It’s not every day that you run into an album that actually teaches you something. I’m no student of history, so there’s lots for me still to learn about world events of the past, but the last place I would expect to get a lesson is an atmospheric black metal album from the depths of the Ukraine. Still, if anyone can do it, it would be Khors, quite possibly the most influential band you’ve never heard of. Their titanic seventh full-length release Where the World Acquires Eternity showcases not only their use of concept but also some extremely smart songwriting.
Khors have been pumping out a steady stream of pagan-themed, slightly atmospheric and highly melodic black metal since the early 2000s, with a lineup that has remained relatively constant since 2010 or so. They’ve never been afraid to push the boundaries of genre though, and their sound has evolved from raw and aggressive to something much more complex and nuanced. It’s atmospheric, but not in the wailing guitars and saturated reverb sort of way; it’s got that hard-to-define-but-you-know-it-when-you-hear-it heathen quality to the music; it’s black metal, but much more focused on a sustained mid-tempo pace and melodic lines weaving in and out of the harmony. There’s synths, organ, piano and strings that all lift the atmosphere of the music and smooth out some of the rough edges in the guitars and vocals. There’s acoustic passages that feel almost primal and serve to stitch together the different movements in what, at least on Where the World Acquires Eternity, can only be thought of as a black metal rock opera.
On this release, the band eschews their typical pagan lyrical themes for a more historical concept, one that was completely foreign to me. The album focuses on the Ukrainian Renaissance of the 1930’s, and specifically on House Slovo (the Slavic word for “word”), a tenement that housed some of the greatest actors, writers and poets of Ukrainian society. While they enjoyed prominence and status during the cultural height, eventually the government, via Joseph Stalin, turned on them in a crackdown against intellectuals, and the residents were either executed, forced into exile or committed suicide. Where the World Acquires Eternity is the story of their rise and fall and the house they occupied that became a tomb for some of its inhabitants.
As you might expect, Where the World Acquires Eternity feels very much like a grand concept. There are lots of little nuances that help elevate this from being a raw, traditional black metal album. The production quality is extremely high, and the little touches of synth, piano and strings help bring a flair of drama to the whole affair, which ties in pretty perfectly with the theme explored. “Blissforsaken” in particular stands out for the synth work that helps lighten the overall tone and bring some much-needed contrast to the aggressive black metal foundation. Closer “Beneath the Keen Edge of Time” also shows the band’s ability to seamlessly weave together quieter passages with heavy bouts of aggression in a way that feels both cohesive and cinematic. “Up the Ladder to a Lance” features greater use of acoustic guitar, almost with a classical feel before “The Mist” marches with mournful, funereal melodies that haunt beyond the end of the album. Still, there’s lots of moments where Khors get down and dirty when they need to. Both “Starvation” and “And Life Shall Harvest One’s Past” rage with high energy guitars and frenetic blast beats, in case you’d forgotten that this is a black metal album. Ultimately, the way the band incorporates variety into their sound helps Where the World feel invigorating and exciting to listen to.
So hey! I learned something today, and hopefully you did too, but maybe the bigger story is that, while the concept of Where the World Acquires Eternity is culturally significant (and sadly relevant), it’s also wrapped up in a killer black metal album with just the right amount of highbrow nuance to make it stand out without feeling overproduced. At the end of the day, what more could you really ask for? Khors have made a name for themselves as both pioneers and mainstays of the European metal scene, and while they might not be household names in America (yet), the fact that they’ve been doing what they’re doing for so long and still managing to keep it fresh is something that should put them on everyone’s radar.