Krieg’s heady musical career is one characterised by an impressive multitude when it comes to both its equally staggering list of (mostly) ex-band members and the band’s musical offerings. The band’s earliest traces can be tracked back as early as 1994, but in the years as Krieg, from 1997 onwards, the band, whose only permanent focal point is vocalist Neill “Imperial” Jameson, made a significant contribution to what we now think of as American Black Metal (USBM).
Those decades of music (the band has always been hugely prolific) have not only provided highlights, however. In fact, it is pretty safe to say that of all the influential American Black Metal bands, Krieg (along with Black Funeral) has faced the most criticism and has not been taken seriously by a long shot. The question is always how justified that is and when we now, anno 2023, look back (or rather, listen back) with an objective view, there is really no other conclusion than that Krieg certainly has a musical legacy to be proud of.
OK, some of the albums or (many) EPs will always remain at the bottom of the lists of least favourites, e.g. ‘The Church’ EP (2001) and the somewhat peculiar ‘Patrick Bateman’ EP (2004) will never become crowd favourites, nor will some of the more recent releases ever be fully embraced because of their twinge with Hardcore or other genres. But, whenever a new Krieg album is forthcoming, my interest is always rekindled anyway. Because of the versatility of the band’s musical background and Neill & Co.’s certain unpredictability, you never know exactly what you’re in for…
To start off with a conclusion of sorts, ‘Ruiner’, the band’s first album on a bigger quality label (forgetting Candlelight Records, who releases ‘Transient’ in 2014), sounds like a something that we could call a career-retrospective album. It breathes a full-on Black Metal atmosphere that was not exactly present at each and every of Krieg’s releases of the past 15 years or so. ‘Ruiner’ really sounds like some sort of back-to-basics album that even harkens back to the very early days on their USBM-defining ‘Destruction Ritual’ album from 2001. It displays a rather bare and open riff-based kind of Black Metal that leaves enough room for atmosphere and interesting song structures. That is also where the career-oversight part comes in: while it certainly sounds more genuinely “old school” than many of its preceding records, it is surely a way better record, musically, than any of the band’s early recordings. Obviously the band has progressed into far better musicians with a clear vision of how to craft a song which can be as catchy as it can be dark and haunting.
Opener ‘Bulwark’ is maybe the best example of the band that stays true to its initial game plan but expertly updated to the standards of contemporary Black Metal. Not by means to try to fit in today’s trends, but certainly in terms of the use of eerie melodies and the slightly contrarian way of song crafting. And then there is the productional part as well. Of course ‘Ruiner’ sounds miles away from the extremely raw and crude affair that was ‘Destruction Ritual’, not to mention ‘The Church’ EP, but even compared to some of the more recent Krieg recordings, ‘Ruiner’ is an impressively sounding album. The production is both clear as well as dark and heavy while still maintaining enough rawness to uphold any of the genre’s trademark aesthetics.
This thoroughly better sound also allows the band to better display their penchant for these uncomfortable, haunting melodies. When the pace slows down a little, the album gets into more atmospheric territories where it shows their ability to deliver some utterly compelling and eerie soundscapes that are in no way inferior to the better work from the Depressive Black Metal field. Take for instance the closing ‘The Lantern And The Key’, a breathtaking composition in which Neill gives possibly his very best vocal performance with his chilling screams. What a way to end an album!
While Krieg will probably never be the flagbearer of the American Black Metal scene (and who cares?), ‘Ruiner’ does show that the band is unquestionably among the best the continent has to offer. And even within the Krieg discography, without short-changing the releases of the past ten-plus years, ‘Ruiner’ really stands out head and shoulders above perhaps everything the band has shown to date.