Nuclear Blast Records
Forget the fuzzed-out riffs and the monster choruses, forget the facial hair and silk-and-velvet trappings; the single most ‘70’s thing about Kadavar might be their work ethic. The German stoner-psych trio has been in perpetual motion since their 2010 debut, locked in an album-tour-album-tour cycle that harkens back to the days of their musical forefathers, when bands plied and honed their craft through countless live shows and more than a year between records was simply unheard of. The end result of this ideology couldn’t be more evident. The band has become an incendiary live act, and each of their albums has built on the strengths of its predecessor. To say that trend continues here is a massive understatement; 2015’s Berlin was one of that year’s best albums, but with Rough Times, Kadavar may end up with the 2017 title all to themselves.
The needle hits the groove, and a fleeting moment of squelching feedback gleams like light flickering off the edge of an oncoming blade. Just as quickly it’s gone, engulfed by the BLAM-BLAM-BLAM, zero-to-warp onslaught of the title track, with its propulsive verse and snotty chorus building to a turbo-charged low-end elephant stampede of a bridge. “Into the Wormehole” is a sci-fi stoner-glam romp, thick and heavy as all hell but still bouncy and buoyant and fun (which is a word that we don’t get to use nearly often enough in metal reviews nowadays); unlike way too many of their contemporaries, Kadavar sound like they’re having a blast, and their enthusiasm is palpable and pervasive throughout the whole of Rough Times.
“Skeleton Blues” reminded me of Tool minus a metric ton or two of their sullen austerity, crisp and precise while still strutting and swaggering. The bridge is straight off The Wall, with a chorus that churns with a late-80’s/early-90’s alt-metal feel reminiscent of Jane’s Addiction or Saigon Kick. The album’s lead single, the hepped-up, double-time murder ballad “Die Baby Die,” is a garage-style rocker anchored by the nimble fingers of Simon “Dragon” Bouteloup, who takes its walking bassline out for a good brisk run.
Maybe the album’s strongest track, “Vampires” sashays in like a Toys in the Attic outtake before sliding into a slinky, sexy (which is another word we don’t get to use often enough in metal reviews nowadays) groove on the verse. Christoph “Lupus” Lindemann’s vocals shine here, both in his crystalline delivery on the verse and in the massive Berlin-Rock-City chorus, where he bears a more than passing vocal resemblance to Scorpions frontman Klaus Meine. For the solo, the trio shift into a full-on Texas boogie, Bouteloupe and drummer Christoph “Tiger” Bartelt locked in tight while Lindemann spends several bars making sweet love to a wah pedal. “Vampires” is like a whole album’s worth of rockin’ in the space of one song; it’s heady, heavy stuff.
One of the constant thoughts I had while poring over Rough Times was that these songs absolutely scream to be played live. As recorded, they’re heavy-duty rock; in a live setting they just might take your head off. “Well, there’s your opener” was the first thing that crossed my mind when I heard “Tribulation Nation,” with its steady build and inexorable pulse leading to a shoutalong chorus and a couple of acid-rock cosmic freakouts. “Words of Evil” is a chugging, charging rocker, a bad-news muscle car that reeks of dirt weed and bad intentions. It reminded me very much of the more uptempo moments in Black Mountain’s catalog (and also made me decide that Kadavar/Black Mountain might be my dream tour; if anybody reading this could make that happen, I sure would appreciate it).
The songs that make up Rough Times’ closing suite are a stylistic departure from the full-throttled bong-ripping bonerattlers that precede them, but they’re no less impactful. The prayerful paean to the past “The Lost Child” is a Doors-style organ/electric piano lament with a beefed-up power pop firecracker of a chorus, while “You Found the Best in Me” is quite simply the single best southern rock power ballad I’ve ever heard a German stoner metal band do, the Black Crowes minus the back-up singers and hippie inclinations. As a palette cleanser, we’re left with the beautiful and slightly unsettling “A L’Ombre du Temps,” a French recitation accompanied by ghostly guitar, organ and increasingly spooky and dissonant washes of feedback.
Kadavar crafts thoroughly modern machinery forged from veins of classic ore. They manage to avoid the sludge pits and prog pretensions that bloat and bog down way too many of today’s records; their philosophy/mantra of “minimal arrangement, maximum effect” ensures that at no point does Rough Times become a slog or overstay its welcome. The musicianship, songwriting, and production on display here are all top flight, full and hefty without ever being overbearing or burdensome. Current and retro, familiar and cutting edge, Rough Times is a rollicking, bracing blast of pure rock power. If you’re the sort that reads reviews of hard rock albums (and obviously you are), I can’t recommend it highly enough.