[Click play above to stream Kingnomad’s Mapping the Inner Void in full. Album is out this Friday, Feb. 24, on Ripple Music.]
When it comes to new bands, there are some who just kind of get together in a room and see what comes out. Not a bad approach by any means. In many instances, for a lot of acts with the right combination of players, it works. Others seem to approach even their very beginnings with a specific idea of what they want to accomplish and then set to building on that. Notwithstanding Kingnomad‘s purported history — that guitarists Jay and Marcus got together in 2014 to jam Sabbath and then riffs came out and they called up bassist Maximilian and drummer Andreas to join in — the sound of their Ripple Music debut full-length, Mapping the Inner Void, would seem to place them squarely in the latter camp.
It is a record whose seven tracks/38 minutes brim with aesthetic purpose, and granted they’ve had a couple years to put it together, but even so, their sound does not come across as one onto which one might just stumble blindly, melding as it does modern cultishness with classic progressive melodies and semi-vintage tonality, marked out by the sporadic use of spellcasting samples to play up further ghoulish sentiments amid the fuzzed-out roll of a short Lovecraftian nod like “Whispers from R’lyeh,” which follows the one-two opening salvo of the catchy, almost post-Ghost pop spirit of “Lucifer’s Dream” and “Nameless Cult,” and sets up transitions into blues rock, expansive psych and garage doom that follow throughout “The Witches Garden,” “The Green Meadow Part 1 & 2,” “She Wizard” and closer “The Waiting Game.” With the flow the four-piece enact between these cuts and the standout moments of songcraft in them, yes, it seems utterly reasonable to me to attribute their making to more than happenstance. This is a band with a stylistic message.
That message? Perhaps that there are still realms of dark magic to be explored in classic-minded heavy rock. I’m not talking necessarily about the tropes of cult lyrics — though there’s some of that to be had throughout Mapping the Inner Void, for sure — but more about the magic of a collaborative creative effort. Jay, who in addition to playing guitar also sings and handles keys (piano and organ), is a formidable presence throughout the record as he was when Kingnomad met with Michigan’s BoneHawk on Ripple‘s The Second Coming of Heavy: Chapter Three split (review here) in 2016, but a considerable difference is in the production, which feels hairier by the time the audio collage at the start of “Lucifer’s Dream” has given over to the song itself. Its arrival is marked by Dead Meadow-style fuzz riffing and a slow drum march for the verse that calls to the aforementioned Ghost with falsetto backing layers in the first chorus.
Immediately, structure seems to be something to toy with as the band launches at the halfway point into more uptempo swing before deftly returning to the fuzzy march, this time topping with a flourish of organ and piano to lull the listener into a false sense of security before the explosive open of “Nameless Cult” proffers old horror sampling en route to one of Mapping the Inner Void‘s strongest choruses. They lean on it a bit and rightly so, since while “Nameless Cult” will find something of a mirror in the penultimate “She Wizard” toward the album’s end, the journey there in the three songs between — not to mention the closer after — is varied enough to warrant a stretch on the most solid of ground. Or at least as close as one can come to it with a hook that seems to take flight as that of “Nameless Cult” does. In any case, though “Whispers from R’lyeh” is almost definitely still on side A, as an interlude it functions almost as a second intro to the album, with an already-noted brief but heavier roll and a few airy lines of guitar leading into centerpiece track “The Witches Garden,” which makes itself a highlight in subtler fashion than did “Nameless Cult” via boogie shuffle and a laid back vocal from Jay that adds atmosphere and melody in kind.
Ringing bells begin “The Green Meadow Part 1 & 2” in what’s almost certainly intended as a call to worship, and dense garage-doom fuzz takes hold on a slow-rolling plod for the next two-plus minutes, dropping out to let the vocals stand alone for the first line of the song before there emerges a blown-out nod that reintroduces the organ around its midpoint and consumes with tone and the lumbering of its rhythm. At seven-plus minutes, “The Green Meadow Part 1 & 2” has room for guitar and drum solos, but Kingnomad rightly bring it back around to the chorus again at the end and harmonize guitar lines over the last percussive roll in order to change the progression even as they’re tying the song together, making it whole and complete and that much broader at once.
As mentioned, “She Wolf” is the second to last cut on Mapping the Inner Void, which also makes it the centerpiece of side B — I think — and it functions well between the more extended “The Green Meadow Part 1 & 2” and “The Waiting Game,” with a simpler arrangement of neo-biker chug and forward rhythmic movement, once again using its keys well for depth of arrangement as it heads directly for the start of “The Waiting Game,” which with its intro of hi-hat and lazily strummed guitar and ensuing march seems to be speaking directly to Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats‘ “Death’s Door,” though much to their credit, Kingnomad make this influence their own.
Layered-in backing vocals add to the chorus as the band plays between fuller and sparser places on their stomp, and though it seems with the pre-midsection solo at about three minutes in that they’re headed out for good, they pull back for another verse before actually making their departure into concluding instrumental exploration, a controlled freakout that runs “The Waiting Game” to its full 8:38, bringing samples back in amid increasing noise before cutting everything out and letting the guitar finish Mapping the Inner Void on the central line of the song, held out at the end on a satisfying fade.
While not flawless in its performance in a manner that would speak to studio trickery, from the click-of-play that starts “Lucifer’s Dream” to that guitar line closing “The Waiting Game,” one finds no aesthetic missteps on the part of Kingnomad, who thereby further the notion of stylistic purpose behind their work. That’s not to say they haven’t left themselves room to grow — watch out next time for increased confidence in the vocals — but that their starting point has given them a clear path to travel. As a debut, the complexity of Mapping the Inner Void unfolds more on repeat listens, and the band earn those listens all the more through songwriting, making the album all the more a success in terms of balance, craft and execution.