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Ryan Karazija of Low Roar: "My Life is What I Put Into Music"

Ryan Karazija, lead singer for Icelandic rock group Low Roar, died at the age of 40 in October of 2022. Karazija, unfortunately, passed away due to complications from pneumonia. Low Roar was an Icelandic post-rock band founded by the legendary frontman in 2011. Before his work in Low Roar, he founded a band called Audrye Sessions (2002), which was later joined by Alicia Marie Campbell. Soon after, Michael Knox joined the band through an ad he saw on Craigslist. Audrye Sessions played in small venues like local coffee shops until 2007, when they won a spot on Live 105's BFD summer concert and played at San Francisco's Noise Pop and Austin's SXSW music festivals.

In October of 2008, they released the self-titled Audrye Sessions EP, which included their first single, "Turn Me Off". This song proved to be somewhat popular and received radio play after its release. The track is a stand-out for Audrye Sessions. The song's sound feels completely different to the majority of Karazija's backlog. The first thing you hear is a guitar riff, followed by Kirajiza's lyrics belted-out like a song fresh off the radio in, well,...2008. His voice is the obvious best part of the song, and in the chorus, listeners can hear early makings of what would eventually become Low Roar.

On August 24, 2010, the band performed what would be their final show in Oakland, California. After this, Karazija relocated to Reykjavík, a city in Iceland, married, and started a new band called Low Roar. The former members of Audrye Sessions never publicly gave a reason for the breakup, and initially, Low Roar was a solo act.

From 2011 to 2022, Karazija made music for Low Roar, and as tragic as his passing is, he did leave us with five near-perfect albums. What follows is a rundown of those albums, a stand-out track from each album, and some of the band's history.

Low Roar (2011)

After moving from California to Iceland in 2011, Karazija found himself struggling to make money. Additionally, he found it difficult to move to a foreign country from his prior location. When writing this album, Karazija chronicled the challenges of getting used to a new foreign land, finding work, and supporting his new family by writing one song each day, the results of which appeared in November 2011 on Low Roar's self-titled debut record. Fun fact: this album was recorded solely on a laptop in Karazija's kitchen, and eventually he fused the songs together himself making the album. This is also why the flow in this album is the way that it is–out of necessity. The single clearest feeling this album evokes is isolation and the pain and fear that comes from that isolation.

“Rolling Over” is the stand-out track in my opinion. It's another simple but great song with just a few guitar strings and a viola in the background. The song sounds like a breakup, starting with Karazija singing alone, and met midway with a female backing vocal. They sing the same lyrics periodically but there is a contrast in their tone, eventually illustrating a mutual understanding of subjective feelings. The last of the song is sung by Karazija alone and fades into silence after, "I wait, I wait", and a few more resonating strings.

After the release of the first album, Karajiza was joined by drummer Logi Guðmundsson and keyboard player Leifur Björnsson to perform the songs live. Low Roar would eventually find homebase in Poland, and while initially a solo act, at the time of the band's end, the members consisted of Karajiza, Alton San Giovanni, David Knight, and Andrew Scheps.

O (2014)

The stand out track here is "Vampire On My Fridge". The song is just plain catchy, another sort of minimalist approach, employing percussion instruments and a keyboard. This is a more upbeat tempo than you would normally hear with Karajiza; it fits like a glove for this album, though. "Vampire On My Fridge" maintains the wavey experience that is listening to an album from Low Roar. The song is 6 and 1/2 minutes, but it still doesn't feel long enough. This seems to be a trend in a lot of Low Roar's music... you don't want the sound to end just yet–you have had so much, but selfishly you expect and desire more.

Once in a Long, Long While (2017)

This album's top track is, undoubtedly, "Bones (feat. Jófríõur Ákadóttir)". It should be noted that when Kirazija was writing this album he was going through a divorce. This song is about a man pleading with his ex (the parts sung by a female), imploring her to give him a second (or third) chance. She is apathetic to his cries, stating only, "I have nothing more to say," and, "You're acting like I care"."Bones" falls amongst the more miserable plays on his tracklist, as normally, his music is quite introspective and understanding. This song feels more like a deliberate rejection and misunderstanding.

In 2017, while on tour with Low Roar in Europe to promote the then-new album Once in a Long, Long While, Karazija gave an interview where he talked about his music and why it was his passion. When asked when he first started pursuing music, Karazija shared:

"When I was around 18 and studying psychology at university, I remember I left class, phoned my dad and told him I wanted to stop studying to focus on music. I thought I was spending too much time studying and not enough on what I actually wanted to be doing. So I said, 'just give me a few years to do this. Give me till I’m 26. And at 26, if I haven’t achieved something by then, I’ll go back to school.' Saying this was stupid, but it was my mentality then because I feel that with music… you cannot measure it in money. If I create a record and I don’t make any money from it, I can still feel successful."

Photo Courtesy of Musicator; Low Roar live at Musik & Frieden, Berlin

In 2019, the discography of Low Roar was featured extensively in the video game Death Stranding, created by Hideo Kojima. According to Kojima, he “chanced” upon a CD of Low Roar while he was shopping for music in Reykjavik. When the team behind Death Stranding reached out to Low Roar to license their music for use in the game, Karazija was apparently “struggling”. After extensive appearance in the game, the band’s popularity hit the stratosphere. The following songs featured in the game:

  • "Don’t Be So Serious"

  • "Bones (ft. Jófríður Ákadóttir)"

  • "Poznan"

  • "Anything You Need"

  • "Easy Way Out"

  • "I’m Leaving"

  • "Give Up"

  • "Waiting (10 years)"

  • "Gosia"

  • "Without You"

  • "Breathe In"

  • "Because We Have To"

  • "St. Eriksplan"

  • "Rolling Over"

  • "Once In A Long, Long While"

  • "The Machine"

  • "Patience"

  • "Not Around"

  • "Please Don’t Stop (Chapter 1)"

  • "Tonight, Tonight, Tonight"

  • "Please Don’t Stop (Chapter 2)"

On a more personal note, I'd like to delve into how I discovered Karazija. Low Roar's music is used to such traumatizing effect in this game; it really is an advocate for why video games should be considered art. Seriously, check it out. Upon learning of Karazija's death in 2022, Hideo Kojima (the developer of Death Stranding) posted on Twitter, "I heard the news. I can't believe it. I don't want to believe it." Kojima went on to mention that "Without Ryan, without you and your music, Death Stranding would not have been born. Your music will live forever in this world and in me. Thank you. Rest in peace".

ross. (2019)

The tune I'd like to focus on for this album is "Not Around". This one has a cliche concept, but the cliche exists for a reason. This song is about a man giving advice to his son, and it's also about surviving when he (the father) is not around. As the song progresses, the listener realizes he isn't singing to his son anymore. Rather, he's talking to himself, and he's reliving how he learned to cope when his own father was no longer around. "Not Around" is a tear-jerker to be sure, but the tune remains overall positive. Low Roar's discography is chock-full of sad moments wrapped in joy.

maybe tomorrow… (2021)

This album as a whole is fascinating. Throughout very brief moments in its playlist, it feels like the sun shines on Karazija. He feels joy, but that joy is quickly snuffed out by robotic, cold synth waves. Then, you're left back in the icy loneliness surrounding most of Low Roars' music.

Stand out track "Fucked Up" is a total horror movie, but it's also a complete mammoth. Ending at the 9:00 minute mark, the first minute and a half is just a series of scratches and a string instrument–possibly a cello–just lightly being played with its bow. When the note is brought up, it scratches away and sounds like a razor. This is immediately followed by quiet piano notes being played, a pattern which continues for a few moments until Karazija's falsetto begins to be heard. The song's vocal performance is slightly above his normal range but it also sounds slightly reverberated, giving it a deliberate (I feel) sense of fear. The panic becomes louder and louder until the sound does a full U-turn.

The first real lyrics of the song begin, recalling two lovers meeting each other, asking one another to embrace. This sense of romance lingers until the lyric, "We should get fucked up", plays. Then, the haunting falsetto comes back. The arrangement repeats with occasional instances of acoustic guitars throughout. A theme of dramatic highs quickly snuffed away and made calm again is brought to a head by a remarkable crescendo at the 6:45 mark. This leads to an onslaught of sound that frankly resembles more screams and metal than it does other music, but all throughout this, the notes of the piano and vocals remain. Eventually, the noise doesn't even sound like music, that is, until it comes to a full stop. Karazija sings, "I think we should get fucked up", and the song ends.

Yet-to-be-released final album...

In late 2022, the remaining members of Low Roar announced Karajiza's sudden death as a result of "complications from pneumonia". This news came in the form of a heartbreaking post on the band's Instagram page that read:

"Ryan Karazija, frontman and driving force behind Low Roar, has died at age 40. His beautiful music and lyrics, sung in his haunting voice have touched the lives of so many people all over the world and will continue to do so. He was a kind and beautiful soul and our worlds are shattered by the loss of him. May we honour his memory through his art and hold him forever in his songs.”

In a follow-up post shortly after, Low Roar released a statement saying that work on a sixth album was already underway and it "will be completed and released when it is ready. Please respect his family’s privacy at this incredibly difficult time."

“You can make all the money you want, but when you die, that money goes somewhere else. But I’m doing something that I love to do–making music that will far surpass my lifetime.”

Photo Courtesy of Stefan Flöper; Ryan Karazija, singer of Low Roar

Put simply, Ryan Karazija was a man who was in it for the music. He stated several times in interviews that he would have continued to pursue music even if he couldn't make a living off of it. It's why he told his dad he wasn't going to stop, and it's why he did not stop until the day he died. It is such a shame that he died before he could give the world the rest of the music cooking in his ingenious head, but I'll leave you with his words, “you can make all the money you want, but when you die, that money goes somewhere else. But I’m doing something that I love to do–making music that will far surpass my lifetime.”


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