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Like many others I have learned about this band's existence through the listenning of music by a few other bands. At first I got into Sunn O)))'s magnificient drone doom and decided to dig deeper into Gred Anderson and Stephen O'Malley's musical careers. It led me inevitably toward Thorr's Hammer, which was their previous band. Pushing more towards death metal then drone, this was still an amazing doom metal band. They didn't release much material under the name Thorr's Hammer, but the EP they released in 1996 titled Dommedagsnatt is a unique masterpiece of doom metal.
Why is this interresting to know in the context of a Khlyst review? Well, because Thorr's Hammer and Khlyst have something in common... the Norwegian vocalist Runhild Gammelsæter, who has one of the deepest and most appropriate voice for both bands.
If I felt the need to go back to Sunn O))) and Thorr's Hammer's music to make that review, it's because I feel that Khlyst cannot seem to accomplish what the two previously stated band did. Khlyst tries to be a drone doom band, a dark ambient band and an avant-garde band, but can't seem to accomplish most of these goals. Even Runhild Gammelsæter's vocals feel mutilated on this record. And she is a great vocalist. She displayed so much skills while in Thorr's Hammer, but she can't seem to use any of her growling abilities well in here. And I have to blame this on the stubborn will of Khlyst's members of being avant-gardist and experimental. I have nothing against screamed, yelled and "disembodied" crazy vocals. But on this record... it feels just wrong. Most of the time it just sounds plain ridiculous, and with the cacophonic guitars used to support these vocals, it really just doesn't accomplish anything good or impressive. Khlyst are one of these bands who just try so hard to record chaotic and psychotic music that they ruin any kind of credibility their music could have. Even the name of the album includes the word chaos. I guess they really wanted to make it clear and obvious to the auditors, that this album is meant to be chaotic. If you couldn't tell by the music, at least the album title informed you of the randomness of their song-writting.
The few good moments of the record Chaos Is My Name are the tracks II, V, VI and the closing piece of the record VIII. These are the tracks on which the band focuses on drone doom elements rather than random distortioned and incoherent guitar sounds thrown in together with drum lines that do not seem to follow any specific time signature behind the crazy disembodied vocals of Runhild. But on tracks like V, VI and VIII it seems that the band manages to do something coherent for a few minutes. On V, the drums are beautiful and fit very well with the soundscaping guitars. This one track kinds of reminds me of Sunn O))) & Boris track Etna on the album Altar. On V, Runhild is also giving her best performance of the whole album. Her screams are powerful, chocked up then loud and powerful, it sounds like she is struggling against something and for once, the concept of mental illness and chaos is well delivered. This good feeling keeps up through VI. No more vocals here, but a gloomy feeling, with again, some superb drumming and guitar effects are used to create a soundscaping. VI also takes some of the "melodies" if we can call them that, from the track II. It really creates a good feeling of continuity to ear the same melodies over an album, it makes it feel more like a whole then a collection of unraled songs thrown in together on a single record. Sad thing is... that the other tracks on the album are absolutely unbearable. The tracks I, III, IV and IV are mostly terrible failed experiments. They are filled by incoherent and chaotic riffs, unstructured drumming and butchered vocals. If this concept would have been used on only one track or two, than maybe it would have been interresting to hear. The concept isn't all bad, but it fails to expend properly over the lenght of the album. These tracks really harm the good moments of the album mostly because there are too many of them and also because they are placed in-between the good drone tracks. The most dissapointing moment of Chaos Is My Name is the title VII. It ruins the atmosphere created by the previous pieces and especially considering the fact that you have been listenning to this mixed bag of good and not so good titles for the last 25 minutes when you reach this one, as soon as Runhild starts screaming, you feel the urge to punch your computer, stereo or whatever device you are listenning this catastrophe on. At least, the album closes with another quite enjoyable track, so at least you don't feel like you've been raped that hard when the whole thing is over.
Bottom line, the good tracks really cannot manage to save this mess. Even if the good tracks cover most of the lenght of the album, the atmosphere is broken so many times by bad tracks and experimental catastrophes, I just can't get over the bad moments to appreciate the good ones. Remember that this is supposed to be a drone doom album, and that this particular genre is a genre based on lenghty tracks, atmosphere and soundscapes. You cannot hope to write a good drone doom album if you ruin the atmosphere you are trying to create all the time. This is why I cannot give a good rating to this album. Track-by-track, this album had it's moments, but as a whole, it fails completely and most specificaly in what it tries to achieve.
'Chaos is my Name' is a truly different beastie to what you'd expect. Even if you've heard the member's past work (Khanate and Thorr's Hammer being the most notable, I imagine), you will be put off by this. Sure, like both aforementioned bands, it is slow, and has some crazy vocals. Think you can take it? Think again.
This album, as evidenced by the song titles, is meant to be listened to in one sitting. People might find this a challenge, but, personally, I think it's way too short. Because of these two points, I'll avoid referring to single tracks except for the following exceptions. Some of the tracks can be slow, such as 'II' and 'VI', but they're more on the ambient side rather than drone doom. These juxtapose heavily with tracks like 'I' and 'III', which are essentially, directionless noise. And by the last sentence, I mean it in the nicest way possible.
The noisier tracks are, put simply, nothing short of incredible. Droning notes are interrupted by rapid-fire bursts of distorted guitar, which will probably remind you of James Plotkin's previous work in electronic acts such as Atomsmasher and Phantomsmasher. These are complimented nicely by Tim's drumming, which at times is reminiscent of Jazz fusion, and other times grindcore. What makes this even better, though, is Miss Gammelsaeter. Nothing she has done previously can prepare you for this. They're not like the chanting she done on Sunn O)))'s "Gates of Ballard", nor are they straight-forward death grunts like in Thorr's Hammer. She sounds positively possessed in this. Squealing, gurgling, retching, roaring and groaning, there's not a single moment when she doesn't sound magnificently terrifying.
While I can imagine people would find this album hard to swallow, it's definitely worth having. I'd listen to some samples first, though. It's too fast for doom, too death metal for avant-garde and too scary for normal folks. If this doesn't bother you, don't hesitate. While it's not the best thing Tim or James has done (Personally, I prefer Khanate), this is Runhild's crowning achievement, and probably the epitome of female fronted metal bands.
Since Khanate broke up, James Plotkin sure hasn't wasted any time brooding over what might have been: he's done a full-length recording with fellow ex-Khanate khan Tim Wyskida and now he brings out this new record with Runhild Gammalsaeter. Although it's short at about 36 minutes, the aptly named "Chaos ..." runs the musical gamut from experimental free jazz to bouts of death and doom metal to electronic sampling and manipulation of guitars and drums to slow ambient dreamscapes. If the first track is all crazed stop-start stuttering rhythms and bursts of shrieking guitar, the second track pulls you in a totally opposed direction into a world of floating phantoms full of suspense and emotions too deep to mention with echoing gongs that promise spiritual relief. There is a constant alternation between extreme states that offer bliss and meditation, and those that inflict punishment and violence. Plotkin proves himself no slouch at handling and tweaking studio gadgetry to suit his intentions: episodes of electronically treated guitar worthy of the standards of laptop guitarists like Kevin Drumm and Christian Fennesz can be found here; and Plotkin also drops in bouts of erratic percussion in amongst slowly turning clouds of cymbal mist. Fans of the No Neck Blues Band, Oren Ambarchi's solo work and English tabletop guitarist Keith Rowe may find much to admire about Plotkin's quieter ambient work here.
But the great revelation is Runhild Gammalsaeter's incredible singing: she's not forgotten her turn as death metal growler for Thorr's Hammer (track 7 in "Chaos ...") and on top of the gravelly tones she adds shrieking, retching, moaning, cat-scratching hissing and gabbling (the rest of the album). It's like she is truly possessed by demons wreaking havoc in her mind and body. Comparisons can be made between Gammalsaeter and singers like Diamanda Galas and ex-Swans member Jarboe who have explored similar emotionally and psychologically fraught territories.
Alas the album ends all too quickly after spitfire death metal jazz guitar and electronics fireworks. I wish every track could have been a bit longer though it's possible that a much longer album could compromise its concept in which self-punishment and self-abasement alternate with moments of reflection and atonement for sins and horrors unknown. I really would like to see Plotkin and Gammalsaeter continue with the Khlyst project over a number of recordings and it would be great too to see Gammalsaeter develop as a unique and idiosyncratic vocalist and not simply be remembered for past associations with other musicians.