Khanate shockingly slither back to unrecognizable, unsettling world with warped ‘To Be Cruel’

Photo by Ebru Yildiz

Mental battles are some of the most difficult to fight because, despite the turmoil happening in our own minds, finding the tools to bring the pain under control is not a slam dunk. There’s a rope pull going on between facing what it is that afflicts us and trying to mentally get a modicum of comfort and safety in order to bring the boil under control. It takes work some aren’t willing or able to do.  

It’s the best way I could think to introduce “To Be Cruel,” the first record from Khanate in almost 15 years, music that arrived under a shroud of secrecy last Friday morning. Its very existence was a shock to the parts of the world that had been impacted by their doom-defacing first three records that sounded like nothing else ever made and whose psychotic treatment hasn’t been matched. Not even fucking close. The band—vocalist Alan Dubin, guitarist Stephen O’Malley, bassist/synthesis creator James Plotkin, drummer/percussionist Tim Wyskida—crawls back in a wounded world that bears no resemblance to what it looked like when 2009’s “Clean Hands Go Foul” scarred the earth. This time around, the band focuses on those on a path of self-destruction, blaming outside entities for their issues but who are unable to exact revenge. The manic, sprawling, mentally damaged music that accompanies Dubin’s mad man shrieks pays off that struggle, making the panic come to the surface, causing one’s brain and nervous system to be the worst enemy ever faced.   

“Like a Poisoned Dog” immediately feels like it’s trying to drown you, the energy starting and stopping, everything in your guts vibrating recklessly. Dubin maniacally shrieks, “I feel dead, take a swim in gasoline, throw a match, might as well cremate my vision of you,” as the playing trudges and stomps, ripping through with the guitars lacing. The unease finds a new way to drum up the stomach acid as the tension wraps like a cord around the neck, Dubin almost taunting, “The horror of a smile, a glance or a voice, throw that match, I beg you.” Guitars scald as percussive crashes unhinge psyches, guitars grind into the dirt, and the madness suddenly fades.

“It Wants to Fly” just thickens the tension, doom and noise clashing, Dubin howling, “I can see the skin crawl, look if you want to, you can look if you want, I’m going to rip.” The vocals goes from acidic to deranged minister delivering a soot-caked eulogy, the doom rumbling hard and threatening, the drone thickening and letting the smoke pour from the open, yawning orifices. The track melts into scaling guitars and percussive echoes, the playing digging under fingernails, pouring infection. “Look at the spark,” Dubin basically strangles, “It’s the very last, your soul is here but cannot fly, we’re too far down,” as the energy plummets, pushing faces into the dirt, the carnage stretching. “There never was a soul, we’re going down,” Dubin stabs as the vicious rattling suddenly comes to an end.

The title track ends this exercise, easing in and slowly forming, whispers fleeting through the air, the knife about to come down on your trembling amygdala. “Look in the closet, the things in the wall, they’d speak of revulsion, they’d tell you all, all about pain,” Dubin howls, sorrowful guitars adding blood and blackness to the torture, a sudden calm passing by that the vocals do not honor. Elegance basks amid apocalypse, the fires ease only briefly, Dubin leveling with, “I’m at an all-time low,” following later with, “The thing, it spins a web of lies until a thing twice its size decides to be cruel, dare I be cruel?” Sounds sizzle, a door opens into the furnace of hell, minds melt, and the agony finally bows, souls left scorched.

It’s been a decade and a half since Khanate bathed us in the mental acid of their warping doom, the band rampaging through the dark unannounced with “To Be Cruel.” Even after all the turmoil of the last few years, the psychological torment we all have faced, this band finds a way to amplify that grief and make it almost into human form, able to be embraced. We all have mental wounds, and this record not only points those out to us, but also reminds us there’s no force we can defeat, no monster we can overcome, and we must live with that dirt until the end of our days.

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