Katla – Embryo (2016)

“Take my hand, let me in, to your soul
Don’t fight back, you are in, my control”

katla-embryo-lp

I’ve been waiting years for this one—so long it’s effectively a posthumous release. Katla put out a great 45 in 2013, especially the A-side “I Will Hunt You” which betrayed that they’d had a dose of Shocking Blue. This, their debut album was recorded more than 2 years ago, and one of the two Ekelunds in the band (siblings I presume) is officially out. That doesn’t leave a lot of hope for the band, but at least we’ve got this very fine recorded document of modern-retro Swedish psych rock.

“Horsehead” is unleashed with pounding drums, a heavy bass groove, soaring theremin and some super heavy riffage. Lisa Ekelund sings in English with a husky voice, and gets as much mileage from cooing “ooo ooo oooo” as she does when powerfully imploring “You can’t break free – you WILL break free!” “Eat, Sleep, Die” is one gear up from a Sabbath-like sludge, while “Endless Journey” starts more subdued before they’re off to space again, navigated by Lisa’s theremin. “Embryo” too hums along with some subtle textures including bongos and the barely-detectable first appearance of violin (which had been prominent on their single’s B-side) before gaining considerable heat. “Circles” adds still more to the sonic palette, including an organ part and the album’s first violin solo, before breaking out an intense coda. Lisa plays unaccompanied on “Illusion” before a wall of sound is erected behind her. It may be the most epic song here, and while the lyrics I can make out are routine overall, opening this one with an indignant “Where is your imagination?!” is pretty effective. (If I’m focusing on Lisa it’s because I need more music from women in my life, and what I have tends to be pretty rockin’. The dudes here are Nils, Nilz and Johan). This is a band that is inclined towards expansion, but the compact “Collusion” may be my favorite thing here, and is positively romantic (“I will follow you, I want to be with you, where do we go now, go now? Take me where you want to.”). The closer is the eerily and evocatively-titled “A Black, Slimy, Smooth And Tongue Shaped Form.” With a galloping hi-hat and Iron Maiden-ish axework, it sounds like it could pass as a lost classic from the new wave of British heavy metal, but quickly aims for Hawkwind territory with swirling theremin and overdriven guitars. Like “I’m Your Queen” (one of their oldest songs, previously appearing on a split cassette) we are at the narrator’s mercy—”You are under my control, forever in my grip.”

I don’t know, after 4-5 spins I’m still not convinced they achieve full flight, perhaps a little too tightly harnessed here, though I haven’t yet had the opportunity to truly crank it. Will this still gestating band evolve from their current “inactive” status? If they could get it together and back in collusion I hope they’d gamely ask: “Where do we go now?”

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