Review: Khanate ‘To Be Cruel’

After a ‘break’ of fourteen years, New Yorkers Khanate, the experimental doom, outfit are back. The group consists of heavy hitters such as Stephen O’Malley of Sunn O))) on guitar, Tim Wyskida of Blind Idiot God on drums, and members of long-defunct band Old Lady Drivers Alan Dubin and James Plotkin on vocals and bass respectively.

Khanate 'To Be Cruel'
Khanate ‘To Be Cruel’ Artwork

To Be Cruel is the band’s fifth full-length album and follows 2009’s Clean Hands Go Foul. The record marks their Sacred Bones Records debut, a label who have the likes of John Carpenter, The Men and Marissa Nadler on their roster and who also reissued the two volume Killed By Deathrock compilations. Needless to say, Khanate are in top-notch company. The album’s genesis came about as a result of O’Malley and Wyskida‘s recording session for a Drag City compilation back in 2016, which eventually led to Dubin and Plotkin becoming involved. With respect to the themes covered, Dubin states that ‘The album viscerally and metaphorically portrays a self-immolating destiny that perhaps ironically blames outside entities’.

The album is a mammoth sixty-seven minutes long, despite only having three tracks, starting with Like A Poisoned Dog. If you are new to the world of Khanate then you might wanna strap in as things could (make that will) get ugly, especially if you are unfamiliar with frontman Dubin‘s tortured shrieking vocal approach. His style reminds me of Rainer Landfermann’s blood-curdling style on the two Bethlehem albums he featured on, in other words, it’s unsettling and not for the faint of heart.

The music is ultra slow, make that painfully so, with moments that have a discordant jazz improvisational quality. The track is unbearably tense with even the relatively sedate moments proving difficult to handle at times. A fantastic way to open the record and proof they’ve hardly skipped a beat in the intervening years when it comes to producing punishing experimental doom.

classic drone doom with dark ambient passages interspersed liberally alongside heavier moments that fans of both early Earth and Kenji Haino will go positively gaga for…

It Wants To Fly starts with less build-up, feeling more conventional (very loosely speaking) than its predecessor, at least initially. The aforementioned Sunn O)))’s influence is present and somewhat inevitable, recalling as it does an album like Black One. Dubin demonstrates more range this time around with restrained vocals that are no less menacing. This is classic drone doom with dark ambient passages interspersed liberally alongside heavier moments that fans of both early Earth and Kenji Haino (who O’Malley has worked with previously) will go positively gaga for.

To Be Cruel starts in a mellower style and has a Buddhist spiritual feel about it that may bring to mind bands such as OM and their twisted psychedelic approach. This being Khanate though, you can bet your bottom dollar that it won’t be long before they return to the bleak sounds they are renowned for; lo and behold I’m soon proven right. However, it is worth noting that amongst the predicted blackness there are subtle hints of Hex; Or Printing In The Infernal Method‘s dusty countryfied Morricone vibes to be detected if listened to closely enough.

In conclusion, what I call ‘The Plotkin factor’ is what convinced me to cover To Be Cruel as a fan of that man’s solo output. This is not an album that can be casually dipped into on a whim, requiring, as it does, a lot of investment in terms of time and attention. The onus is undoubtedly on the listener to put in the required effort and despite doing so, I’m not sure if I managed to fully get a handle on the record, enjoy it though I did.

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

Scribed by: Reza Mills