If you have ever found yourself listening to the massive wall of guitar drone known as Sunn O))) and said to yourself “I really like this, but I wish it was more viscerally unpleasant,” the gentlemen in Khanate have you covered. Reactivated after a long hiatus following 2009’s Clean Hands Go Foul, the project began working on its fifth full-length album in 2017 — only completing the work in late 2022.
The resulting 60-minute effort is a caustic, meticulously crafted soundscape paired with tortured and unsettling narrative. Alan Dubin’s powerful shrieks are in top form, sharp and jagged, issuing forth like the demented pleas of a prisoner forgotten and left to rot in a subterranean dungeon.
The sparse instrumentation, minimalist drumming and percussion, all lend the material an air of desperation and unease. Sonically, To Be Cruel is incredibly heavy, but not in the way a blisteringly fast thrash or death metal record is; the backing guitars often just drone and resonate in the background, occasionally twisting and contorting into sour pangs of dissonance.
Khanate is obviously targeted at a niche within a niche, but for those of us who appreciate these abstract, experimental efforts, To Be Cruel is an impressive offering. For all the low-BPM instrumentation on the record, it doesn’t lend itself to truly passive listening — it’s rather difficult to ignore. The album’s harsh sonic palette almost belies the painstaking detail that went into the composition and recording, and the interplay between the instrumental and the vocals seems quite measured.
For those who are interested in letting musicians craft a mood, unburdened by any sort of comprehensible song structure or concern for things like ‘notes’, Khanate are experts of the craft. The sonic equivalent of an art film; this is the anti-thesis of vying for mainstream appeal, instead endeavouring to get as weird and esoteric as the participants desire. Each track clocks in around 20 minutes, demanding patience and an open mind.
To Be Cruel is certainly not for everyone, and it is understandable that many people could listen to this record and ask “when does the song actually start?” If you’re into experimental genres like ambient, noise, doom, and drone, then this album is absolutely worth your attention.
The album is still far too new to tell, but To Be Cruel could very well be Khanate‘s best work to date. Even if it’s not, the recording quality is worthy of praise alone, and the material stands among the rest of this legendary group’s best work regardless of specific ranking. Great news for fans of nihilism and the sound of eternal torment.
Released: May 19th, 2023
Record label: Sacred Bones Records
Buy / listen: Bandcamp
Alan Dubin – vocals
Stephen O’Malley – guitar, feedback
James Plotkin – bass, synths
Tim Wyskida – drums, percussion
Colin Marston – producer (bass, vocals and percussion)
Jaime Gomez Areliano – producer (guitar and drums)
Christian Jameson – production assistance (guitar and drums)
- Like a Poisoned Dog
- It Wants to Fly
- To Be Cruel