Kong is a band that refuses to be pigeonholed; just as you think you’ve got what they are about, they change. Often the changes are quite small – a slightly different rhythm or addition of a sound effect or sample – but the compound effect is to leave the listener ever so slightly off balance.
You could say the sound is rock or metal (there are certainly heavy guitars, bass and drums – but no vocals on any of the 12 tracks); then again it has moments of punk and doom; and it makes wide use of samples and electronica. It’s heavy, avant-garde and decidedly tricky to pin down.
Originally formed in 1988, the Dutch band has seen various line-up changes over the years, released six albums and been involved in various other compilations. In 2000, after 12 years as a going concern, they entered a hiatus that was to last until 2007 when bassist Mark D decided to reform the band with a new set of musicians. “What It Seems Is What You Get” is a product of that line-up.
Released on the Kongenial label, it’s an album that has been around for some time now; but despite that it’s still a contemporary piece of work. It is individual enough not to be tied to a particular fashion, and left-field enough to be surprising and original.
Kong has made a live habit of occupying separate corners of concert halls, producing a sound that their website describes as ‘three-dimensional’ and a ‘”moving” soundscape’. Inevitably that method of playing must have had an impact on the band, with each musician effectively in their own little bubble. Indeed, a song like “The Imposter Syndrome” has a complexity of composition which suggests a band that, while not exactly at odds with one another, is quite happy to occupy their own space musically. The good news is that it works well as a whole, with each part coalescing into an integrated song structure. It’s also one of the album’s more restrained songs, with a slightly unusual time signature, that finishes with lush, sweeping strings.
With heaviness as the unifying thread, the other songs offer a variety of styles and methods of delivery: “Overcrowd/Underdog” sounds like a dance beat with an excellent driving guitar riff and bass line, while “Tenfold Right” – given vocals and slightly different production – has something of The Cult about it, swaggering and swaying as it does, demanding that you tap your feet. “Musclebound Elf” uses a heavy riff underpinned by electronic sounds and a quite unlikely vocal sample; it changes tempo mid-way and makes use of some twin guitar harmonies before segueing into another great riff. “Factorum Inconstantum” is doom metal interspersed with ambient sections, making use of a quiet/loud dynamic.
Kong is clearly a band in search of original ways of doing things, of sounds that will add colour and interest to their music. It is a method that produces continual interest for the listener, and a style that rewards repeated listening. “What It Seems Is What You Get” is named well, provided that what it seems to the listener is something a little out of the ordinary. If heavy, original and off the wall is your thing, then Kong could well be the band for you.