4 out of 5
Label: Hydra Head Records
Produced by: James Plotkin
It is very, very fair to say that Khanate is not my usual listening wheelhouse. It touches on things – doom metal; experimental; minimalism; drone – that appear, sporadically, in my collection, but not to the extent that I feel I can weigh in on any of those genres effectively, and especially not when they cross-over and breed something like Khanate. I am not seeking this out; I own it because it’s own Hydra Head. So while I maybe can’t qualify this in comparison to other similar things – or even know what those other similar things are, besides mentioning that Khanate’s guitarist, Stephen Malley, is also in Sunn O)))) – I can acknowledge how fascinating the project is, and tip-toe across samples of their other releases to see how Capture & Release stacks up.
Vocalist Alan Dubin’s terrified shrieks align this – in my mind – most closely with doom metal, with the languid pace syncing up with that. But Khanate is even further abstracted from that, bringing in a looseness of construction that could – if you squint real hard – be said to be jazzy, and then burying that behind an absolutely minimalist approach that has Malley only flanging a chord every ten seconds or so and letting that ring out, drummer Tim Wyskida tip-tapping along even more pacedly, with the whole thing given a consistent rumble by James Plotkin’s bass, and the most subtle of synth manipulations here and there. Of course, that slow drawl is punctuated by certain splashes of noise, but it’s otherwise kept “time” by Dubin, whose howls are present throughout. Lyrically, it’s also pretty intriguing, with Alan’s words surely vague, but not necessarily as straight-forward gloom as one might suspect, rather laying down lines of thought that feel like internalized conversations. The words are sparse, but interesting to sift through.
Capture’s 18 minutes are fairly described by the above – occasional guitar, occasional drums, occasional punctuations, screaming – although the end of the track starts to get more and more disassembled and sonically “touched” in way that gives the song a relative crescendo.
Release spends its first several minutes on the barest of ambience (“clicking” of notes, like barely tapping a guitar string with a pick; some very quiet bass rumbles), somewhat canceling out its seemingly longer 25-minute runtime, but it’s a relatively “busier” track than Capture, with more lyrics, a somewhat regular “beat”, and a continual sense of climbing up to some kind of musical peak, which leads to a pretty affectingly cathartic – if perhaps also repetitive – sensibility befitting its title. About midway through, it moves to whispers and undistorted guitar, and then rather hilariously only feints at “big moments” thereafter. It’s a brave move, and offsets all of the leading-in harshness – though Dubin’s echoed howls still crop up in the background, just in case you were thinking of relaxing, and in the last few minutes, distortion and percussion and gritty bass and production warbles all come back in, full force.
This would seem to be a unique place to start listening to Khanate, as the album after this (Clean Hands Go Foul), from what I sampled, seems slight more “structured” – there’s more identifiable activity in its songs – and the previous releases, though composed of similar material, sounded a bit more compressed when expressing those ideas. Capture & Release perhaps takes the bands elements and stretches them out to find the maximal amount of space while attempting to maintain maximum atmosphere. It’s still not something I’m likely to return to very often, but I did end up listening to it several times over to get a feel for it, and did not mind my time spent with the music, appreciating its concept and construction more and more each time.