Khanate – Khanate (Hydra Head Records 2016 rerelease)

Album: 3 out of 5

Khanate WNYU 89.1 Hellhole Broadcast 03.12.02 12″: 5 out of 5

Label: Hydra Head

Produced by: James Plotkin

It’s possible this album is genius.

Here’s the problem: I’ve been going backwards through Khanate’s career, and it would seem that after their debut established their slow, doom-y drone, the group would push that style much further, crafting brutal slabs of the most minimal metal I’ve ever heard, with vague notes of jazz evident in the looseness, and production genius in how subtly the tunes were enhanced. Had I started with their self-titled debut, I’d think I’d love it – Dubin’s aggressive vocals and descriptive but sparse poems of terror; Wyskida’s purposeful, lumbering drumming; Plotkin’s open-ended production letting his heavy bass and Stephen O’Malley’s rumbling guitar ring out. But wowza is this thing comparatively structured compared to what’s to come – the songs may take their time, but there’s always a core bit of strumming or drumming happening, and Dubin isn’t as unleashed as he later becomes, with his singing falling into a more typical hardcore shriek. The lyrics could be said to be more streamlined as well: while Dubin’s writing is more visual than many of his peers, the songs here more squarely aim for sounding scary versus some of the contemplative oddities he’d piece together on albums to come.

The album is undeniably Khanate, craaaawwwling across sludgy rivers of sound, and tracks like Skin Coat and Under Rotting Sky are surely powerful. But it’s also relatively approachable, given a tolerance for this kind of thing, and somewhat lacks the mesmerizing nature of later releases; it almost kinda has riffs as points. It’s easier to let this stuff drift into the background a bit, as it mostly hits a similar register – one or two guitar chords and a buzzing, background bass; slow march drums; Dubin’s forefronted scream; and then the track will have some electronic touches toward the end.

The 2016 rerelease from Hydra Head firstly includes the No Joy remix that came a couple years after the original release, and it’s a worthwhile addition, chopping up the tune and playing with its guts, drastically changing how it sounds, and bringing it closer to the more experimental state of the group post-debut.

Secondly, we get a 12″ of radio sessions, and though two of these are from this album, plus a cover of Earth’s German Dental Work, something about the immediacy of the recordings – and maybe the leeway of including a cover – makes the straightforward nature of these quite perfect. Like, approaching ‘Khanate’ as an album, and comparing it to something like Capture & Release, makes the self-titled LP seem rather simplistic; isolating some tracks for a short live set highlights just how powerful those individual tracks are, going back to wondering if ‘Khanate’ is actually genius, and I’m just spoiled by latter-day Khanate.