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Khlyst - Chaos is My Name Review

by Mark Hensch

When extreme drone/doom purveyors Khanate split-up in late September of 2006, a gaping vortex was left in the world of torturous underground music. Khanate single-handedly possessed said vortex, and the demise of Khanate left its various members open to pursue all manner of equally abrasive and frightening projects. Guitarist Stephen O'Malley has gone on to the most success, with his projects/super-groups in Sunn-O))), Teeth of the Lions Rule the Divine, and more, getting tons of critical kudos and printed accolades in the process. Khlyst, meanwhile, is the result of jam-sessions between former Khanate bassist James Plotkin and drummer Tim Wyksidia, with the addition of Nordic witch Runhild Gammelsaeter (formerly Ozma of Thorr's Hammer with ironically enough Stephen O'Malley onboard as well) to even things out. The end result, last year's Chaos is My Name, is a woefully disappointing album. Unfocused, random, barely memorable, and forced, the disc sadly does not live up to the sum of its parts and falls short on multiple counts.

The first fault is the disc's overall aesthetic. The grim, stoic artwork is pretty fantastic and artist Stephen Kasner perfectly captures the mood of the album and its overall aura---that of exquisite chaos. Divided into eight unnamed movements, Chaos is My Name goes wrong when it builds layer after layer of warped noise without the slightest hint of musical structure or point. It is quite akin to building a tower out of wooden planks and then refusing to nail them in; the band is obviously capable of building towering noise, just not taking it anywhere remotely relevant.

And thus the second problem is introduced. Khlyst suffers from such massive confusion simply because the band can't decide if they want Zen-inducing drone or crushing funeral doom soaked in vitriol. Now, I love variety as much as the next critic, but when the band can't seamlessly mesh what are two fundamentally different styles of doom into one cohesive whole the entire output ends up suffering. Chaos is My Name is no exception and things see-saw awkwardly between two different mediums the majority of the disc. Further hurting things is the fact the disc is a relatively short (for this music anyways) at thirty-six minutes or so; such a crisp playing time often makes the already messy hodge-podge of musical tastes seem even further rushed.

Negatives aside, Chaos is My Name does have some selling points. Runhild Gammelsaeter is absolutely eviscerating...her voice is easily one of the most psychotic, deranged things I've ever heard and I was highly surprised to find out that it was emanating from a brilliantly radiant Norwegian beauty. Throughout the eight tracks on offer here, Runhild soars to shrieking croaks, sinks to feverish moans, and generally wrecks havoc with every conceivable style in-between. It is a damn shame the music can't be more dynamic, focused, or concise---I honestly think that Runhild has such a unique voice that she could be a top frontwoman in the genre.

The music itself has highs and lows to be honest. Half the songs are spastic fusions of buzzing guitars, harsh electronic effects, and painfully mismatched jazz percussion patterns, while the others are mildly tranquil ambient odes. Sometimes, Gammelsaeter's throat-mauling howls lead things into a moment of briefly genius cacophony; sadly, such brief flashes of brilliance rarely last and most of the time the music is terribly formless and lacking in the timelessness factor. Some of the passages ("II" in particular comes to mind) feature an interesting fusion of semi-Asiatic influences with electronics and studio wizardry.

Often featuring surreal vox and hypnotic, mind-blowing gong percussion, these slower, more droning pieces are much more interesting than the patchwork of low-end jazz emissions the band alternates them with. Sometimes these same jazz influences actually end up being concrete and interesting (the drum freakout intro of "V") but more often they are limping and out of gas. Most interesting are the brief flurries of severely-distorted riffs that occasionally rear their heads---the band could quite possibly make a killing mixing their unorthodox and unnerving vocalist with more conventional sludge/funeral doom fare. None of this matters in the grand scheme of things; the music is too haphazardly constructed. To sum it all up, there are plenty of possible directions going on with Chaos is My Name but no clear choice as to where things will head in the future.

Khlyst's Chaos is My Name
1. I
2. II
3. III
4. IV
5. V
6. VI
7. VII

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Khlyst - Chaos is My Name


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