Review by Sonny for Khanate - To Be Cruel (2023)
To Be Cruel is only Khanate's fourth album in the 23 years since their formation and it has been fourteen years since previous release, Clean Hands Go Foul. To be fair, the band had originally split in 2006 with little prospect of reforming, it appeared, and the main man behind Khanate is none other than Stephen O'Malley, so he has been otherwise occupied with Sunn O))) and his zillion other projects for the last two or three decades. The other members of Khanate are drummer Tim Wyskida and bassist James Plotkin who, along with Runhild Gammelsæter were both members of legendary, one album only, drone metal outfit Khlyst and vocalist Alan Dubin who, along with Plotkin was in New Jersey grindcore/industrial legends O.L.D. and is more recently the voice behind drone/noise outfit Gnaw. So with a pedigree like that, don't go into To Be Cruel with expectations of hearing anything even remotely melodic.
The album consists of three tracks, all clocking in at around the twenty-minute mark and a degree of patience will serve you well as you tackle the ensuing hour and one minute of hulking insanity. In fact, even with the patience of the Dalai Lama, the majority probably wouldn't get very far with To Be Cruel because this is not music for everyone. It is grindingly slow, exceedingly sparse, hulkingly menacing and lacking any kind of melody or hooks for the uninitiated to hang on to. O'Malley's massive, hulking guitar chords, bolstered by Plotkin's glacially-paced, seismic bass and Wyskida's sparse drum hits and crashing percussion set the scene with an atmosphere of terrifying menace, like a slow-motion, one-take camera shot of a walkthrough of a serial killer's homestead, as dread builds against the appearance of the killer himself. And when he appears, in the guise of Alan Dubin's genuinely disturbing vocals, you know you have experienced true fear. Dubin's vocal performance sounds truly unhinged and if you thought Edgy from Burning Witch sounded scarily deranged, then Dubin is about to take you even further away from any grasp on sanity, whether he is screaming at the top of his lungs in frustrated defiance or cajoling with gentle whispers, you feel you are in the presence of a mind that is warped beyond any recognition of reality. The excessive distortion, those percussive crashes and Dubin's howling of frustrated agony all combine to produce one of the grimiest and scariest sounds on a drone album. Mental pictures of delapidated barns full of rusted scythes and rotting pig carcasses insert themselves in your brain unheeded as you seem to be subjected to the workings of Leatherface's inner monologue.
I am a massive fan of Khanate's debut album, but they may even have bettered it this time around. I don't know if working on it during the pandemic in '20/'21 added an extra aura of despair and hopelessness to the recording process, but whatever mysterious alchemical formula they happened upon seems to have been a lightning in a bottle event that has very possibly produced the last word in extreme doom metal albums. Do not listen to To Be Cruel in the dark if you wish to preserve your sanity. Makes Texas Chainsaw seem like a Disney movie and Lovecraft like a bedtime story.