Musicianship. That’s what the essence of Taake’s seventh studio release, Kong Vinter (tr. King Winter) is about. And if you’re surprised by this very assertion, you simply haven’t attempted to understand Taake.
The record begins with what I think is the greatest song on this release, “Sverdets Vei.” Hoest, who plays all the instruments on Kong Vinter, gives us a snow-covered, wind-swept foray into his thoughts and emotions. It is apparent Hoest has been listening to a great deal of the Cure and other dark wave bands from the early 1980’s. Yes, you’re going to hear the second wave black metal trademarked tremolo picking but it’s underneath a variety of Robert Smith influenced leads. Even Hoest’s basswork sounds like it comes from 1980, but amped up just enough for his custom Norwegian metal sound. This is a song you need to listen through a great set of headphones or cranked real loud via high quality speakers in order to get the full array of sounds and layers Hoest composes.
The second cut, “Inntengrer,” starts off in typical dark and aggressive Taake fashion but quickly ascends into some rather heavy groove. Again, Hoest shows us that he is a master at bass and can play drums in a manner that is closer to jazz and rock and roll than black metal. The song doesn’t follow any conventional formula and it will take a good number of listens to actually discern what’s happening and why. Hoest is just not going to let the listener get away with figuring out any of his composition on this record without a significant amount of effort and this effort comes most strenuously about 3:50 in when we get a third time change in the track and a move towards the higher register on the lead guitar. Of course, he’s not done with you and at 5:00 there’s another path of twists and turns.
If you are concerned about getting only a less aggressive, more progressive Hoest, don’t worry. Track 5, “Jernhaand,” is traditional tremolo metal rocker that’s uptempo and unrelenting. Hoest gives us some intense leadwork and some fuzzed out bass. Musicianship is going to smack you in the face again with this track when you realize that Hoest isn’t looking to just use a handful of sounds or themes on this record. Rather you get bass lines and effects unique to the track and layered guitars that draw from Western Norway but also give a twang from blues based rock.
“Maanebrent” follows “Jernhaand” and it too is another fast-paced rocker, but with a bit more groove and, dare I say… funk here and there. The end of the song is a treat as Hoest melds together the guitars, drums and bass into an amalgam of sound that showcases the talents of an artist who is painfully misunderstood by so many music listeners. It’s almost as if Hoest write the last three and a half minutes of this track to demonstrate what he’s capable of in terms of instrumental prowess and compositional dynamism.
The final track, “Fra Bjoergegrend mot Glernselen,” is an instrumental. It will take the listener a good 15-20 spins to fully figure out this song. There are so many time changes, so many themes and variations and a multitude of brief passages that are just going to keep you guessing as to where the song is headed and why its headed there. This song is Taake’s most progressive to date and probably most adventurous in terms of composition.
In all, Kong Vinter is the progressive record his long-time fans will love and admire. For the uninitiated and those fearful of Taake (which is 90% of North American metal fans), they will either brush this off or claim that the music is too “haphazard” to comprehend. I’m ok with that. Taake has never been easy to understand and has always been a challenge to appreciate. The media has never once given Hoest a fair shake and has constantly jumped to conclusions about his art, his dispositions and his personality. Of course, the media couldn’t be more wrong when it comes to Taake. Upon my tenth or eleventh listen of this record there was a moment during “Inntrenger” that I came to realize that I’m listening to one of the greatest metal composers of our time. As rough as Hoest is in terms of appearance, live persona, and lyrical content, he is undoubtedly brilliant, painstakingly methodical and unequivocally gifted. Kong Vinter is signature Hoest, at his next level. You probably can’t handle it.