Kadavar, For the Dead Travel Fast: Ghosts on the Run

Kadavar For the Dead Travel Fast

Five records into a career as one of the most influential European heavy bands to come along this decade, Kadavar would seem to be returning to their roots. For the Dead Travel Fast is indeed the fifth long-player from the Berlin-based trio — fourth for Nuclear Blast — and in following up the modern sheen of their last two albums, 2017’s Rough Times (review here) and 2015’s Berlin (review here), the band would seem to have sought some middle ground in aesthetic conversation with their earlier work on 2013’s Abra Kadavar (review here) and their landmark released-in-2012-but-perpetually-reissued self-titled debut (discussed here), digging into an organic production style mirrored in the gritty sepia and severe contrast of the photo on their cover art.

If they’ve proven anything over the course of the last seven-plus years, it’s their ability as songwriters, and they’ve only grown more complex and more expressive in that regard, with guitarist/vocalist Christoph “Lupus” Lindemann emerging as a genuine frontman presence, drummer Christoph “Tiger” Bartelt functioning as the proverbial madman behind the kit and bassist Simon “Dragon” Bouteloup the quieter presence but ever more responsible for the band’s weight of impact. For the Dead Travels Fast leans on that weight more than did Rough Times, but it takes some cues from that album just the same, with the darker themes that pervaded there in songs like “Die Baby Die” and “Words of Evil,” “Skeleton Blues” and “Vampires” showing up in the ready-for-Halloween pieces “Children of the Night” — a highlight here — “The Devil’s Master,” “Evil Forces,” “Dancing with the Dead,” “Poison” and “Demons in My Mind.” Despite something of a shift on the most basic sonic level from one style to another — i.e., the re-adoption of a more vintage mindset — this continuity feels natural from the brooding opening of “The End” as an intro to “The Devil’s Master” onward.

By the time they get through the cavernous side B dark-psychedelia echoes of “Demons in My Mind” and into the closing duo of “Saturnales,” an organ-laced minimalia with hypnotic guitar and duly obscure lyrics, and the 7:49 capper build of “Long Forgotten Song,” mood becomes a central feature of For the Dead Travel Fast and where Rough Times did more than flirt with horror rock and a grimmer outlook, the newer work unquestionably pushes further. Songs are more patient in their execution and unfold in brooding fashion at least where they want to, and even a rocker like the proto-metallic “Evil Forces” finds room for a section of cackling, howling laughter at its conclusion, moving into the starts, stops, stomps and hooks of “Children of the Night” with a smoothness that signals the intent that always seems to be lurking beneath the surface of Kadavar‘s work. That is to say, they know what they’re doing here, as they always do.

kadavar (Photo by Joe Dilworth)

Kadavar are not a haphazard band, at least in their finished product (I can’t really speak to the process that brings that product about), and For the Dead Travel Fast shows yet again that their will is to have more than just a stylistic impact, but to back that up with a quality of craft and delivery that they’ve at this point put in years of work to hone on tour and in the studio. Frankly, it shows. I don’t think one could listen to “Dancing with the Dead” and say they sound tired, because they don’t, but there’s a maturity at play throughout their fifth record that suits them and their material well. They’re not the brash ’70s rockers anymore. They’re a band who’ve toured the world, headlined festivals and done gigs on multiple continents, and whose fanbase has grown to encompass not just listeners, but other bands who’ve taken up their influence. Again, there are few in Europe or anywhere else who’ve had more of an effect on the course of this particular branch of classic-minded heavy rock this decade than Kadavar, and they round out the 2010s in prime fashion on For the Dead Travel Fast, claiming their place not quite as statesmen of the underground, but as a band who never wanted to be a fluke and went on to prove it in the most righteous manner possible.

I’ll stop short of calling For the Dead Travel Fast a victory lap for that notion, mostly because I don’t think that’s what the band intended it to be, and because the characterization doesn’t really suit the mood of most of the material — which, again, is more grim even in its uptempo moments on “The Devil’s Master,” “Evil Forces” or the echoing thrust of “Demons in My Mind” — but it ends up being a powerful argument in favor of the idea just the same. Across a clean nine-track/45-minute run, Kadavar demonstrate their utter mastery of their form, hard won but ultimately uncompromised, and as much as one might be tempted to think of the sound of For the Dead Travel Fast as a “return to form” or something like that — and maybe that’s not entirely wrong — it’s also important to consider the ways in which the three-piece continue to push themselves forward, as on “Saturnales” or even the atmospheric beginning “The End” provides the record as it moves into the alternatingly broadly spaced and pushing “The Devil’s Master,” that dynamic persisting throughout nearly everything that follows.

Principally, Kadavar write memorable songs, as they always have. Whatever form that takes, whatever turns of aesthetic they might bring to that, they never seem to lose that foundation beneath them, and much as Bouteloup‘s bassline underscores Lindemann‘s scorcher solo in “Evil Forces,” it’s always right where it needs to be at the structural root of their material. They’ve made themselves harder to predict with For the Dead Travel Fast, which is refreshing. After the outright sheen of Berlin and the harder-edged modern sound of Rough Times, one might have expected Kadavar to stay on that path, but by shifting their production style, they’ve elbowed their way through whatever preconceptions might’ve existed of where they were headed and instead decided to chart their own course in the manner befitting a mature outfit of their stature. They’ve never sounded so much in command of their songs.

Kadavar, “Demons in My Mind” official video

Kadavar, “Children of the Night” official video

Kadavar, “The Devil’s Master” official video

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2 Responses to “Kadavar, For the Dead Travel Fast: Ghosts on the Run”

  1. Mike H. says:

    Excellent review of an excellent album. One thought I have not been able to shake, the videos at the end of your post only strengthen the feeling, when listening to the band is how…cinematic they are. If that even makes sense. The album feels as though it could be the soundtrack for for an Obscure 70’s movie…like the videos suggest. I had that feeling after listening to the album, before watching the videos. Regardless, they have yet to disappoint this fan and I an psyched to finally see then live, in December.

    Anyone else reminded of Ginger Baker watching Christoph Bartelt play?

  2. Mike M aka @Demoffola says:

    Patience rewarded, have been waiting to read what you thought about the album JJ. Love the depth that you afford the review. I agree that they have revisited their early albums seeming to take what they need to blend it with the polished darkness of the previous two. Can see the cinematic element that Mike H mentions in the previous comment. Looking back they always seem to have a B movie element to their videos.

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