Firstly, it’s worth addressing that a band as unusual as Kælan Mikla (roughly translated into English as: ‘The Cool Mass’) can often puzzle fans that are into metal – where they often get the ‘wrong end of the stick’. It’s far too easy to make lazy comparisons along the lines of “Oooh, it’s a bit Nine Inch Nails” – filing them in the same pigeon hole as Chelsea Wolfe and Myrkur. To do such a thing, is a grave injustice to the band as whole. Familiarize yourself with the works of Joy Division, Xmal Deutschland, Clan of Xymox, and the first wave of post punk/darkwave bands – then it becomes clearer. Early experimental bands such as Fad Gadget, Einstürzende Neubauten, DAF, and Kraftwerk brought new ideas to the table which affected the post punk, new wave, and metal scenes. It certainly didn’t start with Nine Inch Nails and Combichrist. In fact, Cabaret Voltaire’s works – notably the track “Sex, Money, Freaks” is essentially the genesis for countless bands that became an homage, subliminally or otherwise.
Kælan Mikla are a trio from Iceland, initially formed almost by accidental experimentation. Sólveig Matthildur wrote slam poetry and doodled around with synthesisers, and Margrét Rósa played bass, combining the efforts of Laufey Soffia as the mouthpiece for this musical vehicle. Upon their first live appearance, they where apprehensive as to what would occur – but their fears remained completely unfounded when they made people’s minds explode. Even more incredibly, so potent was this inadvertent musical triumvirate they were soon up to their necks in requests to play venues, and sought to seek a booking agency. The band was dealt with a “Letter from God”, when Robert Smith of The Cure invited them to play Meltdown Festival in London to support Placebo, helping the band’s exposure significantly.
Nótt eftir nótt (Night By Night) is the third album from Kælan Mikla, and is a more polished affair than their previous two albums, Mánadans (Moon Dance), and their chronological self titled debut which are significantly more stark, sounding like a bizarre genetic experiment involving Joy Division and Portishead. This isn’t to say that Nótt eftir nótt is accessible pop music, it’s far from it, but the maturity and progression of musicianship and presentation is self-evident when you listen to ‘Nornalagið’ (Witch Song), with its Depeche Mode-esque keyboard flourishes and harmonized vocals. In this track, they sound like the Sugar Cubes have taken a bunch of darkwave pills and decided to party their arses off in a basement city nightclub filled with dry ice, PVC, pints of snake bite, crimped hair, coiffured mohawks, and winkle picker boots.
‘Hvernig kemst ég upp?’ (How Do I Get Up?) evokes the spirit the Joy Division, the mysterious Icelandic singing and whispering evokes a juxtaposition of ethereal fragility and dramatic power, giving the track a dream like soundscape akin to the soundtrack of a Stilton cheese fueled weird dream that haunts your brain for days. Equally noteworthy is ‘Skuggadans’ (Shadow Dance), which is reminiscent of the latter day synth heavy works of Clan of Xymox that after repeated listens is a brooding slow grower, compared to ‘Næturblóm’ (Night Flower) which is an almost immediately accessible track. ‘Nótt eftir nótt’ (Night By Night) harks back to the strident vocal delivery as heard in their earlier works, with a potent emotional delivery that’d lose all sense of drama if sung in English.
Kælan Mikla have refined their art exponentially, and is without question Nótt eftir nótt is one of the most dramatic albums released in 2018. Granted, they’re an acquired taste unless you have decent knowledge of the post punk scene. However, if they catch you in the right mood, you’ll find yourself disappearing down a musical rabbit hole investigating similar post punk, darkwave, and bands of a true goth nature.