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Sometimes when reflecting upon a past project, dwelling upon its name and whether or not it was aptly chosen can be unavoidable, and perhaps doubly so if the project was short-lived. In a name like Kublai Khan comes a renowned historical figure that factors in all too well with thrash metal, namely a great Mongolian ruler whose exploits are rivaled by few, though also a complex one that was not without his personal failures and vulnerabilities. But the verdict on whether the band that took this figure's name was befitting such a brand is a bit less certain, as while this short-lived project did derive itself from a grand master of the sub-genre in Megadeth (its leader Greg Handevidt was in the band for about a year and was kicked out just before the Last Rites demo was recorded) and did to seek further conquests while relying upon the same tactical approach, it didn't quite go so far in expanding beyond land already conquered.
Nevertheless, the lone conquest of this aspiring imperial body known as Annihilation is far from a vapid exercise in retreading established practices and turns out some decent material. As a whole, this is an album that functions in more of a 1983-85 world where speed metal and thrash metal were largely joined at the hip, thus a greater emphasis on speed and flash coupled with an overall feel that's closer to an older, NWOBHM sound. Essentially, this entire album listens wildly close to Metallica's Kill Em' All and Megadeth's Killing Is My Business...And Business Is Good!, with Greg Handevidt taking on a gruff style lead vocal approach comparable to a 1983 James Hetfield with a slightly nimbler shriek range, and a riffing approach that heavily draws from Dave Mustaine's playbook. Even the guitar solo work that paints these songs follows a very orthodox sounding middle ground between Kirk Hammett's and Mustaine's frenetic noodling.
Right off the bat, the obviousness of this band's influences streams forth in a set of songs that are well-accomplished, albeit wanting for an identify of their own. The fast paced opener "Death Breath", one of the hold over's from this band's 1985 material, has all the makings of a nod to Metallica's Four Horsemen, complete with the epic length guitar solo in the middle, and differs in being slightly heavier and faster. Things get a bit more distinctive on "Mongrel Horde" and "Liar's Dice", which borrows a bit more from the early Megadeth approach and just cooks mercilessly with only a few fleeting slowdowns and features some biting gang-chorus parts. Things get bogged down a bit with "Down To The Inferno", which clicks back the tempo and also the progression of riff work, probably for sake of trying to channel the band's older NWOBHM tendencies into a mid-tempo respite, but while failing to accomplish the catchy-element that made this approach work on songs like "Jump In The Fire" and "Seek And Destroy".
The second half of this album generally mirrors the character of the first half, but in a duo of epic length songs that bring in plenty of speed and even a couple interesting twists here and there, but can't quite break itself out of the same songwriting box to accommodate the longer lengths. The stronger of the two is the closer "Battle Hymn (The Centurion)", which draws extremely heavily from the faster side of the Kill 'Em All coin and almost sounds like an even funner answer to "Hit The Lights". There is also a fairly impressive riffing display on the shorter instrumental "Clash Of The Swords" that goes a bit heavier on the speed metal side to the point of almost matching the wild speeds that were heard on the Megadeth debut LP, and similarly captures the raw and mildly sloppy character of said album to a tee. It has been stated that Handevidt was ejected from said band for incompetence, but unless some extremely massive improvements were made over a couple years prior to this album, it's hard to see that being the case.
The only thing that really works against this album is that it comes in pretty late to the game for this mode of thrash metal, and it likewise lacks that additional side of intrigue that made Testament's The Legacy and Overkill's Taking Over the noteworthy albums that they were in spite of sounding like they should have come out two or three years earlier. It's a good album overall, but much of what is heard on here differ's little from Metallica's and Megadeth's respective debut albums. Perhaps in one sense the lofty name of Kublai Khan is an apt one for this band when considering the abysmal failures that were the namesake's attempts at invading Japan and Vietnam, thus moderating the successes he achieved elsewhere compared to the massive accomplishments of his predecessors. This is an album that can very much be enjoyed while it is playing, but tends to struggle to keep one's attention at second or third glance.
Sorry I couldn't resist the William Shatner reference in the title... Anyway, after being a member of Megadeth for a brief period of time with his friend, the Minnesota farm boy David Ellefson, Greg Handevidt moved back to Minnesota and formed his own band, Kublai Khan. This band released only one studio album before disappearing off the face of the Earth, Handevidt eventually becoming (*gasp!*) a criminal defense attorney in Mankato. Their only effort, "Annihilation", has plenty of trademarks of the thrash metal that dominated the 80's.
Simply put, Kublai Khan was just like every other thrash metal band in its salad days, right down to the hyper fast tempo. It's present in nearly every song, including their instrumental track, "Clash of the Swords", even though it's a double-timed tempo that appears off and on, but it still counts. Come to think of it, nearly every song has that same tempo, and I'm not just talking about being fast either, I'm saying that they've got that exact same tempo that comes up in every thrash metal band known. It's there in every song, but that doesn't mean the band is without its variety, for it's got other time signatures as well. There's a slight problem with "Mongrel Horde", though. That song has a main riff that appears after the intro that builds with an extremely fast tempo, but then it slows down a bit before the first verse, as if the drummer wasn't able to play faster than a certain tempo. Not that the song is terrible (it's still fast enough for a proper circle pit), it's just that with a riff at that pace that builds up to a song that is a little slower than itself, you'd have some greater expectations.
The album isn't without its awesome thrashers, though. There's "Liars Dice", which is perfect for any mosh pit, and the aforementioned "Mongrel Horde". It's not a perfect song, like I mentioned in the paragraph above, but it's still a pretty ripping song. However, you've also got some generic riffs, like the one found in chorus of "Passing Away/Kublai Khan". You can expect that kind of riff to come out of any thrash metal band that is forming around the same time as Metallica's "Master of Puppets". "Death Breath" has this as well, but it's a little less generic than "Passing Away", therefore it's much more appetizing. Also with every newbie thrash metal band, you could expect the production quality to be good to fair rather than excellent. The guitars are a little hollow and tinny, especially during the solos, and the drums sound like somebody sneaked into the studio and replaced all the drums with plastic buckets as an April fools prank. There's also the "demon voice" that sings "fall to your knees" used during the chorus of "Mongrel Horde". Acutally, it sounds kind of cool, even for production quality that's not really top-notch. Sepultura's first efforts involved even worse production quality than what is found on here, so I shouldn't be complaining about that too much.
One might say that it's a shame that Kublai Khan didn't get the recognition it deserved, but then again, it wasn't the overlooked equivalent of Slayer. While they did have some cool material, they also had some material that would be classified as run-of-the-mill thrash metal. What's really a shame is that Handevidt abandoned metal to become pursue an otherwise uninteresting occupation, thus sealing Kublai Khan's fate forever.
Kublai Khan were another of those one-shot thrash hopefuls of the 80s to feature the former member of a more successful band. A small amount of buzz, a single album, and then nothing. In this case it was Greg Handevidt, an early member of Megadeth, who performs both guitar and vocals on this release.
Annihilation is not so bad though. It has that rough and rugged, dirty speed metal aesthetic which a lot of bands are emulating these days on principal alone. "Death Breath" is a pretty exciting tune, you can hear a little Celtic Frost in the opening riff, then pure Bay Area-style speed not unlike Death Angel. "Mongrel Horde" opens with a pretty cool melodic thrash riff, then the band breaks into some blistering speed. Handevidt's vocals are pretty demented, and the manly backups give the impression of...well...an American thrash band trying to emulate a mongrel horde! The breakdown at the 1:20 mark is sick and would have created some great mosh pit memories. "Down to the Inferno" again reminds me of Celtic Frost with its classy descending into chord pattern, but the lead is extraneous and the rest of the song is fairly weak. "Liars Dice" is a nice exercise in sheer filth and speed, and the epic "Passing Away/Kublai Khan" has more than enough bang for the buck. "Clash of the Swords" is a mean spirited shredder with some killer riffs, it is likely my favorite tune on the album. "Battle Hymn (The Centurian)" begins with a very awkward 'Hello' before transforming into another flurry of venomous speed dirt.
To many, the album will sound like crap after all these years, but if you're a little less demanding than the average corn fed Dethklok nutter you will appreciate the raw production for what it was. Hell, half the metal bands around today are trying to emulate this primal naughtiness, whereas back in the day it was just a lack of budget. Annihilation is a decent record for its time, and despite some thin drumming and a weaker tune, purists may derive some enjoyment, especially those who worship Kill 'Em All or Killing is My Business.
When I first had to face this album I thought I could have been a brutal thrash one. I don’t know why, maybe it was for the cover artwork or the release year and when I read the reviews for it, I realized it was a sort of a way between the speed metal and the classic thrash. I was very curious also because this album received different opinions and I wanted to check it by myself. I found it and I decided to give it a review for those who, like me, were curious, in order to give a decent and sincere opinion.
They could be not the most well-know act in this genre but since the opener comes, we can already taste their power at the instruments. The production is not very good, especially for the guitars tone, that is a bit low in volumes and with a strange distortion, reminiscent of the very first Bathory but with less black/death touches. The tempo is already quite fast, especially if we take the bass drum as example. The riffs are compact and we can also find a very good solo in the middle section. It’s fast, always a bit melodic and shredded. It lasts for very long seconds and soon we return to speed and the good combination of speed and thrash metal elements.
The vocals are quite raspy but also quite melodic. They can be seen as a far more polished Becerra style, but often the tonality is similar, while during the high peaks we can hear elements from early Artillery (Flemming Rönsdorf). The fast riffs on “Mongrel Horde” are supported by very good up tempo parts and here the influences from Artillery are much more present, both for the instruments and the vocals. The solos are once again very fast, good to me and they can be found on every song here. “Down To Inferno” is an example of this, while the tempo is quite mid-paced this time. The song is not the best and sounds quite lame on these parts.
“Liar’s Dice” is definitely faster but average in ideas and compactness. It lacks on memorable parts, while the drumming is always remarkable on the double kicks. By the way, everything sounds normal and not that powerful. For example “Passing Away-Kublai Khan” is a far more complete and well-developed track. It has everything: fast restarts, shredded solos and dramatic, gloomy breaks. The vocals are even more evocative and the drums sections are always precise. “Clash of the Swords” has inside more speed metal elements, from the riffage to the drumming. It shows some good mid-paced breaks too and it’s instrumental.
The last “Battle Hymn (The Centurian)” has high pitched vocals and fast parts but everything is just normal. I don’t know if the production damages a bit the violence and the assault of the songs, but here there’s nothing memorable but just goodish. The album flows quite normally and it’s a bit boring too in some parts. The songwriting and the structures are not that solid and they lack in variety. All in all, a simple and quite harmless thrash/speed album that can be listened once every year more or les, but nothing more. It has goodish moments but the rest is too boring.
Kublai Khan... a band hardly anyone has heard off and a band I'm pretty sure nobody cares about. I found out about this band from an Englishman thrasher friend of mine. I found the name, Kublai Khan, to be pretty damn unique. Seriously, what kind of a band would name themselves after a Mongolian ruler? So, I decided to check these guys out. I quickly find out that Greg Handevidt was in Megadeth for a few months. I hate Megadeth (I can feel a moderator removing all my points as I write this haha) so I immediately thought this album would suck. But hey, I'm open minded so I gave it a shot and fell in love with it.
Death Breath is the opener with a nice cheesy song title. It's a fast thrasher with a sing along chorus and killer solos. Mongrel Horde follows the same formula and is an awesome song as well. Down To The Inferno is the only boring track on this album. It's a mid-tempo tune with few riffs that all sound too similar to each other. If the song was faster and the riffs had more variety, then it'd be a different story. Liar's Dice is more of a speed metal tune. It's fast and it kicks ass. Passing Away/Kublai Khan is the highlight here. It's a speed/thrash metal onslaught filled with killer solos and killer riffs. 2:30 into the song is a short acoustic break... seconds later... THRASH!!! 3:40 in comes a drum break followed by a bass break and then back to the fucking thrash! The song continues thrashing on until the end. Clash of the Swords is a 3 minute instrumental. It's decent but nothing special. It would've been better with vocals. Battle Hymn (The Centurion) ends this album following the formula of the first two songs and yes this track kicks ass as well.
This is a very good speed/thrash metal album. However, it has its negatives. The production is bad. The guitars are raw and flat sounding. They're also low in the mix. The drums are loud in the mix which makes the guitar harder to hear. Aside from the poor production, the only other fault with this album is Down To The Inferno. If you can get past the bad production and one mediocre song, then you will find this to be one very enjoyable speed/thrash album willed with great riffs and fantastic solos...
It's hard to screw up speed metal, but it is easy to just go through the motions and make an album that really doesn't give much to the genre, especially for 1987. Greg "I was in Megadeth for three days" Handevidt is the main guitarist on here, and it's pretty obvious why Dave Mustaine fired him - the riffs are decent but generally sameish over the whole album, and the leads pretty uninspired.
It actually starts off kinda strong, but then goes nowhere... Death Breath has a dumb title, but is a cool song. Mongrel Horde, also known as Fall To Your Knees, isn't bad either and has a nifty thrash break... then the rest. Well, again, it's not bad, just nothing really overtly memorable. Some cool solos but the riffs are generally forgettable. Down to the Inferno rides the same riff for about five and a half agonising minutes, and also has a grating chorus to boot.
So, in conclusion, it's just yet another album out of many. If you like 80s speed metal with the occasional thrash bit - i.e. if you're me - you'd enjoy it. I give it a spin every once in a while.