Classic Album Review : Khanate (2001)
Music is not supposed to be competitive. It was originally meant to uplift the soul, celebrate the divine and whatnot. But let’s not kid ourselves: metal is a thoroughly competitive musical genre. For example, doom metal bands are competing for who can play the slowest and be the most ridiculously depressing. But that title’s been long won already. Defunct American drone doom band Khanate’s self-titled debut album is the doomiest piece of doom metal I’ve ever heard. It turned 17 this week, so let’s celebrate this game changer in the world of soul crushing music.
Khanate (the album) consists in five wildly unpredictable songs that have little to no structure. They have no verses, choruses or recognizable solos. Nothing for your mind to hold on to and feel comfortable. It’s like wandering inside a decaying mental hospital with your eyes blindfolded, without knowing if the voices you hear are real of not. The songs range from three to eighteen minutes long and often collapse and spin in different directions like an unstable mind. All there is to Khanate that feels conventional is that its five songs each have a beginning and an ending. Otherwise, there’s nothing for you to take for granted.
The first standout trait of this album of the physical aspect of the performance. Khanate is great, but it takes its toll on you. Legendary guitarist Stephen O’Malley (who wasn’t quite legendary yet then) spearheads the efforts with long, colossal guitar riffs that collapse as soon as you start feeling comfortable with the songs. Perhaps my favorite O’Malley stunt on this record is on Skin Coat, just as the song seems to reach an emotional climax. Out of nowhere, it turns into a distorted, almost wet sounding guitar interlude that’ll lead frontman Alan Dubin into his “I wear a human shield” mantra. It’s so fucking disquieting to have a song devolve into almost silence like that and become more intense anyway.
Another aspect of what makes Khanate such a crippling physical experience is the complementary work of Alan Dubin and drummer Tim Wyskida, who pounds away alongside every shrieks like he’s to hammer them into your soul. It’s vital to the album’s insane atmosphere. Dubin and Wyskida are almost one and the same on songs like Pieces of Quiet, Skin Coat and Under the Rotting Sky. That’s another counterintuitive technique used by Khanate in order to fuck with your mind. Usually, bass and drums work together to create rhythm, but not here. Bassist James Plotkin is working alongside Stephen O’Malley so seamlessly, you sometimes wonder which one is which in all that distortion.
As stellar as the music is on Khanate, the showstopper is Alan Dubin otherworldly vocal performance. I’ve never heard someone sing with such a desperate, tortured and broken passion. I could only describe his performance as the one of a demon possessing a mental ward patient, who’s trying to express himself through art therapy. There’s nothing about Dubin’s work you can prepare for. His writing has no structure and sometimes no logic to him, but the sheer fierceness of his delivery transmits the terror and confusion it’s supposed to be received with. His lyrics don’t quite make sense on paper, but they take a whole new meaning when shrieked with the hatred and the despair only him can conjure.
Khanate is great music to die to. Perhaps not to kill yourself to because it’s too disjointed and confusing to evoke melancholia, but if you were to be hit by a car playing this album, you’d go like: “Oh. I guess this makes sense,” before getting crushed under its wheels. Outside of Anaal Nathrakh’s iconic debut The Codex Necro, I do not know of any other album with such physical power to it. And physical power is pretty much the point of doom metal. That’s why Khanate (the band) is the heavyweight champion of the genre and their self-titled debut redefined the game to me. It’s what doom metal should be: slow, pounding and openly at war with your sanity. Happy day of the dead, guys. Listen to Khanate and try not to hallucinate ghosts and zombies on your way to work.