Emaciated fashion models traipse up and down the streets of Soho in skintight Judas Priest shirts from the Screaming for Vengeance tour, cheerily squealing “ROCK ‘N’ ROLL” while waving devil horns with outstretched index fingers and pinkies in response to really great sweater sales. It’s a damn shame, but the world’s beautiful people have completely consumed classic heavy metal’s most sacred deities and symbols. Fortunately, metal surrendered its history to the masses and dipped below the commercial radar a few years back—developing much nastier manifestations of itself that the kultur machine will not be devouring any time soon.
One of the underground’s more interesting and most adventurous groups is New York’s Khanate, whose self-titled debut (on vinyl so heavy it quickly tears through its sleeve) recently appeared in record stores on the independent doom-metal label Southern Lord. But do not call Khanate doom.
“Calling us doom is fucking lazy,” sneered vocalist Alan Dubin immediately after ordering a bulbous red-nosed drunk not to touch him when he mistakenly placed his hand on Dubin’s shoulder. The barfly interrupted our interview, at some midtown dive not far from Khanate’s rehearsal space, with a failed pitch to sell us baseball caps.
For the uneducated extreme-metal fan in all of us, doom is a foggy strand devoted to slowing down Sabbath’s pulse to the point where it can coalesce into thunderous grooves only after a rapid succession of gravity bong hits in Mom’s kitchen sink. Khanate’s four-song debut (with two songs clocking in at over 12 minutes) lurches forward like typical doom but hammers the skull with a coiled-up intensity and muscular aggression that are more a product of rigorous practice and experimentation than clichéd hard-rock inebriation. Khanate’s severe aesthetic has elicited numerous comparisons to New York’s last great group of noise heavies, the Swans. It is incredibly flattering praise but rather misleading because the Swans’ brutality always remained both the means and end for making the music.
In contrast, the heavy rhythms of bassist James Plotkin and drummer Tim Wyskida and the screaming feedback of guitarist Stephen O’Malley (ex-Burning Witch) operate as textural components of larger movements of orchestrated sound that slowly grow from quivering sheets of reverb-soaked distortion (like amplifying the sound of smashing burned-out fluorescent lights up against a supermarket dumpster in the back alley) into steadily propulsive metallic jams wherein a very pissed Dubin howls such self-incriminating limericks as “Choke, choke, want you choked/Change face to blue” and “Under a bed, a leg, and a saw, red teeth gnaw/No more whine/No more whine, quiet time.” In retrospect, that baseball cap salesman was quite lucky Dubin didn’t chew his hand off.
By show’s end (or even by the end of the record), Khanate will leave you feeling dirty and drained—ruminating on the possibilities of a new genre called extreme ambient metal. It’s an aesthetic paradox that will sound right at home when Khanate play Northsix with two of metal’s other stylistic anomalies: Thrones (one-man electronic doom metal) and Sigh (trippy hippie flower-power death metal from Japan). What the . . . ?
Sure, it all sounds just a little too cerebral and stuffy for big dumb metal dudes, but as O’Malley proudly announced minutes after shaking my hand, “I consider myself a true metalhead even if I’m not jumping around the stage in black leather like Rob Halford or somebody.”