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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.