Album Review: Craneium, Point of No Return

Craneium Point of No Return

Each successive full-length from Turku, Finland’s Craneium up to this point has been a progressive step forward from the one before it. It’s where that progression has brought them that makes their fourth long-player, Point of No Return, a special moment. As the sweeping, lush and gorgeous crescendo of opening track “One Thousand Sighs” to its final peak — a tonally rich and urgent but not too fast chug pushed forward by emphatic snare carefully placed in the mix, surrounded by layers of melodic vocals in a dynamic movement that prefaces the encompassing breadth of much of what follows before dropping with residual echo to a sentimental intertwining of acoustic and electric guitar as denouement across the last 40 seconds of its 5:34 — the band’s mastery is glaringly obvious, a brightness cast in kind with the Jaime Zuverza cover art. Point of No Return is the four-piece’s second outing backed by The Sign Records after 2021’s Unknown Heights (review here), and sees them working again with that album’s producer, Joona Hassinen, who also mastered late-2018’s The Narrow Line (review here), at a Studio Underjord now relocated from Norrköping to Finspång, Sweden, while Karl Daniel Lidén of Stockholm’s Studio Gröndahl handled the mix and master.

Across the six songs and deceptively-expansive 37 minutes, whether it’s in the underlying performances of guitarist/vocalists Andreas Kaján and Martin Ahlö, bassist Jonas Ridberg and drummer Joel Kronqvist, or the more-than-the-sum-of-its-parts grandeur they cast in the memorable choruses of “One Thousand Sighs,” “The Sun,” “A Distant Shore,” “…Of Laughter and Cries,” “Things Have Changed” and “Search Eternal” — yeah, that’s all six; it’s front-to-back — or the way even the most impact-minded stretches complement and maintain the atmospheres harnessed through contemplative, patient, purposeful semi-drift, the overarching mastery can’t be ignored. More than a decade on from first getting together in 2011 and nine years after their debut LP, Explore the Void, got them picked up by Ripple Music for a 2016 release, Craneium present themselves as mature and intentional in their craft, graceful in rhythm and melody alike, and aware of what they want their songs to be doing and how they want each to inform the greater context and undulating flow of the album as a whole.

This is conveyed in Frida Eurenius of Spiral Skies guesting on vocals to help put that already-noted apex of “One Thousand Sighs” over the top, as well as Skraeckoedlan‘s Robert Lamu contributing lead guitar to “The Sun” — I’ll note also what seem to be keyboard or piano strikes in that song’s verse; Lamu‘s band employed similar urgency in “Mysteria” from their own new album for a nice shout-out — and, for a just-them example, the way the final solo of “A Distant Shore” holds its tension in Kronqvist‘s soon-fading toms as the non-lyric vocals (ready for an audience singalong as much as they are an epilogue), far-back Mellotron and airy guitar end side A only to have the initial crash of “…Of Laughter and Cries” immediately reground with the more uptempo groove that follows. With a direct shift, that bit of contrast echoes how the buildup of “The Sun,” which is Point of No Return‘s most fervent shove, responds to the quiet finish of “One Thousand Sighs” just before, and though the interaction changes as the couple seconds of silence on side B between the penultimate “Things Have Changed” — the chugging verse and declarative chorus of which mirror “The Sun” in their grounded execution — and “Search Eternal” are tense with anticipation, Craneium nonetheless feel mindful in these pairings and their arrangement across the two sides, each set up such that its procession complements the other.


The split on the vinyl version (I’m not sure there is a CD; take that, ’90s heads), between “A Distant Shore” and “…Of Laughter and Cries,” makes for three songs on each side, and the symmetry of construction extends to “A Distant Shore” (7:35) and “Search Eternal” (7:23) each as the longest running track among its respective three. It’s not the most radical difference between those and the others between five and six minutes long, but still a choice that feels purposeful, especially as “Search Eternal” enters its final outward-pointed movement in a midsection marked by near-elephantine keyboard swells and cycles of guitar that, indeed, seem to be exploring and finding their way forward. And that “Search Eternal” has a hook in its early going is no less representative of Point of No Return as a whole.

On sound alone, it and “A Distant Shore” both work as grand finales. The side-A-capper plunging into Mellotron-laced melancholy and a post-stoner float, and its chorus stands ready to imprint itself on your brain, but the way its riff hits more straight-on before the cymbal wash and danger-zone guitar lead into a heavier rush — still methodical in the detailing with key or guitar sounds peppered in the momentary tumult — before the solo brings “A Distant Shore” to a head and it recedes into the aforementioned, immersive ending, Ridberg‘s bass and Kronqvist‘s drums tasked with keeping feet on the ground through the transition as the melody and ambience lend an aspect of drama without feeling like Craneium have pushed too far and gotten lost. What makes “Search Eternal” function so well where it does is how it emphasizes the fluidity of everything preceding. Beginning with resonant low end fuzz and moving swiftly into its verse, it lacks nothing for fullness of sound at its heaviest — and the mix is a significant space to fill — but Point of No Return would be a much different album if volume was its only priority.

Further, the ease with which they turn from a few measures of bombast to the march-through-the-cosmos instrumental ending, while evocative of the stated climate-crisis thematic, underscores the point of the directorial role they’ve played a songwriters. It’s not that they’ve given up the riffy foundations from whence they’ve come, but while the core “The Sun” could be read as extrapolated from Songs for the Deaf-era Queens of the Stone Age, there’s no denying that Craneium take that particular charge and use it toward their own ends. That, coupled with the care and attention so clearly paid to the root performances and the additional layers constructed around them, affirms Point of No Return as the defining statement of Craneium‘s tenure thus far. Accordingly, where their own ‘search eternal,’ i.e., their collective ambitions in sound, craft and expression, might take them from here feels broader in possibility than it ever has.

Craneium, “Things Have Changed” official video

Craneium, “One Thousand Sighs” official video

Craneium, Point of No Return (2024)

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