Kauan – Ice Fleet (2021)

Kauan is a…hm. Folk metal band? Atmospheric black metal? Ambient noise? It’s a band that is hard to pin down. I haven’t much experience with their previous releases, but their discography seems pretty well regarded by those folks who are into the more experimental realms of metal. I can understand why, listening to Ice Fleet (2021). The album feels like one long song, dedicated to evoking and sustaining an atmosphere of frigid melancholy. It’s music for gray, rime-crusted January days.

Ice Fleet is accompanied by a square bound RPG adventure of the same name, either tucked into a slit in the gatefold of the record sleeve, or available separately. Produced in collaboration with Exalted Funeral, it allows players to play through the story of the titular fleet of ships, found mysteriously frozen in a glacier during the interwar period. The story is a nice mix of The Terror with a bit of The Philadelphia Experiment or the videogame Return of the Obra Dinn. Using a modified version of the Dirk Rules! expansion of Into the Odd (and that is mostly placeholder — you can use pretty much any system to run the game and I might actually prefer something horror-tuned, like Cthulhu Dark), it explores how the fleet met it’s fate (and, through a neat time inversion late in the adventure, allows players to relive and perhaps change that fate). It should come as no surprise that the music of the album pairs perfectly with the story, imbuing it with a strange mix of hope and fatalism.

I really love the scenario! It knows how to fall back on familiar material (monster stalks the player in an isolated space!) and use that familiarity to quickly push into stranger realms. My favorite bit is that there is a clear answer to the question of why all this happened, but that answers spawns much large mysteries outside the scope of the adventure. So it has a solution, but questions will linger long after play.

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