Review: Khost, Governance (Cold Spring, 2017)

U.K. duo Khost has been on my radar for some time, but I must confess that their 11-song, 50-minute third full-length, Governance, has been my first proper front-to-back listen; and this is some seriously oppressive and intense industrial metal that leans more toward real deal industrial than anything. It's "metal" in the sense that there are distorted stringed instruments and aggressive, guttural vocals (often obscured to the point of snarling, animalistic grunts) more so than tangible riffs or song structures. It's more like being sent down a disorientingly machinated assembly line fueled by torture and suffering through simple, slow-paced, densely resonant, and hard-hitting percussion; severely manipulated vocals that tend to act more as suggestive yet indecipherable texture than message; lurching, droning "riffs" centered around grit and textural details; samples (I think?) of assorted vocal chants; etc.

This is a message sent loud and clear right out of the gate through ominous opener "Redacted Repressed Recalcitrant." "Subliminal Chloroform Violation" then treads a similar path, but offers more breathing room with hints of melody and more obvious shifts in layering and dynamics. This approach carries over into "Low Oxygen Silo" where the soft, borderline chilled out intro still carries with it a subtle undercurrent of complete terror. "Cloudbank Mausoleum" builds onto and tears away from the repetitive plunk 'n' clank of a simple bass/drum rhythm; and "Demenized" is one of the more stacked tracks consisting of densely layered/varyingly distorted vocals over a pulsing, stripped down rhythm; before the narrative "[ ]" marks a slight shift a little over midway through the disc—an interlude of sorts.

"Coven" builds into a framework of slightly more active and hypnotic percussion; its strings more droning and sustained, if not warped. There's something slightly more memorable about the (still largely indecipherable) vocal arrangements, too. The violently chaotic opening of "Depression" later develops into a crack 'n' crunch gunshot rhythm; while "Defraction" offers one of the most discernible and subtly melodic (bass?) riffs amidst sparse, hammering percussion as well as some piano (and possibly cello). An easy standout for me, and possibly my favorite cut from the entire disc. "Stockholm Syndrome" then misleading begins with distant and subdued acoustic guitar and spoken vocals, but suddenly explodes and triples in volume/intensity for its second half; before the album closes with a remix of "Coven" by Adrian Stainburner, still recognizable—if at times jarring—in its stuttered recontextualization of elements.

Governance looks and sounds wonderful as a whole. I'd always prefer to see complete lyrics and detailed credits, but in this case the CD is housed in a nice-looking and quite minimalist six-panel digipack. The darker outer panels boast a fantastic cover illustration and some subtle photographic imagery, while the red interior contains what I'm assuming to be some fragmented lyrical hints on the left panel and ultra-succinct credits on the right. Eugene Robinson (Oxbow), cellist Jo Quail, Syan, and percussionist Daniel Buess (R.I.P.) are cited as guests, but there's no indication as to the nature or placement of their contributions.

In the end, this is some dark, despondent shit that doesn't particularly remind me of anyone. Not that I'm an expert in such realms, by any stretch, but still—to listen to an album in 2017 and have little more than widespread genre associations come to mind is pretty damn cool, and certainly doesn't happen often, so I'd have to credit that to the creativity of Khost's vision. I'm looking forward to finally digging into their back catalog, as well as exploring the members' outside efforts over the past several decades...

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