I could do a lot of poetic waxing here to set the mood for Leave No Path to Follow, the new album from Texas blackened doom merchants Krigsgrav, about how their mid-paced melancholic mix of metal was not only a chance to get some alliteration in this review, but also describes the thick atmosphere they bring to the table. I could mention the sterling cover of “Brave” from Katatonia’s Brave Murder Day and how that really stands as a touchstone for what the band can do. And I’ll probably talk about all that in greater detail in the main part of this review.
The clearest thing I can say about the album and band is this: I never heard of them before, got the promo, took a listen, and immediately went and bought the rest of the band’s discography. It’s called striking a nerve, and it struck all of mine. So let’s do this.
Formed in 2004, it took a few years of tweaking to get to 2010’s debut full length The Leviathan Crown. More traditionally black metal but already weaving a keen sense of melody through songs like “Atrocities of Beauty” and “Waves of Mendacity.” The songs are a little faster, a little more in your face angry and raging, but the seeds of doom and folk that rise on later albums are definitely present. 2011’s Lux Capta Est by necessity became a solo affair, written and performed by multi-instrumentalist and band leader David Sikora along with a session vocalist. The album is much darker in tone and spirit, the tracks stretching much longer. Opener “In the Winter White” moves from early Katatonia and Anathema onto much more modern and expansive bands like Wolves in the Throne Room, taking their landscape of open spaces and folding it into the music.
The essence of capturing location in the music was further emphasized on both 2014’s The Carrion Fields and 2016’s Waves of Degradation, both now full band efforts with longtime friends Justin Coleman taking over vocals and sharing guitar duties with Corey Smith. Blast beats and viciousness are still to be had on tracks like “Ghosts Among the Ashes” and “Son of the Stones” but they take more of a backseat to the slower, clean passages that carry the themes through each album. It’s not so much a maturation, but more of a refinement, a journey that led to Krigsgrav being at a place and time where something like Leave No Path to Follow can be created.
The sound of life, of water and wind burble just underneath the guitars that play against each other before crashing into a wave of riffage. “Leave No Path to Follow – The Withering” is, to borrow a title from Immolation, all majesty and decay. The speed and more traditional black metal trappings have been left far behind, leaving a more pure distillation of the band’s strengths: somber, intricately captured moments of pain and anger. Clear lines of melody act as a thorough line for each song: the simple four-note line that opens “Strength Through Wounding” is the foundation upon which the entire song is built arriving and leaving in its naked, exposed state. In between lays a meticulously layered song that rises and falls like a labored breath. “Forging with Broken Hands” takes a more menacing approach, taking the early 90s death doom to its blackened heart.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though. There are frantic, speed driven moments, particularly on “Dark Pools” but instead of having those moments serve as the structure for the songs they’re more punctuation, moments to elevate the mood. Both “Dark Pools” and final original track “The End (Forever Mourne)” feature some of the strongest writing the band has produced, being dynamic and expansive without losing any focus or forward momentum. And then there’s that cover of “Brave” – if there’s a touchstone to this album it’s definitely Brave Murder Day, but Krigsgrav take that sonic template and shuffle it into a deck with so many other influences it comes across as part of the blend.
By taking things at a slower pace and really emphasizing those moments of darkness Krigsgrav have crafted their darkest, most ambitious album, one that doesn’t hold to any traditional boundaries and instead speaks to their unique ability to construct mystifying black music that simultaneously evokes open, desolate spaces and a keen sense of identity. Long may they continue to do this, and long may I be there to follow their song.