PICK OF THE WEEK: Khôrada rise from ashes of giants to create emotionally devastating ‘Salt’

It sucks when perfectly good things, at least on the surface, come to an end. When the members of Agalloch were dismissed by that band’s “visionary,” and Giant Squid were buried under the surface of the water, it removed two of metal’s most interesting, inventive bands. It gutted the world of two sets of artists who burned their own kind of fires in the underground, and losing them hurts.

Luckily, out of the dissolution of those two landmark bands comes a new project Khôrada that joins three quarters of the fallen Agalloch—guitarist Don Anderson, bassist Jason Walton, drummer Aesop Dekker—with former Giant Squid guitarist/vocalist Aaron John Gregory. There already was a huge bit of anticipation and hope for this new band when it was announced, and now that their debut full-length “Salt” is here, we have the answer to what this union would sound like. Turns out the answer is nothing like what one might expect. Yes, there are elements of both aforementioned bands, but Khôrada is a totally new idea. It’s not a continuation of anyone else’s band and is instead yet another inventive group that’s thinking and creating in places many are afraid to tread. There are elements of black metal, prog, doom, straight-up rock, and other sonic elements, forming something atmospheric, jarring, magical, and personal. Lyrically, the record addresses the chaos that met the world post-Trump, what’s become of our society, our relationship to the environment, and family. It’s a stunning album, and it may take a few listens to totally digest everything going on here.

“Edeste” begins the record on a hauntingly calm note, but what’s contained inside is anything but. Gaze clouds lead to guitars charges, while Gregory’s smooth croon washes over the track. Horns light up and give off lonesome notes, feeling like you’re at the center of a dust bowl, watching the world crumble. “Flood and flame and hurricanes, clearing her slate again,” Gregory warns, while the track hurtles off into the stars above. “Season of Salt” has mystical riffs before things get thunderous and heavy, bringing on a fog cover. Moody deathrock bubbles to the surface, while Gregory points, “The damage is done.” From there, the track erupts, as if the Earth has turned, with the track feeling nautical in spots, as a rock n roll vibe emerges, and melody floods the blistering end. “Water Rights” rumbles in the distant mist, as drums open up, and Gregory takes on a gravelly course, with some of his most unique phrasing on the record. Psychedelic colors rush (making me think of the album art) before the band goes into a relentless pace, causing quaking and havoc. The singing drives, the keys swirl, and everything washes away from shore. “Glacial Gold” is the center point and my personal favorite cut. The singing is quiet at first, as folky melodies feel rustic, and then Jackie Perez Gratz (Gregory’s wife) lends her striking cello, adding sorrow to the tale. The track slowly builds, as the intensity laps like lava, with Gregory howling, “Gold exposed, shorn from newborn bluffs,” which aligns with topographical pains. The track’s final minutes are incredible theater, with everything reaching a crescendo that pounds your heart.

Then arrives “Augustus,” one of the most personal and emotional songs on the record, where Gregory sings of family of three becoming four (which also could stand in for the band). Birth and deep sorrow follow (if I’ve read it right), with quiet guitars and rich harmonizing. It’s a soul-stopper. “Wave State” is anchored at first by steady horns before the drums kick up and drive the pace. Guitars cut through, with the brass following, as passion arrives in waves, with each of Gregory’s words gushing with emotion, at one point singing, “We are the mange to be cleansed and washed away,” as he explains our fragility to someone much younger and smaller. Riffs continue to encircle, and the gates break, with the horns trampling their way before we return to a mid-pace. From there, serenity flows anew, as the sea and cosmos become one, and alien synth takes us to a plane beyond. “Ossify” is the 11:31-long closer, flowing out of its predecessor as a solid dose of space rock. It feels like a straight-up rock song, as synth whirs in the air, and the track becomes pretty damn catchy. Amid all of this, Gregory envisions the end, one sure to be met by disappointment by those who find us as he notes, “How disappointed they’ll be when unearthing the truth, they will dig through our plastic cocoons, they will have to theorize how we died.” Less-harsh riffs soar, blistering and hitting a fever pitch before its spirit gives up its being to the stars.

Khôrada’s entrance into the world was born out of chaos, but their existence is breathing new life into metal in all different forms. Their initial offering “Salt” is one of the most astonishing debut records, in any form of music, in some time, and their sounds should have a ripple effect downward as people respond to their creative burst. This band sounds like it was meant to be together from the start, and all it took was two landmark bands crumbling in order for it to happen.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/khorada

To buy the album, go here: https://prophecy.lnk.to/khorada-salt

For more on the label, go here: https://en.prophecy.de/