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No Good Times In Here: Things Viral Reconsidered - 90%

general tso witchcraft, May 12th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2003, 2 12" vinyls, Load Records (Limited edition)

Extreme metal - and all extreme music - forces a listener to think critically and ask, "what is the motivation of those making it?" Who actually feels such inner rage so as to produce the superhuman speed of grindcore? Where does the motivation to create the oppressive, monumental dread of funeral doom come from? Conversely, listeners must, at some point, ask of themselves "why do I listen to this?" On Things Viral, the 2003 sophomore full-length from doom supergroup Khanate, questioning is central to the experience of the sound. A defiantly unpleasant listen, Things Viral is a sonic document of extremity with no definition, little reward, and no clear intention besides utter psychological destruction.

On both their debut album and this one, Khanate represents Stephen O'Malley and Alan Durbin's commitment to stretching the intellectual limits of heavy music. However, on this album, the sound is much less rooted in what is commonly understood as heavy metal. O'Malley's guitar tone is less suffocating than fans will expect, and there is little present in terms of beat or consistent song structure. Whenever it seems like the rage-drunk lurch of a piece is about to storm confidently into a metal explosion, the band reverts to restraint, releasing the momentum like a captured bat and allowing the ensuing emptiness to be replaced with feedback or silence.

On repeated listens, the improvisational nature of the performances becomes more apparent. It sounds like much of the music is created in the moment of the recording. This is especially apparent at the end of album opener "Commuted" which, in its final minutes, trips its way through a dark warehouse of sonic exploration. The drums stutter and slam, feedback appears and disappears; the guitar is interrogated into confessing sound. All this unease is invoked as the players communicate wordlessly through playing. What you hear is the very invention of this uneasy jazz-metal.

Throughout, Alan Durbin is front and center in the spotlight. His tortured vocal performance is so prominent to that it is tempting to interpret Things Viral as his solo album. With the lyrics so intentionally abstract, it is hard to pinpoint which exact slings and arrows Dubin is ranting against. His haunted screeching and recitations would fit at the performance art black box of Hell. They also recall the improvisatory sing-speak of Keiji Haino, except where Haino's vulnerability allows frailty, Durbin's monologues cover a spectrum from murderous to afraid only, without even a pinprick of light allowed.

So why do we keep coming back to Khanate? The band called it quits years ago, and there is no sense that they will reform. O'Malley and Durbin helm fruitful creative outlets of their own. In fact, their current acts offer similar aspects to Khanate, only with more discernible nutritional value. See, for example, the industrial fury of Durbin's Gnaw or the black sorcery of O'Malley's Sunno))).

Khanate, on Things Viral, are ultimately more extreme than other extreme bands though, and their success in doing so lies in their accurate capture of the sound of mental illness. This recording translates just how asocial, unsexy, labyrinthine and full of depression mental illness is. And through their disinvestment of song structure or narrative hand holding, Khanate is both mysterious and dramatic, to an extreme rarely captured by other musical acts. Difficult a listen as it is, they truly explored the lowest levels of consciousness, and for certain meaningless days and nights, Khanate provides an accessory. This album is a soul in a straight jacket, alone in a padded cell, without the ability to escape or articulate a desire to escape; only there is no cell, no jacket, and ultimately, there is no soul here either.

I DID THIS FOR YOU!!! - 81%

Wilytank, September 23rd, 2014
Written based on this version: 2003, CD, Southern Lord Recordings

Khanate's second full length Things Viral sees the band delve into a more minimalistic approach than their debut effort. If you're expecting it to have the same sort of movement as "Pieces of Quiet" or "Skin Coat" from Khanate's self-titled, you're going to end up disappointed. What we do have is an album that does drag way more, but still manages to be worthwhile in the end.

Right off the bat, there's a 19 minute long piece to go through. The build up instrumentally is rather onerous and consists of soft strumming of the guitar and a semi-steady bass drum beat. That goes on for six and three quarters of a minute before the music seems to kick up the bass, louder guitar, and utilization of other components of the drum kit while later throwing in an extended section of nothing but feedback with some some wanton drum beats thrown in. The second song "Fields", also almost 20 minutes long, essentially does the same thing. And these two songs are the ones that take up the majority of the album. "Dead" and "Too Close Enough to Touch" show more signs of movement, but really still follow the same sort of drone styled doom that the first songs follow.

On the other hand, the instrumentation does create this dismal atmosphere. Listening to this album makes me feel really uncomfortable, especially because of the goddamn vocals. Alan Dubin is the star of the show here, and I'll say right now that if he wasn't present this album wouldn't be worth listening to at all. The deranged lyrics that go along with the music read like the ramblings of a crazy person which is further compounded by Dubin's tortured screams with the darkest point being the beginning of "Fields" with its echoing background screams and the first stanza of lyrics:

"this is for you
a new beginning
(I'm gonna) put you under
an open field
vast expanding
it's expanding
the center of reason/the center is reason
you don't have to think
no worries
i'll do this for you"

Dubin recites the above with this lower raspy spoken word tone complete with heavy breathing that makes him sound like he's going to bury a loved one alive. The rest of the lyrics follow that idea like he wants to resuscitate them so they can tell him about the afterlife, but they can't respond of course because they're dead and it sounds like he gets upset with the person, especially when he shouts "SAY SOMETHING!" followed by "I DID THIS FOR YOU...FOR US!" and ending the song with some frustrated screams.

"Dead" on the other hand is easily the most straightforward and most innocent sounding: a guy is left to die in a public place and nobody helps him; but Dubin really shines here as well combining whispering and screaming as he condemns the people who passed him by until he finally quietly mumbles "...you could've stopped it..." a couple of times at the end of the song.

There's some outside vocal effects used throughout the album that help drive the lyrics too. From the really extended use of it such as the aforementioned first stanza of "Fields" and several passages in the middle of "Too Close Enough to Touch" to the small parts like shouting of "RED GLORY!" on "Commuted" being echoed back even louder.

As a whole though, Things Viral is essentially an average drone album helped up by amazing vocal work. It's not the most essential listen of an already niche genre, but curious drone fans are encouraged to try this out. But be reminded again that this album is a bit of a chore to listen to even if you did like Khanate's debut album.

Alot better than what the critics say. - 95%

DreamTheater3, February 7th, 2012

(Originally written for the MetalMusicArchives under the account "Doomster" - http://www.metalmusicarchives.com/things-viral--review.aspx?id=259536)

Welly, welly, well. Here we have Khanate's second album, "Things Viral", released in 2003 by the great Southern Lord Records.

I am a huge fan of Khanate's first album, their self-titled. I thought it was a masterpiece of drone/doom metal misery, still do. And naturally, I was excited to hear the next album from the New York boys (my hometown!), the subject of my review, "Things Viral". Compared to the positive feedback of the debut, "Things Viral" was generally panned by critics, mainly for not being as "dark" or "heavy" as the debut.

...And quite frankly, I can understand why. This album is...different. Very different from the debut. Khanate have always been a rather unconventional band, but whereas the debut had at least some hint of melody throughout (in the form of "Pieces Of Quiet" and "Skincoat", in case you are wondering), "Things Viral" has completely erased all traces of standard song structure. While the debut was more of a venture through an abandoned mental asylum filled with the lost souls of the mentally insane, "Things Viral" is more of a journey into the deepest, darkest sewers of a ruined city, or perhaps into the pits of a pitch black cave deep underground.

This album is also slow. You are probably scoffing at this comment as Khanate have always been slow, but seriously...this album is so painfully slow that it makes the debut look like speed metal. These songs have no real structure, but that is not a bad thing. Songs usually revolve around deeply unsettling noise made by the instruments, and when actual music in the conventional sense of the word does appear, it has no real rhythm or structure, and then disappears again into literally silence. While the guitars on "Khanate" were crunchy and bone-crushingly downtuned, guitarist Stephen O' Malley takes a very ominous, 'airy' approach to the guitars on this album. The guitars tease the listener, so to speak - while you are expecting this mammoth explosion of sound at one minute, it doesn't happen, and when it does happen, it happens when you least expect it.

As far as drumming goes, it has improved considerately from the debut. Wyskida isn't the biggest influence on me as a drummer, but he is definitely competent. On "Things Viral", his drumming focuses even less on keeping a steady beat. In fact, here, there really isn't that much drumming at all. When he does play, however, he focuses mainly on being heavy and nothing else - the drumming around the 6:42 minute mark of "Commuted" is enough to shatter any skulls within a 200 mile radius.

Dubin's vocals are still as stunning as they were before. However, his vocals on this album are slightly different - thinner and even more sick than in the debut album. His voice conjures up hate, envy, depression, and every other negative emotion you can think of and lets out his pain on the microphone as if it would be the last thing he would ever see in his miserable life. Take, for example, the closing song "Too Close Enough To Touch". Not only is that one of the most unsettling songs I have ever listened to, Dubin's voice emanates everything that was heard in the first three tracks and lets his voice go in a barrage of absolutely repulsive pain, as if it was his final agonized cry for his life to end. It's truly spine-chilling.

Dubin's lyrics are also very, very interesting. They are used alot more than in the debut, and have improved considerately. These lyrics, I think, are interesting because they are very vague, ambiguous and mysterious. Is he screaming about murder, misery...both? It can be a mix of the two at times - "Commuted" seems to be about a mental asylum (or perhaps stabbing someone to death), and "Fields" sounds like it is about drowning someone. Whatever the cause, these incredibly simple lyrics have enough power to keep them from falling flat, no matter how twisted they get.

So, how does this compare to the debut album? Well, in terms of heaviness and "metalness", there is little to nothing here of the sort. If you want more of a straightforward, bone-crunching drone doom album, I'd advise you check out the aforomentioned debut, or Stephen O' Malley's other works with Sunn O))). If you are looking for airy, sickening, slow as all hell power ambient, though, this one's for you.

Stark and uncompromising Khanate album - 72%

NausikaDalazBlindaz, January 27th, 2012

At first I disliked Alan Dubin's high-pitched vocals for this recording, believing them unsuited for the deep doom metal style but after several spins of the CD I've come round to the view that Dubin's voice complements the sparse and stark arrangements well. Given that the music makes no allowance for riff patterns and melodies, a lead or rhythm guitar isn't needed so Dubin's singing provides the treble counterpoint for the instruments.

Guitars, drums and bass combine with synths to emphasise the lyrics and push the tracks along. Khanate use the space as a backdrop in the music to produce a sense of dread and unease. The guitar contributes ambient effects as well as whatever passes for melody. The expressionistic lyrics which admit no possibility of progress or relief and the very stark nature of the music - nearly everything you hear is upfront - make for an intense listening experience. You're likely to feel drained, even assaulted (if that's the appropriate term) by the music; each track is a psychological study of a severely disturbed person. The last track in particular, "Too Close Enough to Touch" has just enough word and phrase associations, as indicated by the track title and at the same time repeatd and fragmented lyrics, to suggest paranoid schizophrenia or something close. The tracks are not very distinct from one another due to Khanate's musical approach and narrow choice of subject matter. This will annoy those who prefer their songs to be internally consistent and distinct from one another though I find the while album consistent in its concept.

For a recording like this, you need to consider the whole rather than its parts and to have an open mind to the music and lyrics. I'd prefer Khanate to lay on the psychological torment more thickly than they have done here by having more screams and the odd growl or gurgle from Dubin, perhaps with more reverb effects, and making his vocals ebb and flow into the space behind the music. Some distortion of Dubin's vocals or of the guitar tones might have helped to make the music more painful and oppressive.

An original version of this review appeared in The Sound Projector (Issue 13, 2005) which is now out of print.

This album: Ugly, Dismal, Safe. - 82%

almightyjoey, June 16th, 2009

This album's been getting a fair bit of bad press. I can, to be honest, understand why. Upon first listen, I don't even think I liked it. It's a pretty big step from the Self-titled album, musically. The Self-titled was described as one of the harshest Doom releases ever made, and this one takes it one step further. It's slower, and a lot more minimalistic, so I can see why people think of it as "boring". However, I really think it helps with the atmosphere. It's not supposed to be 100BPM blast-beat mania, so I can take it for what it is. I will admit, this is my least favourite Khanate release, but that doesn't make it a bad album. Not at all. It's interesting to note that in an interview with James Plotkin (Bass, Synths), he said that these types of tracks were made by visual communication. In other words, because they're so slow, and lack anything reminiscent of tempo, the band would give each other signals to play notes. Anyway, on with the review.

1) Commuted-
The album starts off on a slow note. As if that really needs saying. It takes about three minutes to get into this track. It starts with some buzzing, and sound effects, which we're left to assume is Stephen and James tuning their instruments. Then, out of the blue, it starts with Alan's trademarked tortured wail. It goes on like this until the end of the song. However, you'll notice that this isn't the typical Khanate song. It's a lot slower, and so, so much thinner in texture. It's quite unusual since Stephen's guitar tone in Teeth of Lions Rule the Divine, Sunn O))) and Burning Witch are usually overbearingly thick and heavy. Marvellous way to start an album, however. Red glory, indeed.

2) Fields-
Another wild card in the Khanate discography. It picks up where Commuted left off, but this time adds some vocoded vocals reminiscent of Alan's later project, Gnaw. They're terrifyingly atmospheric and really bring the song on a level of it's own. Again with the first and second track taking up almost 40 minutes of the album, it's probably safe to say that if you're not enjoying it thus far, you'll not enjoy the album.

3) Dead
Probably the most "normal" track by Khanate on the album, and also the album's shortest at 9 minutes. It starts with Alan whispering "I was not worth knowing", which reminds me a lot of 'Skin Coat' from their debut. The whispers turn into screams, and vice versa. This happens twice during the song, and manages to stay as creepy as the first time. It also has a very cool music video directed by Alan himself.

4) Too Close Enough to Touch
The final track on this album (awesomely timed at 11:11) is very interesting. It starts off with what sounds like the typical Khanate, but then gradually fades out into very creepy oscillating sounds, with Alan doing a hushed scream. The pace then quickens, getting more and more tense and desperate, and then...the album ends, leaving you staring into space for a while, before ejecting the disc.

As I said before, it's a very different Khanate album, and even if you are a hardened doom fanatic, you may find it hard to get 'into' this album. I know it took me a while. Recommended for those who like their music on the fucked up side.

Torturous, life-sapping, captivating... - 82%

Airflla, April 26th, 2006

The sophomore effort from New York based act Khanate, 'Things Viral' follows a similar route to their self-titled debut. Extreme doom bands are no strangers to the concept of atmosphere and tension, and this is one album that shows just how agonisingly that suspense can be drawn out. The four bestial tracks of this record almost brace the hour mark, and those unfamiliar with Khanate's dissonant style would struggle to remain relaxed for its duration.

The opener "Commuted" begins with some trebly feedback which could almost be a field recording from the sewers of the Big Apple. The sub-bass drone that follows provides some aural breathing space while coversely darkening the mood, providing the blackboard upon which the vocals will scratch. And hell, do they grate... Alan Dubin presents us with vocals that are the sonic equivalent of Bon Scott being buried alive. Synchronised smashes of guitar & drum beats that resonate at almost single-figure bpm keep things focused. Abstract, delerious lyrics are delivered in gritty bursts of desparation which complete the grim template of Khanate's all-to-unique sound.

This template is conformed to for much of the album, offset occasionally by eerie whispers and seemingly glacial stretches of silence. That this album uses space and silence more openly than its predecessor might suggest to some that it's not as brutal: On the contrary, they serve as swirling voids that - you guessed it - add to the tension. It's not for everyone, but then not every album is such that it's only visible flaws are its consistency and captivating impenetrability...

not as good as the debut but... - 80%

Magnus, February 21st, 2005

...this is still a solid release though I will admit it attempts a somewhat different direction from their first album and doesn't match up entirely as a follow up album. The biggest difference between the two and the thing that will likely make or break this album for most people is Khanate adopting silence and empty space as a heavily used aspect of their sound here. The first album was painfully slow and a bit of a new sound for a doom band but it still kept things moving along and managed a fairly constant wall of sound throughout. That is not the case here as instead you'll find frequent sections of songs with very little in the way of music to fill space. The very first song begins with little more then sparse drumming and some vocals for several minutes for example. Khanate's subtle and unexpected transition from extreme doom band to something of an ambient act took me by surprise and at first I didn't like this album simply because there is almost nothing to grab onto musically. Being a fan of O'Malleys other "ambient" band Sunn O))) though probably helped in my digesting and eventually appreciating this album. This does beg the question though if the man really needs two bands playing similar material since Sunn O))) generally was the more ambient act and Khanate the more aggressive and noisier of the two. Either way after having spent some time with it I can say I'm satisfied with this album though it really wasn't where I was expecting them to go. Perhaps a third album will be different

poorly executed. - 35%

mutiilator, March 4th, 2004

In theory, Khanate sounds like the ideal band: pain-ridden, ultra-slow, extreme experimental doom metal. This was true with the band’s first full-length, which was not bad at all, but in the two years from that release, something went wrong. Things Viral takes the original sound of the group, and overdoes it. The music is almost painful to listen to, and a headache is slowly forming as the CD progresses in my stereo. Other than this, another qualm I have with the album is the overall repetitiveness, and the utter boredom which stems from listening to it. Everything that is done here has already been covered on their self-titled release, but instead of progressing and evolving, they took two steps backwards, and made a second full-length. Slow doom metal is one thing, but combine that with annoying vocals and random pounding on a down-tuned guitar and drum set, and you have the new Khanate. If you’re looking for new doom material, try looking somewhere else first.