Sweden’s Dead Kosmonaut is pretty clearly still feeling out their place in the heavy metal pantheon. On debut full length Expect Nothing and last year’s standout Rekviem EP, they’ve played a mix of smooth trad, doom, stoner metal, and even the driftier side of 70s prog rock. At its worst, it has been more than passable – the band is full of veterans, led by Nifelheim’s Per “Hellbutcher” Gustavsson on almost shockingly smooth clean vocals – but when it’s been good, it’s been downright magnificent.
Gravitas continues this slight disparity in goodness-to-greatness. Here, the good material is so good as to almost render the rest worse sounding than it is in reality, which is admittedly more about perception than fault. But one thing that can’t be escaped is that the differences – both in style and quality – tend to become a bit of a distraction, leading one to just want to get to the beastly tracks quicker, even though there’s nothing outright bad standing in the way.
From there, things pick up dramatically, but let’s skip right to the end instead, because the album’s nearly 13-minute, eponymous closer “Dead Kosmonaut” is downright massive. The short “Part 1” eases the listener in with choirs before “Part 2,” the proper song, bursts into existence with huge doomy riffs and a particularly satisfying organ. From there, it’s long, minimal stretches where the vocals do much of the dynamic heavy lifting, or long stretches of solos that also tell a captivating story. The song even gets rather Floydian at times, particularly when the leads go for a decidedly Gilmour touch over metal shred. A great example of how heaviness comes in all forms, this one.
Nothing else on the album quite reaches this level, which again creates a bit of a “get on with it” feeling on repeat listens, but things are much better after the first couple of tracks. Beginning with “Vanitatis Profeta,” Gravitas takes on a more serious tone befitting of the band’s talents and the album’s best song, sometimes with a little more soaring and righteousness, and sometimes with more in the menace department. Of special note is “Heaven / Hell,” 11 minutes that manage to call-to-mind everything from the quieter sides of Maiden and Manilla Road to the more melancholy side of old prog rock (complete with ample soloing, of course). Like the closer, this track proves that Dead Kosmonaut is at its best when things are given space—a whole lot of space.
Some listeners will likely appreciate everything about the album’s bits of variety, and they wouldn’t necessarily be wrong, but there’s no denying that the record’s somewhat awkward start detracts from its absolutely stunning finish. As stated above, nothing Dead Kosmonaut does here (or previous) is remotely bad. But if they can find a way to harness the power of the closer or the title track from last year’s EP for a full album, it’ll be a bonafide hot damn moment. Until then, Gravitas provides plenty to casually enjoy and more than a little to love.