Zeitgeister Music, that German label/family of bands that thrills as many metal fans as it befuddles, always seems to have one band in that “nailin’ it” groove at any given time. For a while, it was black metallers Klabautamann, then eerie death/doom/gothers Valborg wore the crown for an extended period, releasing a handful of good-to-great albums in quick succession. Lately, the label’s ace act has been Christian Kolf’s Owl, a project that started with dense death metal aspirations and has since introduced fair amounts of doom, all while maintaining a love for ambient music.
After two very strong full lengths, Owl has gone the EP route in 2014, starting with Into the Absolute this spring and continuing with this lengthy, one-track release The Last Walk. While Kolf has done plenty of long form songs in the past, “The Last Walk” is easily the longest track he has penned under the Owl name that actually includes any metal (the only song longer is the half hour ambient track on the debut). It is also a separation in that there is nary an ounce of death metal contained here. Rather, this focuses on the minimalist doom and lush ambient aspects, resembling the longer Jesu material to a certain degree, but due to the dash of sparse goth rock, most notably in Kolf’s melodramatic vocals, this takes on a notably different mood from Justin Broadrick’s shoegazing side.
But precise style and mood aside, The Last Walk achieves something better than any of the previous Owl releases: a full integration of Kolf’s metal and ambient ambitions. No longer are these sides presented separately. Here, they are co-dependent, with ambient passages swelling to crushing doom in which riff and vocal repetitions work to increase both the haunting and menacing traits of the EP. The departure of these towering doom passages then leaves reflections in the subsequent atmospheric material, often polluting it until it has to be cleansed by time.
Plus, for something that is so simple on paper, The Last Walk is pretty meticulously constructed. The type of synth/electronic tone varies greatly if not overtly (pinched, noisy, deep warbles, etc.), as does the guitar tone, particularly during quieter passages. As with the instrumental treatment, vocals are produced with variety throughout, ranging from screams in the absolute forefront to distant whispers and blurred chants. Still, it’s only detailed if the listener wants take it in that way, as this also works great as atmospheric escapism.
It goes without saying The Last Walk is an obvious listen for the dedicated Zeitgeister follower, as it continues to weave those special threads that are unique to the label, but there’s also a lot to like for fans of lush ambience and doom. This is as eerie and dense as it is oddly soothing and expansive, unique within the Owl discography while still feeling like a natural progression for the project.