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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.