The members of Birmingham, U.K.-based industrial duo Khost each possess a lengthy history in the underground scene that far predates this particular project, and that volume of experience may well speak to the overarching quality of their output. The unit's latest full-length, Buried Steel, seeped out to the world last month—once more via the legendary Cold Spring label—and takes the gnashing gloom of prior albums such as 2017's Governance into even more envisioningly cinematic territory—complete with a densely-packed digital companion booklet, Steel Veil.
Witness a brand new video below—created by Lagomorphosis—for Buried Steel track #6, "Night Air," followed by an assortment of exhortations by way of Khost's Damian Bennett and Andy Swan...
When initially reading about Buried Steel, the first thing that caught my attention was of course the fact that the album's creative process suffered an electrical fire—which affected both equipment and recorded material. On the one hand, I'd imagine that would have been incredibly devastating, but there's also part of me that wonders due to the nature of your music if somehow this lent itself to some "happy accidents" in the end. What's the overall story there in terms of what happened, how you handled it, and the effect(s) it had on the album's outcome?
Damian: One night, I'd been working on a track which used sounds off the reel-to-reel... nicely "degraded" sort of sounds. [It was] an old reel-to-reel which had a few problems built-up over time, but we'd used it live here and there. I had really liked how the recording heads were deteriorating on this unit, as it was tough to get results and I liked that... you had to work at it, really push it. Sometimes, I would have a source signal running through three different units in an attempt to get a cohesive sound. It wasn't the same scenario as we know happened with Basinski's The Disintegration Loops, but you really felt that you had to lock horns to work at it. Here are some sounds from a typical session near its end of life:
Maybe I was getting so obsessed by it I lost track of time, but I left the room while it was running and then felt like something was wrong... there was a different light/shadow interplay from the room as I came back and saw the reel-to-reel had caught fire. I tried to grab it, dropped it as by then there was smoke, and inadvertently—to cut a long story short—destroyed an external unit I had used for my sampler. A Sheffield-based company tried to rescue this unit, but it was gone... with two decades' worth of sounds, presets, and so on gone, too. Maybe if you are the sort of person that likes to glean positivity from shit, then maybe there's some masochistic happiness to decipher from this, but I really doubt such people exist.
Andy: I'd been re-reading Burroughs' The Revised Boy Scout Manual during the recording and production of Buried Steel, and I think the tape experiments described by Burroughs definitely played a part in the reel-to-reel fire. There's that whole concept of analogue tape layering history over history that fascinates me. This ties in with the image of a piece of steel buried in the ground, unseen apart from the yellowing of the grass above. I've been using an analogue dictaphone a lot recently and have found that the layering of sounds/history has great effects. There will be a track on 23_12 made entirely of analogue dictaphone recordings.
Throughout the core 43 minutes of the album, there are still diverse moments of ambience and melody, and certain compositions that feel more structured and "song-like," but as a whole, the holistic atmosphere of Buried Steel seems to have a dirtier, nastier slog to it than Governance did. Do you feel like anything in particular was driving the work in that direction?
Andy: The whole concept of Buried Steel was nature reclaiming over industry, but not being able to completely take it back as the filth and the rust still seeped back through. So, yes, in a way, Buried Steel is a lot "dirtier" than Governance, but intentionally so. There are subliminal elements in a number of tracks that hopefully illicit a feeling of being covered over or buried.
Damian: Definitely wanted to continue in the same territories mapped out by Governance, but to depict the landscape a little more in detail. A piece like "Kent House" came about pretty quickly after Governance; and written down quickly, too, to get the vibe... like an eternal 4:00am subterranean place with water coming down and dubious places, "no go" areas with shadowy people about. We all know that places like those abound in cities and beneath street level... I mean, you see it over the decades in films, you think about where you might sleep if you missed a train. So, a lot of the tracks are part of that. "Night Air," in particular, that world... The image of someone with head down, walking with determination and purpose, with the music coming in with force in the "big scheme" of things, to enforce the utter conviction that the person has... despite the fact that he never seems to quite arrive. A form of circular inertia. I get obsessed with that: people on the day-to-day, total conviction, rushing to a certain goal, immersed in it, blind.
Related: if I could do just loops/codas in rock, that would be awesome sometimes. I could do that forever.
For me, when we have played "We Will Win," it does have a lot of filth and nastiness live... it feels like there is truck exhaust in the room which has just reacted to a green light, and the driver is putting foot down partially to move, but mostly the driver's sole purpose is to fill the earth with black smoke. We played it at a big gig in Birmingham last year and it was like that, it felt volatile and ugly. We had no time to set up and just went for it and it was through a big PA—this was with Anaal Nathrakh and Akercocke. "Judgement...," too... we have a recording of that played live in Amsterdam with a drunk, fucked-off crowd, beer bottles.
There's also a track a month going up on 23_12 this year, the project Andy mentioned before.
I didn't realize that was the intention behind 23_12—a track a month. What brought that concept to the fore, and how—if at all—do you envision those compositions unfolding as far as your headspace coming out of the release of Buried Steel?
Damian: From the start, we have done things in ways that don't seem to conform to the standard music output cycle... like write/record/release then promote/tour. I personally have nothing against that cycle and its confines, as that was the reality of music that you heard over time, and it actually can go one of two ways: one, is that the cycle regulates and strengthens the output so you get killer albums done under pressure, like [Hüsker Dü's] Zen Arcade; or two, that the band is burnt by the cycle, so it releases dross.
Really early, we did a tape as a giveaway for a Birmingham gig. The band name was scratched into the plastic of the case and it had 90 minutes of static ambience, grey electronic noise, and so forth. There was also the Marked release, which has some really wide-ranging material on it, I think... that was done pre-Governance, and we sold it on tour. I always liked the thought of putting stuff like that on merch tables, too.
Andy: We've always looked to release items that don't necessarily fit in with your average output. We released a limited edition USB stick contained within a glass vial when we toured with Godflesh, and we've got a new limited edition CD-R called Breached that is only available at live shows. 23_12 is just an extension of this—it allows us to experiment further and release tracks that probably wouldn't fit on a regular album.
Alongside frequent collaborators such as Eugene Robinson and Stephen Āh Burroughs, Buried Steel seems to include more guest contributors than past efforts as well. What led to that, and in general how do you approach these outside contributions?
In "Two," there is someone on a train or a tram and it is going somewhere and I guess this stems from questions as a kid I used to wonder... where to? I was always wondering where others went to once you go off. I don't know why. That's in Spirited Away, too, I feel. For "Two," I feel like there is the guy, then his two accomplices... "we" are probably sitting behind them and looking at them and thus, it goes, looking at the view they may see ahead of them... past the driver, through the windscreen and into a distance. That place—whatever it is—was the thing that set the tone for the ambience on that track in part. Plus the fact that if "we" are there... who are the "Two" in the title? There's some of the lost reel-to-reel in that as well.
With Stephen Mallinder's track, we'd started up a conversation about moods and all sorts and it went into a tangent... it was caught while it was still in that transient and recorded down and not thought about too much, it was pretty punk rock.
Andy: It's a feeling, I guess, that the collaborators just "get it" somehow. Cabaret Voltaire always had that appeal to me that they were just aware of what was happening in the world—with technology, but still had that uneasy undercurrent about them. I go way back with Stephen Burroughs—back to the pre-Head of David era, when there was a small power electronics scene in Birmingham.
You've released a massive 90-page digital booklet called Steel Veil to accompany the album, loaded with photography and text that's consistent with its general aesthetic. At least portions of the text appear throughout the album as lyrics, though not necessarily arranged in the same order of presentation as the tracks themselves. This definitely brings out an added cinematic layer from the material, and helps surface the fact that Buried Steel does have somewhat of a "storytelling" type of continuity to it, where some pieces act more like narrative interludes, etc. Without over-sharing or giving anything away, how would you elaborate on these aspects of the endeavor?
Damian: The book was done in parts, and evolved early in 2019... in part because of the album, but also in part due to the fact that a decade was closing and a big steel door was slowly closing, so there was a feeling of, "Let's commit to getting something else that acts like the extended space above the usual 'album art' layer." That was Steel Veil's inception.
Wanted to say as well: for years, growing up, an album wasn't just the cover, it was all the constituent parts—including the back cover, the gatefold if it was, and the inner sleeve, the label on the record... listening to albums that actually felt like they justified having all that space, it was all part of the realm of the artist. Had no say in it.
Also, there was the thing where I had no idea how it was done... I still don't. I don't know if something was cut-up Hipgnosis or Chrome (in the Damon Edge sense) or new wave-style and how they did that, or where they got the original images from... I don't know if images or props were purposely shot, and I don't know how they got the text on it. We now know about scanning or typography or whatever process, but then I had no clue. I could look it up, but I don't. Same with films, credits, dissolves, music over the years. I have a basic idea of 8mm and 16mm film production, but that's all. I don't want to know.
Same as the music, when other elements than the band were part of the whole tapestry, how that worked. There's so many sessions I would love to have seen happening. I can't think of a better place to be on this earth.
There is a jagged theme running through the album regarding the storytelling part: man-made ruins, our monuments, office spaces, and lodgings and a unifying gravitational down-thrust as earth reclaims what was stolen, for short term measures.
Andy: Listening to albums as a kid was an overall experience for me, too. Poring over the sleeve, credits, inner sleeve, even the mastering remarks etched onto the inner vinyl. Crass, for instance, created those amazing fold-out sleeves containing lyrics, typography, and graphics. Massively influential. In a world of streaming, it seems such a shame that listeners don't get to experience the whole concept.
Since you both mentioned an affinity for physical media and specifically vinyl, I'm mildly curious about the fact that Khost's releases are more likely to appear on any format other than vinyl—CD, digital, cassette... I'm a CD guy myself, so I have no gripes on this topic, I just wonder if there's any reason for this, or is it just the sheer economic infeasibility of vinyl, especially given the stream-centric nature of the present age...?
Damian: I'm keen to do it, but for me the actual body of music that "needs" to be on vinyl hasn't appeared yet. I grew up in record shops over decades—grew up ogling vinyl from everywhere that manufactured it—but sometimes when I see vinyl on merch desks for bands—especially super-pious and pristine alt.-doom/metal bands—I want to gargle bleach. I guess also you can fit more on a merch desk—and can also post out stuff easier—if it's on CD or tape.
Andy: The economics of vinyl is quite limiting. I don't feel comfortable charging people an excessive amount for vinyl, as some bands seem to do. It would be quite interesting to do some one-off dub plates at some point, though.
Damian: Same here.
Circling back to both of your remarks on the theme of the album as it relates to earth/nature reclaiming structures, I can't help but ask if you have opinions as to the current worldwide pandemic situation being an even more extreme extension of that: nature reclaiming the human source of those structures...?
Damian: I really do see skyscrapers now as just full of cadavers. Just purpose-built high-rise mausoleums from a 20th century ideal full of people who don't know they're already dead. The business model mausoleums are dead at the weekends: that is their normal state. No one you or me or anyone knows gets those buildings erected. Much of the sprawl out from them should be bulldozed and made into farmland now: get rid of urban sprawl and pollution.
This virus for me is human-caused. So's climate change. Both are avoidable. During this time, all I can see is no jets, minimal cars, and nature allowed to breath once more. All I want to say in general is that people should only ever endorse places that look after and respect their animals. If you can see videos from animal welfare groups which go undercover at wet markets and not be shaken to the core seeing what happens and what is endorsed, then there is something messed up about you. And, if you can then also accept what the big supermarket and fast food chains do on a slightly more "civilized" end of the spectrum, then you are part of the problem, too.
Last thing I want to say is look at the visual message on the front of the original Napalm Death albums: this isn't "retro," this message is more real and more extreme than ever as consumers are now fixated by fast, efficient, digital means of indoctrination and spin.
Andy: It's human-induced, 100%. The people who are now ignoring self-distancing are really indicative of where we, as a race, are at present, too: overtly selfish and narcissistic.
Buried Steel is out now on CD from Cold Spring, digitally through the band, or streaming via Spotify, etc. The Bandcamp-only 23_12 collection is also being updated once a month with new compositions. See more from Khost at Facebook and Instagram.