Khost create songs of such a punishingly bleak and disturbing nature that most people would probably not even acknowledge their latest album Governance as ‘music’ in the conventional sense.
They’re probably half-right for Khost’s creativity is so far off the scale as to be almost out of reach entirely.
I’ve seen this Birmingham duo live a few times and have never failed to be left stunned by the industrial wall of noise that they build during a set performed almost entirely in darkness and with vocals used sparingly and unintelligibly.
But then to try and illuminate the likes of album opener ‘Redacted Repressed Recalcitrant’ is no easy ask when the soundscape is so mercilessly unforgiving. Any Sabbath fan knows how the haunting shudders, thumps and clangs at least in part influenced the early sound of Tony Iommi and Ozzy, as Birmingham’s industrial heritage of the 60s and 70s provided the soundtrack to their young lives.
Although the old factories that used to pepper the Birmingham skyline have now largely been removed, with hotels and shiny office blocks replacing the places where hands were once dirtied, Khost’s shuddering symphonies at least in part hanker back to that more binary age.
Khost is a union between Damian Bennett and Andy Swan whose sound is enveloped by a relentless pounding straight from the factory floor that smothers everything in a distorted blanket of noise. Certainly ‘Redacted Repressed Recalcitrant’ is one of the most astonishing album openers you’ll come across this year.
Almost biblical chanting gives way to a deathly stomp as though a giant hammer of doom is hurtling down upon a rusty anvil. Occasional choral chants deliver a theological touch against a fuzzed up wall with almost tribal cries completing the primal palate.
The sense of impending doom shuffles slowly across into ‘Subliminal Choroform Violation’ although here an ethereal female lilt is giving the unenviable task of jostling for air alongside a bludgeoning backdrop played out at a funereal pace.
‘Low Oxygen Silo’ has all the subtlety of a low budget snuff movie, the distressed female wails adding a bloodcurdling dimension to an already violent vista that crashes and collides like dodgems at the fairground but without the laughs. Fuzzed up vocal kicks complete the picture, which in itself is almost one of total desolation and carnage.
If you imagine a Tyrannosaurus Rex marching down your local street, flattening everything in its path, then you’ll have some idea what ‘Cloudbank Mausoleum’ sounds like, almost prehistoric in its meticulous plodding, the cold spoken tones supplied by Eugene Robinson from Oxbow.
‘Demenized’ actually beats it though for aggression levels as the distorted aural waves flood the air like a particularly choppy ocean, anyone lost in these rocky waters faces almost certain submergence. Interestingly, the title of the song is spat out at timely intervals, making this probably the only song where a word can be actually understood.
After a brief and mysterious interlude featuring the slightly disturbed mutterings of a solitary female voice, Khost again get down to business on ‘Coven’, the tempo of which builds with delicious anticipation, a groove that’s positively upbeat when set aside most of Khost’s stifled and solemn soundscapes.
With music this oppressive it has the potential to push the weak and the wounded over the edge and ‘Depression’ does exactly what it suggests by spreading a giant curtain of despair across your mind and then almost force-feeding you a devastating diet of nerve jangling chimes and merciless blows to your inner self.
The longest track is ‘Defraction’ which tones down the aggression levels but balances things neatly by upping the suspense register, in no small part to the gently undulating string work of cellist Jo Quail. It’s as though the repetitive rhythmic thrusts are dragging you further into the darkness with no obvious exit routes available.
Governance is certainly one of the most extraordinary releases of the year so far, and ultimately an extremely satisfying one, once you begin to come to terms with its stabbing sonic surges. The overtures from this Birmingham duo are at times as demanding and challenging as a particularly troublesome crossword. But when you’ve unravelled its myriad of interlocking paths the rewards are fulsome.