Seemingly coming out of the blue — like the sudden emergence of a horrible memory buried for years — drone doom supergroup Khanate returns with To Be Cruel (released digitally on May 19th and on physical formats on June 30th via Sacred Bones Records) the group’s first album since 2009’s Clean Hands Go Foul. Shrouded in secrecy prior to its release, To Be Cruel delivers three tracks and 62 mins of harsh, cold, sparse, experimental sounds fit to ruin any good day.
The word “experimental” is a double-edged sword. For some it classifies anything veering from the typical form people are used to. Thus it renders whatever it is; be it medicine or art, undigestable to safer minds. To others the word conjures a magical playground where truly anything is possible. When foisted upon artists, such as guitarist/vocalist Ron Varod (Kayo Dot) and his solo outlet Zvi, we get the latter. Arriving in 2014 Zvi I challenged the listener to feel a piece of music on Varod’s terms. His new release II: Death Stops Us All (Halfpear Records) is no less of an emotional tug of war for the senses.
Composed of just three pieces, Zvi:II differs from its sister release in some ways.’You’ve Charmed Me, I Will Stay’ begins with a swelling guitar repeated like waves with other instrumentation flowing in. The layers of harmony vocals in the background suck in your attention. While the plucked guitars parts are calming, there is a unease that sets the table for what is to come.
‘Black Leaves’ (featuring Alan Dubin of Khanate and Gnaw on vocals) begins with more unsettling bassy notes. They soon stop and the song takes shape with Varod crooning forlornly at first. Moody strangeness pervades the track with, but never confusing you. Finally, a familiar harrowing shriek from Dubin fades in and out from the mix over and over. Jarring stabbing chords, detuning strings along with underlying keyboards flood in, giving a feeling of sonic vertigo. Ending with a mantra type singing wail, some malicious whispering, and other oddities from beyond, we glide into the final track.
We again meet Varod and his voice to some off-kilter balladry and guitar, with a motif close to the first track. What ‘Whale Bone Cage’ does is beckon you to come down from the anguish and recover. A final strum of an open chord seems to breathe out a phrase….. rest.
A release like this can only come from vision of a person without bounds as a writer. Matching Varod’s work are the talents of engineer Colin Marston (Gorguts/Kralice) and James Plotkin (Khanate) to engineer. The only shame of these releases is they are too brief, and leave you lusting for more.