell that brand new songs surfaced, and that seems to have kindled the fire needed for Krieg to write another full length. The lineup has shifted again with two new members joining the fold since Transient, and with that comes a return to more traditional black metal and its subtle variations. Ruiner explores a little bit of everything Jameson has offered to date, moving from straightforward blasts to punk infused rhythms and slower build-ups that let a bleaker atmosphere build. Some may miss the experimentation of those last two efforts and a few songs do start to feel a bit repetitive in structure, but there’s still plenty here that showcases Krieg at their best.
Opener “Bulwark” makes it clear that despite some of the other genre elements that manifested on the last few Krieg albums, Ruiner represents a return to all-out aggression and some more straightforward black metal elements, but with the nuance and inward focus that reflects the twenty-five year plus career of the band. After a few seconds of sparser sounds the instrumentals come roaring in with blasting and riffs that have that distinctive second-wave sound, but around the two-minute marks it settles into a slower tempo and a moodier lead that has some melodic black metal elements to it. “Fragments of Nothing” injects a lot more punk into the equation with D-beat drumming driving things forward, and there’s this regular back and forth throughout the record of melodic, abrasive, and punk tinged instrumentation. In a way this feels like the most distilled version of everything black metal related Krieg has explored over the past two decades, and there are distinct nuances to each song even though they may seem a bit more straightforward the first time through. A few of the melodies feel like they could be just a little post punk influenced, especially on closing track “The Lantern and the Key”, which also ends with a noisier ambient outro courtesy of Lotus Thrones. But compared to Transient the few times where these outside elements do show up comes off as a little less deliberate, as though they’re stylistic additions that snuck in rather than core elements of the songwriting. Krieg continues to offer some riffs that not only pummel with lots of force but also get under your skin, and the first three tracks showcase the group at their best. Admittedly I found “Manifested Ritual Horror” and “No Garden Grows Here” to be a little repetitive, but in different ways. The former moves between blasting and mid-tempo riffs but overstays its welcome, while the latter plays things just a bit too slow for most of its run-time and drags. There’s nothing outright bad and Ruiner remains a strong showing from beginning to end, but these do slightly dampen the impact.
Neill’s vocal work has remained one of my favorite elements of Krieg’s music over the years, as his screams have always come off as particularly forceful and intense, with Ruiner being no exception. Early on his raspy screams tower over the recording and really add that jagged and rawer edge to the material, but on later tracks he shifts over to more of a growl that is drenched in reverb and only seems to gain in intensity with each passing second. “An Execution in the Kingdom of Ideas” is a great example of the latter, as it goes for the throat and doesn’t let up for its entire run. There aren’t any unexpected curveballs like a Thurston Moore appearance this time, but what you do get is straight rage and violence that suits what Krieg is going for on Ruiner.
A few moments drag or feel just a bit repetitive with how they stretch out the blasting and mid-tempo attack, but the bulk of what Ruiner has to offer stands out over repeat listens and has some nuances that help to differentiate it. It may not quite be my favorite in Krieg’s discography, but that’s a high bar, and after this long of a gap it’s still great to hear them return in this intense of a form. Ruiner is available from Profound Lore Records.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg