Album Review: KADAVAR Rough Times
Prologue: if there's one thing metal fans love to argue about it's "who was first"? If there are two things the second would be "are the band really metal though?" The two questions are interrelated in that you can't answer the former until you've established a working definition of the latter, which leads to a pretty narrow debate on the origins of the genre, not to mention a lot of historical revisionism in regards to bands that definitely would have been considered "metal" in the 70's or 80's, but are now deemed too soft to fit the description. So while the common consensus now seems to be that Black Sabbath are the legit head vampire in this bloodsucking enterprise, the fact is that their first album hardly reinvented heavy rock as a whole overnight… or even within that first decade. People often dismiss bands like Led Zeppelin or Blue Cheer as True Metal because those bands often created individual songs that were definitely not metal, but that's kind of the point: metal didn't happen overnight, and many of the early progenitors still had ties and influences to the acid rock, prog and blues rock that was still popular at the time.
Which brings us to present by way of the past with Kadavar and bands of their ilk. Drawing on a rich vein of period-specific sounds – in this case the woolly hard rock of the 70's – these retro bands seek to recapture a time when heavy rock and metal were still experiencing a large degree of cross-pollination. A formal division of the two closely related genres didn't really exist until the advent of thrash, power metal and doom in the early-to-mid 80's, though one could argue that the fiercely contested split between punk and new wave in the late 70's spilled over into debate about authenticity in the adjacent metal community as well.
Kadavar and their brethren look to return to a simpler time of looser restrictions and greater creative freedom, even as they do so by closely mimicking existing templates from 40+ years ago. The value in these efforts is not just that it turns younger fans on to forgotten sounds of yore, but also that they offer a clever alternate history by pretending the past 30 years of innovations in heavy music didn't happen, instead taking up a long discarded torch and evolving the sounds of the early 70's along a parallel tangent.
Kadavar in particularly have gotten progressively heavier in their peak moments since debuting on record five years ago, and 2015's Berlin represented their strongest outing yet, a tightly composed set of 11 originals and one Nico cover that focused on accessible songcraft and earworm hooks. This year's Rough Times lacks the consistent immediacy of the band's previous album – there's no "Last Living Dinosaur", exactly – upping the ante on grandiosity and volume instead. There's a little something here for everyone, where songs like "Skeleton Blues" and "Into the Wormehole" show the band picking up a newly found penchant for the dank-soaked sounds of stoner doom, whereas "The Lost Child" and "You Found the Best in Me" stick to the warm, acid-laced grooves of the late 60's/early 70's. "A L'Ombre Du Temps" is the real outlier here, a feature-length French spoken word outro that really only functions as a contrast to the rest of the album, but it shows a newfound willingness to deviate from formula and experiment a bit. "Words of Evil" is a credible Sabbath knock off that balances homage and skill with a deft hand.
Even the lighter fare (by volume standards) like "Die Baby Die" and "Tribulation Nation" have a dark streak to them that was only fleetingly present on previous efforts. This foreboding theme manages to effectively unify the diverse sonic panoply that spans Rough Times' 11 tracks and give the whole structure. On the other hand, the diversity of music here rewards repeated dives into the album's riches whereas Kadavar's prior longplayers – with their greater emphasis on accessibility – maybe didn't have the same legs on them. It's difficult to call this an objectively superior album to Berlin, but it offers a fresh look at a band that may have been in danger of getting long in the tooth just four albums into their career.