Review: Khanate ‘Things Viral’ [Reissue]

The chances are if you are reading this it means one of two things; Either you are familiar with the terrifying music of the twisted funeral doom made from the minds and talents of producer and guitarist James Plotkin, Sunn O))) founding member Stephen O’Malley, vocalist Alan Dubin (who shared time with Plotkin in O.L.D.) and Blind Idiot God drummer Tim Wyskida, or you are here out of curiosity having heard the name.

Khanate 'Things Viral' Artwork
Khanate ‘Things Viral’ Artwork

If it is the former, you know all too well of their bleak nihilistic genre-smashing form, if it is the latter, then Khanate will either cause you to reevaluate your musical outlook or run screaming back to the comforting embrace and safety net of your existing preconceptions.

Coming together after a chance meeting at an ISIS show around the turn of the new millennium, Khanate combined to create a dystopian howl of tortured anguish predicated on minimalistic improvisation and unconventional studio explorations. This would create an exercise in a malevolent form, pushing the boundaries of time signatures through wilful deconstruction of the art form that would result in four visceral albums before the band simply ceased to be in 2006 with rumblings of discontent.

For the next thirteen years, the idea of Khanate existing again was seemingly unthinkable until, out of the blue in May of this year, with no fanfare or promotion, the band dropped their fifth album To Be Cruel and a re-issue schedule for their previous albums in both digital and physical formats.

This brings us nicely to Things Viral. Well, I say nicely…

Having set a new standard for slow-motion tension in extreme music with the high-brow atrocity of their self-titled debut, Khanate’s second assault on the senses would follow two years later and carve another scar on the musical landscape.

Comprising of just four songs that make up an hour of noise, the shortest of which being just under ten minutes, each of these tracks tests the listener with their protracted run times that make the music within them exist as a sonic endurance test for the psychic malaise of the soul.

Having grown in confidence regarding their vision and understanding of how to craft these misanthropic slabs without the reliance on studio craft and volume, they wrench abject misery and horror from their instruments, the stark lyrical philosophies of the past are replaced by a venting of frustration that were more psychotically yoked to despair, desperation and death. The sophomore album remains a band favourite to this day.

Even slower and darker than their debut, Things Viral is a banned arthouse horror movie in musical format…

On this record, from the sparse ringing patterns and lurching convoluted, protracted riff structures, Khanate explore the manipulation of time and dynamics fashioned through existential dread.

As for the songs themselves, the opening track, Commuted, begins with creeping pounding and ominous notes, Dubin shrieking and gargling like someone whose mind has snapped is uneasy listening to the max in all its raw, ugly bleakness. ‘No good times in here’ indeed.

A groaning weight permeates the record. Not because it is slow, but because it is torturously slow. Deliberately and aggressively obtuse in its labouring, they play like they are on Mogadon. Apart from Dubin, who lurks in the shadows of the drone, hissing and spitting as he twists the articulation of sentences like, ‘Pieces of us in my hands, on the floor, in my pockets’. The more his voice breaks in frustration, the more the band drag out the process, creating a wall of granular, considered detail that holds this raging in a helpless imprisonment.

Even slower and darker than their debut, Things Viral is a banned arthouse horror movie in musical format as Fields focuses more on unsettling drone like the tolling of the bell on Black Sabbath’s debut, refracted here through a prism of the modern cruelty that the band holds a mirror to.

The shortest track Dead feels a little more linear, but only a little. Once again ringing and distorted musical burns smoulder, but this time more relentlessly and the nightmarish narration continues in a more purposeful fashion.

Final track, Too Close Enough To Touch, blisters with jarring, nagging feedback and the scratching guitars turns the screw further as the not-quite-title track writhes and twists in its unconventional dynamic. The effect is as lasting as it is discomforting.

It is no surprise that Khanate’s legacy is of their impact on extreme music. Make no mistake, for the uninitiated, this is extreme music and if you do not like it, you will not be alone.

Their mission statement was, and clearly remains on the evidence of this year’s To Be Cruel, to push the boundaries of experimentation. This abrupt return and subsequent re-issues will show that very few bands before or since dealt such a savage blow to the foundations of music itself.

Label: Sacred Bones Records
Band Links: Official | Facebook | Bandcamp | Spotify | Twitter | Instagram

Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden