Across their entrancing new full-length record Ice Fleet, the currently Estonia-based atmospheric post-metal group Kauan share a bracing musical trek that sounds on par with — as its title suggests — standing on the deck of a slowly sinking ship as icy water ominously seeps through the cracks of the wreckage.
Experiencing the progression of demise can be debilitatingly chilling, and the album provides a frigid look its all-encompassingly morose musical surroundings. It’s rhythmically sharp — thereby seeming extra personal — yet startlingly expansive.
Although there are barely any lyrics on the consistently moving album, the group takes conceptual cues from the story of the discovery of a stranded fleet of ships off the northern coast of Russia in 1930. Sounds like the slowly creaking wood of a ship actually appear on the memorable new record.
The music often feels pointed yet unsettling, featuring tones that land with heavily resounding thuds, as though the shuddering guitars reflect splashes from chunks of ice hitting the water after suddenly crashing into a looming iceberg. When, on “Taistelu,” Kauan roll out a suddenly fuller mix, it’s like disorientingly chilly waves suddenly surging over the side of that ship as the thunderously rolling riffs proceed.
Destruction is here, and there’s an undertow of grief in the quiet descent into the expanse that the album reflects, because there’s some serious anguish in the rattlingly creaking rhythms. When the music quiets back down, it’s like gradually succumbing to the chilly water. The pace often stays contemplative, amplifying feelings of meditative solitude.
Rhythms across Ice Fleet often seem relatively straightforward, unfurling via reverie-like repetition, and this element introduces something like inward acceptance of the depths, but it’s not necessarily as though real relief has suddenly appeared. Instead, a kind of acceptance seems like the only available option — the riff-induced foggy atmosphere of the album stretches onward exponentially. Kauan explore the shimmering beauty of the natural world even as humanity prepares to meet its inevitable demise within it.
There’s a somewhat esoteric quality stretching across this record’s vast expanse, and this element comes into particular focus as Ice Fleet rolls into its conclusion on penultimate track “Ote” and album closer “Hauta,” although it’s detectable elsewhere like in the steadily lush rhythmic surges of “Taistelu.” Across the album but especially in these moments, the music feels imbued with a stirring sense of finality, as though peering across a broad watery horizon and realizing just how far that the icy depths go. The songwriting aches yet seems strong.
It’s sobering, really — the album seems existentially reorienting, pushing its central perspective outward and revealing new sources of ethereal light, with consistently breathable yet jarringly grandiose stretches of sound. “Kutsu” features driving rhythms like a sudden surge of desperate urgency and fiery resolve to fight against the approaching ice, but follow-up track “Raivo” features cracks of heavy riffs, highlighting the certitude of the situation, with something like forced stillness. Out in nature, that stillness is mixed with strain, and the journey is truly compelling.
Despite the undercurrent of tension, Ice Fleet feels overlaid by shimmering majesty like that of the natural environment in which its concept operates. Overall, the record seems to capture something like the quiet just after an upending storm — it’s powerful, yet restrained, offering a chance for contemplation of its breadth. The journey proves elevating, and as the album reaches its end, the music gets especially illuminating, with shimmering synth tones alongside poignant keys, like light beaming off an iceberg. The melodies that drive Ice Fleet feel beautifully stark, cutting across the chilly fog with sharp clarity.
Ice Fleet by Kauan is available via Artoffact Records.