The basic history of Czech black metal originators Root — as well as a convenient sampling of their best tunes — can be found here. But for the unknowing, here’s the gist of it: Along with Master’s Hammer, they basically invented Czech black metal. After, they evolved into a wickedly cool black/dark/traditional hybrid and enjoyed a killer run of albums from the mid-90s to early aughties, driven by the eternally infectious riffs of Petr “Blackie” Hošek and the madman charisma of Big Boss. Since the departure of Blackie, they have largely withered into mediocrity.
In an effort to emerge from this funk, Big Boss is looking to the past. Curiously, he isn’t reaching to consensus favorites such as The Book or Black Seal, but rather to 1996’s unique, oddball Kärgeräs. That album almost completely abandoned the band’s extreme metal roots, instead focusing on softer, catchier material and an almost Van Halen riff vibe. An odd sidestep, sure, but it’s also kind of irresistible, particularly to those ears that already found a lot to love about Big Boss at his cackling, crooning Big Bossiest.
Kärgeräs – Return from Oblivion is obviously a sequel to that strange but nonetheless great little album. Big Boss must have known what he was up to when reaching back to that less-heralded moment, because this is easily the best Root album since the departure of Blackie from their ranks. This is not to say that it is amazing — it still suffers from some flow issues and second half inconsistency — but unlike 2007’s Daemon Viam Invenient and 2011’s Heritage of Satan, there are real reasons to come back.
The odd thing is that musically, it doesn’t sound like a direct successor to Kärgeräs, but rather some hybrid of that album’s arena rock introspection and Madness of the Graves’ riffy efficiency. At times, such as during “The Book of Death,” it nods a bit more towards the original Kärgeräs, and elsewhere it feels like real classic Root. Open “Life of Demon” and beastly highlight “Black Iris” both fit the latter category, anchoring the album with songs that are much stronger than just “good for a band past its prime.” That aforementioned efficiency is key; several tracks are based largely on one or two key riff motifs that are smartly cycled under some great, very appreciated soloing or top notch Big Boss vocal lines.
And speaking of Big Boss, the man is in amazing form on this one, having lost absolutely nothing after his nearly 30 years at the helm. More than that, Return from Oblivion sees him fully indulging in his own self indulgence, Big Bossing his massive baritone and devilish laughs all over the place. As if to leave no doubts about who the true star is, the album actually starts right off with a huge one-man croonjuration (if you will), very soon followed by one of the man’s mad laughs. To the band’s detractors, it’ll be a reason to make fun even more. To fans, it’ll cause a much better kind of smile.
As mentioned, Return from Oblivion experiences a notable second half swoon, with three of the last five songs meandering in soft balladry that is usually just Big Boss singing over minimal instrumentation with little or no dynamics. On their own and at reasonable lengths, such tracks would work fine as interludes, as both “Moment of Hope” and “Key to the Empty Room” are pretty and pleasant, but at 13 uninterrupted and largely directionless minutes, they kill the momentum that peaked with “Black Iris.” The catchy “New Empire” offers a bit of a recovery, but then “Up to the Down” again drops into interlude terrain. Really just a puzzling way to round out the album, but then again, Root is just plain weird.
Even with the album working more as a great EP than good album, Return from Oblivion contains the best Root material in over a decade. This is not exactly the highest of praise considering the points of comparison, and the album is obviously far from perfect, but it should still be greeted as a welcome addition to the collections of Root die-hards (and only Root die-hards, obviously). It’s also much more than just a case of navigating the not good stuff for the sorta good stuff, as the quality here is damn fine, indeed.
The cackle is mostly back(le). Mostly.