rating icon 8 / 10

Track listing:

01. Bulwark
02. Fragments of Nothing
03. Red Rooms
04. Solitarily, A Future Renounced
05. Manifested Ritual Horror
06. No Gardens Grow Here
07. An Execution in the Kingdom of Ideas
08. The Lantern and the Key

KRIEG haven't released a full length in nearly a decade, yet they haven't been idle. Following numerous EPs, splits and collaborations, the long-running American black metal institution is finally poised to unleash its first, proper full-length since 2014's "Transient". Compared to the more overt boldness of that album, "Ruiner" yanks the pendulum closer toward the classic black metal aesthetic that the band has primarily embraced. Within what seems like a conventional framework is a constant transcendental quality that pulses rhythmically.

While literally dozens of cohorts have come and gone, KRIEG's constant force, Neill Jameson, has remained since the beginning. Jameson — also known as "Imperial" — has delved into creative exploits beyond KRIEG, ranging from music journalism to his involvement with numerous projects including the "all-star" band TWILIGHT. Jameson always comes back to KRIEG, though, and "Ruiner" is the canvas upon which he paints emotions bearing brooding and pensive colors rather than hostile and hateful, as they were during KRIEG's earliest of days. "No Gardens Grow Here", ironically ripe with lush guitar melodies, brilliantly expresses mournfulness without eschewing the bite and snarl that's inherent to black metal.

On "Ruiner", KRIEG impressively stirs a profound sense of despondency with melodious black metal that's succinct and purposeful. There are no intricate instrumental webs. A shift in pace in "Fragments of Nothing" from mid-tempo charge to lumbering, fist-pumping groove is all that it takes to dramatically evoke the direst of feelings. The gentle, clean guitars layered at the forefront of the surging, triumphant black metal attack during the song's finale adds a mysterious element that elevates the track tremendously.

Jameson and KRIEG really don't have anything to prove at this point, which offers an immediate artistic license to color outside the lines. They're not reinventing the steel, but they do (slightly) push the envelope. The winding fracas that opens "Manifested Ritual Horror" shatters abruptly, for instance, as the band reconstructs the shards of the opening, archetypal black metal riff into one that's more hard-hitting, jagged and almost punk rock. Before anyone might fear hipster pretentiousness, "An Execution in the Kingdom of Ideas" explodes with menacing intent and rage, a song unafraid to bare its teeth.

On its debut, 1998's "Rise of the Imperial Hordes", KRIEG expressed itself with the subtlety of a razor blade across the face. Jameson and company are no less assailing nowadays, but the auditory violence arguably strikes deeper emotionally, crippling from the inside. There's a sadomasochistic beauty to "Ruiner", an album that is perfect for a late-night drive through dense forest on fog consumed, rugged roads.

Author: Jay H. Gorania
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