The musicians that make up the bands under the Zeitgeister Music umbrella have been releasing a steady stream of material the last few years. 2017 brought new albums from Valborg and Klabautamann, while this year brings both an EP and full length from Owl. If you’re not familiar with this group, it was formed by Valborg guitarist Christian Kolf in 2010 and initially explored sprawling death/doom. In recent years Owl has gone in a variety of different directions through EP’s, with the constant element being the crushing, dense instrumentation. March’s Orion Phoenix EP was a lengthy twenty-two-minute piece that built up in a similar manner as some of the better post metal, and now six months later the Nights in Distortion shifts gears again towards somber melodies and instrumentation that’s as haunting as it is destructive.
Owl’s musical direction on this album may not be particularly surprising, as there have been some similar elements on some of the recent EP’s and the somber, room filling melodies have some moments that are reminiscent of Valborg’s Romantik. But this doesn’t mean that the project is merely rehashing elements from its past material or other bands that Kolf has been involved in, as Nights in Distortion heads off onto its own path. This is easily the most melancholic and somber effort from Owl I’ve heard yet, with the sound coming in somewhere between Type O Negative and Paradise Lost at times. What makes the album so entrancing is how well it’s able to balance the airier melodies with crushingly heavy instrumentation. Owl lets the sound build slowly, allowing listeners to get lost in the melodies before they’re jolted back to attention by the intense climaxes. The rumbling bass lines and thundering drums play a large part in the band’s appeal, and the material has been recorded in a way that makes each note and drum hit explode out of your speakers. It’s likely that the somber atmosphere from the guitar and synth will be what draws listeners in initially, but the immense and powerful riffs will keep them coming back for more.
Christian Kolf’s vocal work is one of the highlights of Night of Distortion, as whether he is delivering low pitched singing or harsh growling there’s an incredible amount of power and emotion in every word. “We Are Made For Twilight” starts the album off on the softer end of the spectrum, and the cleaner ranges hover over the recording with an almost ethereal presence. From there the vocals build similarly to the instrumentals, increasing in intensity until they reach harsh growls that are truly destructive. It’s never predictable as to what pitch you’re going to hear at a given moment, but it’s consistently dark in tone and it’s impressive that Kolf can easily switch between the harsh and cleaner ranges.
Nights in Distortion is fairly short compared to Owl’s previous full lengths, coming in at thirty-five minutes, but it leaves a lasting impression in that period of time. Some of the crushing death/doom from the band’s past remains, particularly towards the end of the album, but there’s a notable emphasis on melodic exploration that gives this one a very different feel from its predecessors. It’s hard not to get sucked into the thick atmosphere and intense peaks of this material, and fans of just about any type of doom should find this to be one of the year’s highlights. Each release heads in different directions but the writing is always consistently engaging, and that’s not something that a lot of metal bands are capable of. Nights in Distortion is available from Temple of Torturous.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg
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