When someone describes a band as a power trio, I’m sometimes reluctant to listen. It’s not that power trios don’t exist, but quite often this term seems to be bandied about whenever a band has only three members. They might be a trio, but are they really a power trio? Kilter are, without doubt, a power trio. One of the most powerful trios I’ve come across, and almost immediately reminiscent of another powerful trio, Zu. But while most people will think of drums, bass and guitar being the principle instruments of a power trio, Zu (though they have expanded their line-up in recent years beyond the original trio) and Kilter use drums, bass and saxophone as the major aural force. And what a force! Zorn and Zappa crossed and mutilated into a frenzied attack of avant-garde jazz-metal fusion. It’s a gloriously dissonant mix of free jazz, RIO, noise rock and metal.
Ax & Spear is a statement of intent, aggressive and malevolent. What’s interesting, though, is the way that such unrestrained brutality is not omnipresent. The following Beasts of Summation (Intro) is one of several passages that pepper the album with far more subtle flavour. If we stick with the House of Mythology, this is more Ulver than it is Zu. Not only is it a delight to listen to in its own right, it provides a marvellous intro into Out of Kilter. This track is one of a couple to feature the vocals of Andromeda Anarchia, which are quite frankly disturbing and scary in equal measure. Definitely not to my usual taste, but they fit the music incredibly well and I come dangerously close to enjoying them! The music, regardless of the vocals, is superb and it roars and growls even more greatly than Anarchia. This song is an absolute highlight of the album. It’s followed by Beasts of Summation (Outro), which works as well on this side of Out of Kilter as it did preceding it. For those wanting more, a full seven and a half minutes of Beasts of Summation can be found on Kilter’s award-winning debut EP.
Vandermeer is a joyful breath of fresh air after New Sun (which I guess is like a New Moon, as the track displays a complete absence of the warmth and comfort the sun might normally provide). Short, bright and breezy, it ends abruptly in a squall, and From the Caves of Quarum begins. Quite what is improvisation and what is structured is as blurred and inconsequential as the lengths of the tracks. There is as much enjoyment in the shorter pieces as there is in the longer ones. None out-stay their welcome, and all know when their time is done. Caves is almost five and a half minutes long, and the following Detention is less than a minute, and both say all they need to say, and are equally enjoyable.
Kafkanated is another favourite track of mine on the album, it’s playful jazz noir taken to all kinds of new levels (depths?), with a skittering doom drone scat. It’s quite magnificent, and although I love it, I’m always quite thankful for Pluto is Not Just Rock, which follows, another favourite, although it pulls in a completely different direction, being quite minimalist in sound and structure. The contrast of this with Kafkanated is delightful. Pluto is reminiscent of King Crimson improvisations (particularly Starless and Bible Black era), but while it evokes the same feel, Kilter never sound like Crimson. Pitiless Garment follows and provides a sense of growing menace, which explodes into outright threat as Mover’s Acid begins. This is another track where Anarchia provides her deranged vocals – and once again they are perfect for the mood and the song. Screeches and wails that I doubt I could bare outside the confines of Kilter, but which somehow delight within.
After a brief excursion into what comes close to normality with Behind Your Door, the album provides another banger with final track Spherical Bastards, which I suspect may have originally been intended to be the title track, as that is how the album that was presented to me for review was titled. The beginnings belie the malignancy of the track. After two minutes or so, the sole guitar of the album (from Per Nilsson of Meshuggah) appears in incendiary fashion. The track spirals out in a loose fashion, before finally disintegrating. And if you listen to the album on repeat, you’ll appreciate just how spherical these bastards are. The album loops back on itself in quite spectacular fashion. If I don’t feel like playing the album on repeat, I’ll often start with Beasts of Summation (Intro) and play through to Ax & Spear. That actually makes for a more logical sequence, perhaps, but I’m not sure a band called Kilter would ever wish to be logical.
Axiom is an off-kilter succession of musical experiments and improvisations. It is brutal and it is beautiful, often at the same times. It’s not always an easy listen, but it’s always an enjoyable one. It makes the unlistenable not only listenable but thoroughly engaging. It’s genuinely alarming and gloriously absorbing. The music of Kilter is powerful and expressive in a way that blows away what most bands labelled “power trios” are creating today. Harsh, heavy and hellish, and downright addictive, Kilter’s cross-genre eclecticism may be too much for some listeners, but if you’re feeling adventurous, I urge you to give this a go!
01. Ax & Spear (4:04)
02. Beasts Of Summation [Intro] (1:35)
03. Out Of Kilter (6:12)
04. Beasts Of Summation [Outro] (1:17)
05. New Sun (1:34)
06. Vandermeer (1:22)
07. From the Caves Of Quarum (5:23)
08. Detention (0:48)
09. Kafkanated (3:18)
10. Pluto Is Not Just Rock (4:51)
11. Pitiless Garment (1:45)
12. Mover’s Acid (2:30)
13. Behind Your Door (2:53)
14. Spherical Bastards (6:11)
Total Time – 43:23
Kenny Grohowski – Drums
Ed Rosenberg III – Saxophones
Laurent David – Bass
Andromeda Anarchia – Vocals (tracks 3 & 12)
Per Nilsson – Guitar (track 14)
Record Label: Alter-Nativ
Country of Origin – U.S.A./France
Date of release – 28th February 2020