Stephen O’Malley


Posted: Mar 30, 2004

"The Sturm und Drang of Khanate"

Khanate at The Ritz, March 20, 2004

SXSW, Southern Lord Showcase

Austin, Texas

Live Review by Dege Legg

Amazing night. Place was packed. The Southern Lord Showcase, which included a mind-blowing line-up: Graves at Sea, Khanate, Outlaw Order (members of Eyehategod), Earthride, and Place of Skulls (featuring the legendary Victor Griffith) seemed to bring out everyone in the "Heavy Scene"…from the members of the above mentioned bands to Greg Anderson, Tim Moss (Porn), Joey & Lori (Acid King), Trinidad (Dixie Witch), and Billy Anderson. Killer vibe in the room.

Khanate came out ripping in their own unbelievably, unique approach, which means they jammed a hulking crowbar into the evolutionary gearbox of mankind and took the crowd on a slow-rolling turn into the darkness…roasting souls in the blast furnace of No Man’s Land. BlackLight-SlowHeat. Khanate is a mind-bending atom-killing spree… that stretches the parameters of musicality with the musicians’ Zero-Point Energy, non-gravitational, mausoleum door-pounding emotional assault.

Stephen O’Malley, from the instant he hit the first of his Plate-Tectonic rattling chords, guided the band, and crowd, into a journey thru the equatorial ruins the subconscious. The crowd-slow and in sway with the earth-moving machine tempos-seemed to be vibing the music telepathically and in unison with the roaring volume. Very interesting.

Khanate is a band so unlike any other (much in the same way as my beloved Birthday Party), I can’t help but ramble when attempting to decipher the code of their artistic intentions. On the surface, yes, of course there seemed to be an element of the crowd that simply reacted and reveled in the titanic crush of their sound (Note: this was the slowest head-banging I’ve ever witnessed in a club…many lowered heads…as if at a Black Mass Eulogy for a fallen comrade in the Drug War), but if you listen closely, and have your radar antenna twisted at an oblique angle, you begin to piece together the incredible subtext of their art, which in my opinion, is where the true essence of Khanate’s music resides.

The music was tumultuous, crawling along-locked in Dirge Drive-with the rumbling grammatiks of the instrumentation functioning like cardinal, exclamation points exacted from the death knell of black mammoth bells tuned to a frequency well versed in the dark grandeur of the Unknown. Over and over, the accents pound and the string section hounds your mind’s eye into conjuring slack-jawed visions of crumbling gray monasteries-colossal and incomprehensibly bombed-out-where clouds rain embalming fluid-and the MileWideSun leaks a black, inert grease. The chord sequences send the mysteries of the quantum to the Scar-Center of a thousand time-lapse centuries, burnt into the daguerreotype of your heart. All of this is dramatically punctuated with periodic runs of BloodHaunt silence laced with Rorschach feedback transmissions…loosed against the concrete walls of an abandoned asylum. The band plays on, and then comes the nuances: enigmatic scribbles of sound-samples, peeping into focus from an elliptical orbit…like a malfunctioning homing beacon, running in tandem to the lone voice/vocals, meditating-in encrypted-primeval lyrical code-on the sawed-off metaphysics of its own eventual destruction. The band answers these distress-signal-communiqués with Zarathustra-like craters of soundhulk, jamming the transmitters of Ground Control to the point that all communication is blasted back to an enlightened state of Paleozoic-frankness.

The Khanate Aesthetic, brilliant and so genuinely inspired in its execution, to me, seems in part to be one of contorting any & all of the listener’s preconceived notions of what constitutes music in general. The presentation, as a whole, is one that verges on performance art (movingly delivered by these guys with not a hint of pretension…just total commitment to each fanatical passage) where the continuous and deliberate sluggishness of the "piece" is the art and the primary emotional vehicle of the content and parallel subtext. The tortured pace serves as the means of transport most fitting for conveying this particular species of irradiated-narcoleptic melancholy…one denied in most of us, but present, I think, in all humans who are somewhat aware of the quiet horror of conventional society and, in turn, its demented effect on us in this new millennium.

In simpler terms, Khanate is like the sound of an omni-directional mic hung in a forgotten cellar of the contemporary Collective Unconscious. Amazing. Grand in scope. Awe-inspiring…and even strangely regal.

I loved this show. It’s difficult to describe how inspiring it is to see this degree of intelligence utilized in a genre that sometimes relies heavily on common denominators.

It’s 21st Century Sturm und Drang. A new Long-Pig Noir. Can you dig it? Take the Khanate Sensory-Depro-Overload Test and see if you can pass.