Khanate – To Be Cruel

Posted: 20 May 2023 in Albums
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Sacred Bones – 19th May 2023

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s been fourteen years since there was new music from Khanate, the experimental doom outfit featuring members of Sunn O))), OLD, and Blind Idiot God. It’s perhaps not surprising that my social media feeds have been bursting with the news of the surprise arrival of their fifth album on digital platforms ahead of a physical release next month– and because it landed from nowhere overnight, you couldn’t say it was eagerly anticipated, but it’s got a lot of people excited.

As you would expect, given the members’ main projects, and the previous Khanate releases, To Be Cruel is an absolute monster, with just three tracks spanning a full hour. You don’t tune in to Khanate for snappy pop tunes.

The first chord hits like an atomic bomb, blasting from the speakers with such force it’s almost enough to floor you, and rising from the sustain, crackling synth notes, then another sonic detonation that’s so hard and loud it hurts. Many of the tones and tropes of To Be Cruel are heavily redolent of the crushing doom drone of Sunn O))), but as the first piece, ‘Like a Poisoned Dog’ abundantly evidences, Khanate are different. This difference may be less apparent to the casual listener, but the stop/start power chords and skewed, sinewy shards of feedback are cut from a different sonic cloth, and if Sunn O))) are renowned for their indebtedness to Earth, there are elements woven in here which seem to owe more to early Swans, and while I wouldn’t necessarily want to speculate on whether the album’s title is some kind of response to Swans’ 2014 album To Be Kind, there is some kind of contextual interface here, in that both acts are pushing parameters within a longform song format.

And then there are the vocals: it’s a good seven minutes before Alan Dubin makes his first contribution: the song takes another swerve, the blistering blast simmers down and as he howls and roars, the feel is a cross between the darkest of mangled metal and brutal hardcore. And his manic screams are powerful and affecting. He sounds troubled, but in a way that conveys the kind of tortured mental suffering that’s common to many: it’s a primal howl of rage ad anguish that we struggle to unleash, and so to hear this is to feel emotions channelled by proxy, and as much as it hurts, it’s a release.

‘It Wants to Fly’ takes it to the next level, presenting almost twenty-two minutes of pain. The guitar is slow, crushing, punishing. What can you say? It hurts. It’s also minimal in arrangement but maximal in volume: this is first-gear BPM, with decimating feedback between the crushing chords. At the same time, it’s doomy and ominous as well as raging, making for a powerful cocktail of weight and raw emotion. There is no question that Khanate bring both.

And so it is that the album’s third and final track, the twenty-minute title track, is twenty minutes of low drone and tortured screaming that sounds like a breakdown captured on tape as Dubin yelps and screams about spiders against a sparse backing of a distant rumble and clanging guitar. ‘Look! In the closet!’ he shrieks in what sounds like abject terror. You dare not look. You don’t even want to hide under the bed: you just want to leave the house. The composition takes its time, it hums and drones, and in time, it hits and it hurts, and in some way you wish you could be Dublin, you want this release to have a channel into the unhinged. But you’re stuck on the outside, an observer to what sounds like either the ultimate catharsis or mental disintegration.

Ground down to nothing beyond and anguished screams and squalling feedback, this is bare bones, the sound of desperation. It isn’t pleasant, and there is simply no room to breathe: this is dark, dense torturous, and it’s exactly what fans have been waiting fourteen years for.



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