Vinyl Hydra Head reissue: 3 out of 5
Digital Hydra Head reissue: 4 out of 5
Bonus 12″: 4 out of 5
Label: Hydra Head Records
Produced by: James Plotkin
How ’bout them ratings, eh? Here’s the thing: Khanate’s second album is a stunning, powerful accomplishment, and that’s true regardless of what version to which you’re listening. However, immersion is a must with Khanate’s slow and punishing doom drone, and I the tracks here lead too effectively in to one another to break up onto different sides of an LP; it highlights relative “weaknesses” in the individual tracks which are not present when you can just let the whole show spin in one go. Thus, on LP, Things Viral is – given one’s appreciation for brilliant, screeched lyrics over minimalist thunderbooms of percussion and occasional guitar sputters and creeping, vaguely-present bass – fascinating, but it works more in moments than movements. Opener Commuted is a fantastic rise and fall of emotions, segueing perfectly into the more “focused” destructions in followup Fields. But these are 20-minute tracks, so they take up whole sides of a vinyl, leaving Commuted feeling like it both lingers for too long and then ends too suddenly – though Fields is still excellent. Too Close Enough To Touch is deformed jazz and noise, and again acts as an excellently disassembled precursor to the crisp and clear “riff” that kicks off the slow, deadly pummel of Dead; on wax – these are separated, making the former feel skippable as opposed to relevant.
The Commuted (coda) that’s also been included is appreciated, but I frankly don’t get much out of it. It’s a very, very nigh-unplugged and barebones reprise of the opener, with occasional buzzes of distortion replacing the vocals. I think this would’ve had a place paired with the original track, maybe in a more abbreviated form, but as a 12-minute closer, it’s a bit too barely-there for me.
One reason to own a physical form, though: is to read the lyrics. Alan Dubin’s thoughts do trace some “typical” tortured and sad territory, but so do 99% of songwriters’. Take a moment to consider his caterwauling beyond metal stereotypes, and it’s amazing how deep and poetic they are, and how they stretch around and beyond the downtrodden emotions that a few snipped lines might suggest. His varied forms of screaming, and when the group decides to employ it, add urgency and weight to these words.
The HHR rerelease also came with a bonus 12″ of some radio sessions – a version of an early CDr the group had released, minus an Earth cover. These are actually great “intro” tracks, as they get down to business but keep the runtimes and pace a little more palatable for a casual listener, with some added live music squall for good measure. The A-side – Pieces of Quiet – has that Commuted issue of feeling like it hangs around for longer than necessary, but it’s backed up by solid gold on the B-side, absolutely making this a much appreciated inclusion, and not just filler.