There's two ways of reviewing this album. The first way is that of a lifelong fan of this band, eagerly awaiting the newest release and grasping on the previous ones. But we're not going to do that. We will take the second way, the one of the lifelong music lover, listening carefully and with an open mind. So we leave the first inception of Kong behind us and focus on the newly formed combo, ten years plus three cds later.
The word 'Stern' has a number of meanings but in this case it means 'headstrong, tenacious and persevering'. Kong is just that, they hold on to their typical progressive and industrial sound while incorporating new elements in their music. We hear heavy guitars, soothing ambient pieces, techno beats, Eastern melodies, samples and soundscapes, sometimes within the time span of only one track. Most tracks, like the opener Fools Engine and Stars and Tribes are solid instrumental rock songs. Others, like the highly surprising Rage8FA or the trancy Surfing Narrative Waves, can easily get an audience dancing.
The average time span of the thirteen tracks on this cd is a lot shorter than on the previous albums. But that never seems to affect the exquisite songwriting. Slant and Different Odds for instance are examples of full-fledged post rock songs while Wide Awake and Perseverance remind me of the older Kong, focussing on heavy riffing and extensive use of guitar solos. New drummer Oscar Alblas seems to know exactly how to lift the tracks to a higher dimension, meticulously placing every beat, cymbal and snare in its place. On the beautiful Inflate Expand Release he even takes a step back and lets the atmosphere take over.
In its entirety Stern is by far the best work since Kong returned. The album shows a robust and determined band that is ready to take over stages in the Netherlands and far beyond. At first it might take some time getting used to this progressive industrial assault but after a few listens this album grows and the whole spectrum becomes very clear. This band has grown up and all members have become skillful composers.
And the lifelong fan? Well, he puts Push Comes to Shove and Phlegm back in the cd-tray and shakes his head in approval of this new piece of work. He finishes this review with a smile on his face.