Kadavar, Abra Kadavar: Foundation and Progress

Berlin trio Kadavar have worked quickly to become one of the most prominent acts in the European heavy underground. Their 2012 self-titled debut sounded so organic that even the mp3s had an analog hiss, and while they carried their songs across with an ultra-natural feel, it was the confidence in the material and the spontaneous feel of the performances that made Kadavar’s Kadavar such a watershed release. It was my pick for the year’s best debut; a lean but frighteningly cohesive 34-minute full-length that showed potential as much as it made an impact on its own. Touring and a split with Aqua Nebula Oscillator followed later in 2012, and Kadavar – vocalist/guitarist Wolf Lindemann, Rivoli bassist Mammut and drummer Tiger — were picked up by Nuclear Blast to join the ranks of Graveyard, Orchid and Witchcraft in the label’s growing stable of tube-amped heavy rockers. Thus it is that their second album, Abra Kadavar, arrives with no small measure of anticipation. Some immediate differences: the sophomore outing is three tracks and about eight minutes longer than the first one, clocking in at a still-vinyl-ready 41:16. The distinctive drum sound of Tiger’s kit – the sort of fuzz that came off his snare with each tap – has abated, though the snare hits hardly sound punched in and an overall natural, live feel has been maintained between both the drums and Mammut’s bass, which was a standout element of the first record and remains so on Abra Kadavar. As regards Lindemann’s vocals, they are forward in classic rock tradition, but more assured and mature for the band’s road time, and he skillfully follows his own lead lines in the second half of opener “Come Back Life,” the trio having already enacted a formidable shuffle en route to the closing solo. Throughout, there is clear, resonant stylistic growth and as much as Abra Kadavar proves the first album wasn’t a fluke, it also shows the three-piece aren’t necessarily limited to the driving ‘70s heavy rock that they nonetheless so effectively convey on the single, “Doomsday Machine.” The self-titled ended psychedelic and extended with the eight-minute “Purple Sage,” but though they’re shorter, the closing trio of “Liquid Dream,” “Rhythm for Endless Minds” and “Abra Kadabra” show a nascent sonic diversity in Kadavar’s approach that incorporates rocking organ, psych swirl, and a heavy jamming sensibility that underlies much of the band’s work to-date, but has yet to be so blatantly expressed.

Evolution is clear too from the start of “Come Back Life,” which gives Abra Kadavar a no less effective initial groove than “An Industry of Murder” brought to Graveyard’s 2012 third album, Lights Out, despite having little in common in terms of sound. Immediately, Mammut’s bass offers rich, warm low end playing off Lindemann’s guitar, though it winds up being the energy in Tiger’s Bonzo-type fills that propels the track. They arrive quickly at a hook with a build and the lines, “Hello darkness my old friend/I won’t talk to you again,” (or somewhere thereabouts) and repeat the progression twice, but then suddenly it disappears in favor of a return to the verse, Lindemann’s lead lines acting as a riff while Mammut and Tiger hold the rhythm together, and subsequent build into a stop-start stomp progression in which the title line is delivered. It’s a rich, near-irresistible groove, fit to open the album, but I keep wondering when that Simon & Garfunkel referential part will return – perhaps as transition out of the last verse into the final solo – and it never does, leaving the structure more open than it might’ve been on the last album as “Come Back Life” crashes to its finish and fades to give way to the start of “Doomsday Machine.” Certainly the single has all the chorus potency one could possibly ask from Kadavar, but even its placement as the second track instead of the first – the debut having opened with its strongest chorus in “All Our Thoughts” – shows the band are trying something new with their second outing. Mood varies throughout on an almost per-track basis, though songs are consistent in general sound and production, but “Doomsday Machine” is a straightforward highlight, its task and structure simple in execution of a tension-building verse and a payoff chorus of driving riffs and classic heavy grooves. “Doomsday Machine” is almost immediately familiar, true to its intent, and offers few frills to a decades-tested formula, an extra layer of Lindemann’s guitar toward the last verse seeming like a grand addition. Following a final chorus, Kadavar end the single instrumentally, the guitar and bass intertwining leads leaving room for a transitional drum fill that’s a standout, two-second solo hinting of something much more lasting perhaps when delivered on stage.

Third cut “Eye of the Storm” is the longest offering on Abra Kadavar and fuller sounding from the start in its fuzz, perhaps hinting at some of the shifts to come at the end of side B, but its rush is consistent with the two songs before it, Lindemann, Mammut and Tiger aligning in a singular forward purpose made intricate in a post-chorus winding progression that Tiger reins in to bring the band back to the initial drive. It’s a quick six minutes, the first of which is taken up in a building introduction, but the band’s time is no more misused here than anywhere else, which is to say it isn’t at all. The chorus to “Eye of the Storm” is perhaps even more of a payoff than that of “Doomsday Machine,” but the song as a whole has more push, so it’s hard to judge one over the other. Its last runthrough gives way to a three-part conclusion, first playing off the central progression, then taking that to full-on stoner rock riffing (I was reminded of self-titled era Clutch at their bounciest, and not for the last time), then pushing in motor-ready chugging at the last minute. One after the next after the next, Kadavar show a bit of complexity on their way to Abra Kadavar’s bluesiest moment in “Black Snake,” which makes its impression in verse stops and howling leads from Lindemann, Tiger keeping time in hi-hat swagger while Mammut rests momentarily. Dirt rock at its finest. Rife with grit and acute bluesy crotchal thrust, “Black Snake” would be Kadavar’s most 1972 moment to date were it not for the fullness of the low end giving it a deceptively modern sensibility. In line with “Dust” and “Fire,” it’s the first of a straightforward trio of rockers – you could break the album into threes if you want, but it’s much more geared toward two vinyl sides with “Black Snake” ending the first and “Dust” starting the second – that lead into the closing salvo, but as the start of side B, it also functions as a secondary opener, mirroring “Come Back Life” in having a strong sense of movement but being followed by a much catchier track. “Fire” is almost singularly derived from the playbook of early-‘70s Pentagram, its riff, proto-doom stomp and even the vocals seeming to nod at Bobby Liebling. Instrumentally and vocally, however, it’s also one of Abra Kadavar’s catchiest fits, Mammut’s bass driving verse and chorus in kind as a melody emerges in the latter that proves only more infectious on repeat listens. As Lindemann takes a solo and Tiger continues the drum line, it’s once again the bass giving “Fire” its dynamic feel – Kadavar have learned well from the gods of heavy yore. They break to just guitar and cymbal washes as the base for a build back into the chorus for a couple more rounds and end with vocals for the first and only time on the album. If you only get one, they picked the right chorus for it.

And then begins the space rock. They announce “Liquid Dream”’s shift in approach with Hawkwind hits, insistent and building – a big rock finish that’s just the start – and then introduce organ backing the guitar to fill out the verse, Lindemann’s lyrics taking on a suitably psychedelic feel. The rhythm is still plenty riffy and the turn post-chorus plenty Sabbathian, but ultimately, “Liquid Dream” is a transitional movement between the doom rock of “Fire” and blessed-psych of “Rhythm for Endless Minds.” Light touches of Echoplex provide flourish following a two-tiered organ solo, and Kadavar still find room for a Lindemann guitar solo, albeit one more echoed than anything the band has yet presented on Abra Kadavar. The organ and bass match up well beneath, and Tiger is more than up to the task of holding it all together, so as “Liquid Dream” arrives just at its moment of genuine psychedelic swirl, it ends. Listening, you think that’s it, but acoustic guitar and effects soon start “Rhythm for Endless Minds,” and it becomes apparent the trip is just getting going. Riffs meet wah, bass meets fuzz, vocals are watery and dreamy, and even in its changes “Rhythm for Endless Minds” is easily the most psychedelic piece of the overall album’s flow. Perhaps the band wanted to bring in some elements from their “The White Ring” extended jam with Aqua Nebula Oscillator, but they blend that ethic well with their own innate songwriting, so that as much as the track makes its presence felt in the rolling, unfolding groove, it doesn’t forsake a hook to establish one. But for “The White Ring,” I’d call “Rhythm for Endless Minds” the most adventurous track Kadavar have ever done, and when taken in kind with the closing instrumental jam “Abra Kadabra” – a last-minute show of chemistry between Lindemann, Mammut and Tiger that emerges directly from the cut before, but if you told me it was there because the label needed the album to be 40 minutes, I’d believe you – shows just how much the scope has expanded with Abra Kadavar, so that the band wind up embodying much of the breadth of the current European underground, from their retro sound, to space rock affinities to natural, multiply-percussed jamming to trippy effects and synth echoes. If it’s their task to draw together the varied sides of Europe’s heavy, it’s an ambitious one to say the least, but where Kadavar most succeed on Abra Kadavar is in making the listener forget about such concerns and just enjoy following the band as they continue to make difficult things – like writing a pop hook – sound easy. They’ve not at all loosened their grip on their aesthetic, but these songs are neither as raw as their predecessors on the self-titled nor as geared toward a single idea. If that record established Kadavar and announced their arrival, then Abra Kadavar is confirmation of their prowess and a signal that there’s more to them than analog worship and thick grooves. One of several factors it shares in common with Kadavar’s preceding outing, however, is that Abra Kadavar is still loaded with potential for what this band might be able to accomplish.

Kadavar, “Doomsday Machine” Video

Kadavar on Thee Facebooks

Nuclear Blast

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