Boomkat Product Review:
Doom metal supergroup Khanate - Stephen O'Malley, James Plotkin, Alan Dubin and Tim Wyskida - return after a 14 year absence with their heaviest set yet, three extended blasts of viscid, malformed guitar, pained vocals and drums so slow they're practically static.
Sometimes a shock to the system is exactly what you need, and that's exactly what we're treated to with 'To Be Cruel', a surprise release from a band we assumed was dormant. Khanate formed back in 2000, when labels like Southern Lord and Hydra Head were forging new paths for heavier, rock-informed sounds. Building on the early template laid out by Black Sabbath and later Earth, a slew of bands slowed their roll to a glacial scrape, letting chords ring out into silence and riffs ponder over gut-churning bass prangs. Khanate were always among the scene's most experimental proponents, guided by Stephen O'Malley and James Plotkin's voracious appetite for innovation and sonic heftiness. But it was Dubin's vociferous tones that set Khanate apart from their peers, and his earsplitting, post-hardcore scream roots 'To Be Cruel', giving O'Malley, Plotkin and Wyskida the solid base they need to conduct a symphony of wrought iron.
Comprising three epic 20-minute tracks, 'To Be Cruel' is long, but its duration feels crucial to the album's mood. The music induces a meditational state from the first moments of 'Like a Poisoned Dog', exhaling slowly through wavering guitar and synth tones, cautiously preparing us for Dubin's gruesome vocalisations. His voice is accentuated by Wyskida's metronomic slaps, shrieking with the power of hell itself while O'Malley and Plotkin stretch metallic scrapes into extended oscillations. It should be a breath of fresh air for anyone who's been following Sunn O)))'s latter day flirtations with the sublime. There's no trace of kosmische here, as the four-piece chug through tracks that sound locked into the US hardcore/post metal canon, not diverging from the road but repaving it instead.
Somehow 'It Wants to Fly' is even slower, struggling to overcome its painful slither into the underworld. Here Dubin sounds possessed, screaming "down, down, we're going down" as if promising damnation. Never overly theatrical, he straddles the delivery of Henry Rollins and David Tibet, sounding emotional but mystical. The rest of the band seem content to let him cook - every minute adds more flavor. The final track gives us a satisfying bones-n-all conclusion, propelling Dubin's screams into even heavier places, backed by Plotkin's brooding electronics and O'Malley's squealing feedback. Effortlessly heavy, 'To Be Cruel' is a walking victory lap from Khanate, not just a reminder that they're still around but proof there's still life in doom metal yet.