Thursday, November 02, 2006

Khlyst almighty

one of the radder compact discs i've enjoyed recently is by a band called Khlyst. i wrote about their new debut for Time Out recently, and you can read that here, but i had some more stuff i wanted to say re: it, so i'm gonna say it.

the band is just two folks, James Plotkin and Runhild Gammelsaeter. Plotkin is one of these sort of post-metal heroes of which there are a few around these days, the other most prominent such figure being Stephen O'Malley, who not-incidentally worked with Plotkin in Khanate (until very recently; Plotkin just announced his resignation) and earlier in a band called Thorr's Hammer. unlike Khanate, which did an awesome sort of ambient deconstruction of doom, TH played (at least from what i've heard) a pretty conventional brand of said metal subgenre. the main thing that got them attention--besides the later fame of Khanate and O'Malley's group Sunn 0)))--was that their vocalist was the aforementioned Gammelsaeter, a very young and beautiful Norwegian woman who excelled at both deep vomit-style death-metal growling and gothy chanting-style singing. again, though, i'm not too into what i've heard of Thorr's Hammer.

but this Khlyst record, Chaos Is My Name, is different. it's definitely not conventional metal in any way, nor is it like a Sunn 0)))- or Khanate-style abstraction thereof. in fact, i think this music actually shares a lot of features with free jazz, namely in that it's extremely cathartic and--at least as far as i can tell--largely improvised.

there are seven untitled pieces on the record, but they all flow into one another and a lot of textures resurface so the tracks blend together. the most compelling parts are the grittiest parts, like what you hear on the first and seventh tracks. listening to these pieces, you feel like you've just opened to door to the duo's practice space and they're just in there freaking out. the first thing you hear is Plotkin's awesomely distorted bass---imagine someone using that Brian Gibson (Lightning Bolt) rusty-laser tone but not knowing how to play at all. it sounds like Plotkin is wrestling with the instrument, just sort of smearing all over it and plugging and unplugging it and messing around with amp settings. it's just like this snarling, overdriven texture writhing around.

the vocals complement this squall perfectly. basically Gammelsaeter growls and shrieks like a demon being exorcised. i'm pretty sure she's not forming words, but if she is, they're probably not English. she sounds incredibly wicked and possessed--these are really some of the most furious, unhinged metal-style vocals i've ever heard. she really does sound satanic, and the freeformness of the music makes it seem as if she's just snarling in tongues rather than fronting a band.

the best parts of the record are when that insane bass sound and the vocals are just sort of grappling with each other. it's a naked, raw and uncomfortably chaotic sound. during these parts Plotkin often adds subtle effects, like an echo on the vocals or a weird drone or digitally fucked-up drums in the background, and that stuff all works. but there are some pieces that are less immediate and more these long dronescape things where Plotkin takes more liberty with "remixing" the voice and instruments. these don't work as well, because they seem fussier and more self-consciously trying to sound spooky and weird.

i appreciate the variation in texture, though, b/c a whole record of the bass and vocals in combat might have gotten old. but those raw parts are just so intense. on the other hand, there's enough that keeps my attention during the more "produced" parts that i don't feel like skipping them--i especially like how Plotkin subtly fucks with the tracks, inserting these weird jumpcuts and fading instruments in and out.

that manipulation is definitely an echo of what Plotkin did in Phantomsmasher, which is this insane sort of electro-grindcore project where he recorded himself and Dave Witte (drums) and then just chopped and reassembled the tracks into these awesome quasi-drill & bass-style pieces. the Ipecac record by Phantomsmasher--can't remember what it's called--must be checked out if you ain't heard it.

anyway, though, i think this Khlyst thing is really impressive. even though not all of it works for me, i don't find any of it boring. which is saying a lot considering it's a completely freeform record. it's really just a feast of texture, and it's great to hear those grit-filled bass and vocal timbres so unhinged from any genre.

i'm hearing the band at Sin-e tomorrow (Thursday, 11/2) at 8pm as part of the Hydra Head CMJ thing. curious as hell to see how this shit will play live. Khanate drummer Tim Wyskida is helping the duo out at the show.

[weird coincidence: the Khlyst record has artwork by this awesome painter Stephen Kasner, who did the cover of the very obscure first record by Craw, my very favorite band ever. the piece above isn't Kasner's, but you can see all the CD artwork on Plotkin's site here.]


Drew said...


Phil Freeman said...

The first Phantomsmasher disc (under the name Atomsmasher), on Hydra Head, is better than the Ipecac one.

Anonymous said...

Ummm, how hard is it to tell that Plotkin is playing GUITAR on this, and NOT BASS? Saw the CMJ gig and it was...ah fuck it. Words don't do the experience justice.