Kadavar, Rough Times: To Chronicle

kadavar rough times

It feels like every time Kadavar release a new album, it’s a crucial moment for the band. On some level, this has to be because the standard of quality they’ve set for their work continues to seem impossible to maintain over the longer-term. Not that they haven’t earned respect as a special group in more than just their haircuts and fashion sense through their songwriting, constant touring, and three full-lengths to-date —  2015’s Berlin (review here), 2013’s Abra Kadavar (review here) and 2012’s self-titled debut (discussed here) — just that the echelon of craft at which they’ve worked for the last half-decade is exceedingly rare and even more rarely maintained over a stretch of years and releases. Yet, with the arrival of their fourth long-player and third for Nuclear BlastRough Times, one doesn’t at all anticipate the three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Christoph “Lupus” Lindemann, drummer Christoph “Tiger” Bartelt and bassist Simon “Dragon” Bouteloup will fail to meet the expectations of their massive fanbase.

Indeed, if Berlin proved anything at all about the band’s sound in the clearer, more modern, less vintage-minded production approach it brought forth, it’s that Kadavar‘s sonic and aesthetic reach is even greater than anyone could’ve anticipated from the warm, ’70s-fueled sounds of their earliest work. Rough Times, with 10 songs and 44 minutes divided over two distinct LP sides, is no less brazen in pushing even further. Side A cuts like “Into the Wormhole” (video posted here) and “Skeleton Blues” turn the crispness of Berlin on its head with the outright heaviest low end the band has ever conjured and a gnarled-out fuzz in the guitar — see “Into the Wormhole” after about 2:45 especially — that maintains the modernity of the preceding offering and most importantly, the memorable songwriting Kadavar have proffered all along, but is nonetheless immediately distinguished from the rest of their work in intention and execution. They’re a big enough band at this point that opinions on anything they do will be divided, but in listening to Rough Times, the band make their mission clear and accomplish it with poise and purpose alike. If you were anxious, rest easy. Kadavar have done it again.

About that mission, though. The chief clue would seem to be right there in the title Rough Times. Through the initial tumbling chaos of the opening title-track, the key-laced weirdness of “Into the Wormhole,” the “fake news” reference in the nod-stomp of “Skeleton Blues” and even the later drift of “The Lost Child,” Kadavar seek to capture something essential about the moment in which we live. As an American hearing songs like “Skeleton Blues” and the thrust-laden urgency of side B opener “Tribulation Nation,” my mind immediately turns to politics, and for Germans whose home country has been called the last and best hope for stewardship of the European Union, the case may or may not be the same, but Rough Times avoids direct engagement with the issues of the day in favor of a more general impression of the confusion and pessimism engendered thereby.

That’s not to say there’s no hope, which one readily finds in the penultimate romance of “You Found the Best in Me” — though it’s only fair to be skeptical of sentiment coming from Kadavar after “Pale Blue Eyes” (video posted here) from Berlin turned out to be an inside joke written by Lindemann about Bartelt in a dress — but especially as the first half of Rough Times proceeds into the horrors of “Die Baby Die” and “Vampires,” the impression is unquestionably the darker than any of Kadavar‘s prior output. And it’s supposed to be. That’s the point.


Particularly through “Rough Times,” “Into the Wormhole,” “Skeleton Blues,” “Die Baby Die” and “Vampires,” with flourish of keys in and out among the guitar bass and drums, varied tonality, still-righteous hooks and melodicism from Lindemann on vocals, Rough Times channels the turbulence of 2017 — and thankfully, it does so with none of the exhausting despair that each week seems to bring. Instead, even “Vampires” keeps an uptempo swing behind its midsection solo, and “Die Baby Die” stands among the catchiest tracks Kadavar have ever written. Likewise, as “Tribulation Nation” and “Words of Evil” begin to transition into side B, the former with perhaps the most direct political theme here in its lyrics, they mark the starting point of an expansion that will push outward in multiple directions until atmospheric, French-language spoken word closer “À L’Ombre du Temps” (“to the shadow of the times”) brings Rough Times to its end.

The turn that commences with “Tribulation Nation” is key, since while “Into the Wormhole” and “Die Baby Die” and “Skeleton Blues,” etc., certainly have their mood and ambient aspects, the rhythm of the side B opener is practically space rock in its approach, and each song that follows — “Words of Evil,” “The Lost Child,” “You Found the Best in Me” and “À L’Ombre du Temps,” in that order — offers something different from its surroundings. In the case of “Words of Evil,” that’s a motor-ready chug of a riff feeling in conversation with the post-Priest vibe of Berlin‘s “Into the Night,” brought to bear over a quick-running three and a half minutes light on frills other perhaps than some echo on Lindemann‘s vocals and a winding groove that feels likely to build momentum on stage as well as it does leading into “The Lost Child,” which immediately turns again. An intro of keys lead the way to softer tom hits as part of a subdued verse topped with eerie crooning, and though the chorus will bring a swell of volume and tone, the longest track on Rough Times at 5:52 shifts just before its fourth minute into acoustic-strummed, whistle-inclusive Spaghetti Westernism, ending with sampled waves to set the stage for Tiger‘s drum intro to fluidly begin “You Found the Best in Me,” on which Kadavar marry Beatlesian pop hooks with Skynyrd-derived Southern rock in a way that, after the reaches of the previous track and the morose spirit of some of the other material surrounding, is a welcome moment of relief.

The message in the context of the rest of the album? Whatever or whoever the song is actually about, it would seem to be that we’ve still got each other. And fair enough. “You Found the Best in Me”‘s classic feel is the strongest tie on Rough Times to Kadavar‘s first two records, but while its roots are classic, there’s precious little about it looking to retread either their own or anyone else’s past. Instead, like “The Lost Child” before and “À L’Ombre du Temps” after, it finds the trio once again in new territory, and as its finish moves into the keys, background drones and whispers of “À L’Ombre du Temps,” the flow of side B is only further emphasized — all the more a masterful realization given the range — and the quiet epilogue comes across as no more out of place than any of the brash stylistic changes before it.

Granted, “À L’Ombre du Temps” isn’t without a spiritual predecessor either — a cover of Nico‘s “Reich der Träume” was included as a bonus track on the last album — but still, as an original piece and in its place as the last statement on Rough Times, it stands out in a way very much intended to be striking, and it is. One might take it as a last-minute confirmation of the fact that, four LPs deep into their tenure, Kadavar are able to go where they please in theme and sound alike, but as relates to the rest of Rough Times surrounding, the closer is one more example of the strength of their songwriting and their ability to work within multiple contexts to create not just landmark individual singles like “Die Baby Die” or “Tribulation Nation,” but an album as an entirety that’s strengthened by the various sides of personality shown throughout. In this, Kadavar prove once more why they’ve become one of the most crucial heavy rock acts currently going, and as they engage with the roughness of our times in theme and sound, they almost can’t seem to help but make the days a little easier to endure.

Kadavar, “Into the Wormhole” official video

Kadavar, “Die Baby Die” official video

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