We are in May already, and I’ve been thinking about my favorite albums of the year so far (which I typically share in July). This year has been so strong, though, and albums like the new offering from Kauan just make it even more difficult to decide. The band’s new album is called Ice Fleet, and it is a work of beauty and grace.
Kauan (meaning “for a long time”) comes to us from Estonia. It was a bit difficult to find the band members’ names, but I believe the lineup includes Anton Belov on guitars, vocals, keys, and programming; Alex Vynogradoff on bass and vocals; Alina Belova on vocals and keys; Anton Skrynnik on drums; and Anatoly Gavrilov on viola. I hope that’s correct.
The band has actually been around for a long time, though I haven’t heard of them until now. They formed in 2005 and were at first a folk doom and black metal band. This newer iteration offers something different, playing a doom-laced post-rock with metal portions, clean and harsh vox, and stunning melodies. The band flirts with ambient music at times, and there is definitely a folk component here still, as well.
There is something mesmerizing about this music. Instead of landing squarely in any one genre, the music plays with various sounds to create something carefully paced, gorgeously written, and purposefully conceived. The album only contains vocals on a few tracks: two instances of short harsh vox portions, two clean vocal segments that I think are sung in Finnish, and several parts where Alina offers beautiful, angelic, haunting vocal harmonies that elevate the music substantially.
The band offers something quite novel here, too. Ice Fleet is the name of a tabletop RPG game that the band is packaging with the album. I’m not well-versed on that style of game, but the band wants us to experience a world of “permafrost, unsolvable riddles, secrets and death”, and you can hear that sound in the music. With the creaking wooden ships, the whipping and intensely cold winds, and the whimsical and ethereal Northern Lights, the album manages to feel dark, yet majestic; fantastical, yet full of human grit. It moves with certainty and soaring guitars higher, ever higher; yet pines and laments in shadow, too.
Ice Fleet feels storied and nostalgic in the quiet way it transitions between tracks. The album is essentially one long song, and I love the way new melodies and textures are brought in with nuance and discretion. It flows through ambience and roaring guitarwork, through gentle clean vocals and vicious harsh vox, through delicate piano passages and virtuous harmonies. Sometimes those sounds play right up against each other, blending textures and ideas into tight and memorable moments.
Because of the nature of the album, it is difficult to separate the tracks into “favorites”. I will say that I love the atmosphere of the opener “Enne” (Omen), the spirited nautical vibes of “Taistelu” (Fight), the ferocious darkness of “Maanpako” (Exile), the contrasting shadows and tenderness of “Kutsu” (Call), and the lasting crescendos of “Raivo” (Rage). I could go on about each and every track, though, so I’m going to discuss the last two primarily, those being “Ote” (Extract) and “Hauta” (Tomb).
These two tracks are glorious and wholly grandiose. Yet, they don’t impress because of technical achievement or bombast; instead, they call to me with their tender central melody, which never gets old, and their steadily building atmospheres that add layers of melody and feeling which each transition. Crescendos come and go, vocals whisper to us in quiet moments, and shoegazing feelings envelop everything in light and fog. These tracks feel like one song to me, and they progress with cinema and power just as much as they weep and lament in sullen gloom. These two tracks are stunning in so many ways, and I always finish the album feeling pensive.
Ice Fleet is an album of dignified and regal blood. Kauan has constructed it to be something that will weigh on our minds and aim our hearts true. I personally cannot stop listening to it, and every single time it feels like something special and renewed. I certainly have my work cut out for me in deciding my favorite albums this year.
Find Kauan online: