Album Review: Khanate — “To Be Cruel”

Few things carry as much anticipation and dread as the words “band reunites.” At this point, band reunions are less a question of “will it happen?” and more “when does it happen?”.  These reunions tend to be preceded by a lot of PR, followed by album and tour announcements building that anticipation and dread. In the year of our Lord 2023 though, Khanate surprise released a new album, To Be Cruel. This is the first album since 2009 from the doom metal supergroup comprising OLD’s James Plotkin and Alan Dubin, Sunn O)))‘s Stephen O’Malley, and Blind Idiot God’s Tim Wyskida. No build up. No PR blitz. To Be Cruel is only available digitally at the moment, and both the tour and physical releases will come. For now though, this is four people getting together to make truly exciting minimalist doom music.

For anyone new to Khanate, the draw here will be Stephen O’Malley. Though the band originally formed as a supergroup, O’Malley’s notoriety has eclipsed the rest of his band mates since the break up. Being a member of Sunn O))) and heading more than one record label does that. Yet newcomers would make a mistake going into the new Khanate assuming this band is a side project for him. O’Malley is fully a member and his guitar work never overpowers the rest of the music. As he did in the original run of Khanate, O’Malley sounds comfortable with likeminded individuals. Khanate is its own unique identity from Sunn O))) and any of his other projects. That this album was released through Sacred Bones and not one of O’Malley’s record labels speaks volumes. This is the effort of a band and not just one person.

And how do Khanate as a band sound after all this time? On first listen almost like no time has passed. This is a band that still makes exciting music. Khanate were always a haunted house of a doom band in the best way possible. Alan Dubin still shrieks and howls like a banshee. O’Malley, James Plotkin, and Tim Wyskida play skeletally. These three musicians are more interested in the silence between notes and how few notes they can play. Further listens reveal that void between notes. The silence on To Be Cruel plays as much a part as the guitar, bass, and drums. At points, it seems Khanate push how long they can go without playing. They let the lingering crash of a cymbal or guitar feedback do the work. Calling this drone metal does this music a disservice as drone implies waves of sound or a constant filling of noise. To Be Cruel is minimalist doom metal. It’s thrilling to hear Khanate make doom metal stripped down to barest elements.

To Be Cruel shows that Khanate have not missed a step in their absence. It’s a band that reunited because this was an outlet for music no one member could make on their own. It’s old friends coming together again because they’re excited to do so. Sometimes, the time away allows a band to come back with some of their best work. To Be Cruel isn’t just one of the best albums of the year so far. It’s one best albums of these musicians careers.

— D. Morris

To Be Cruel is available now on Sacred Bones Records.  For more information on Khanate, visit their Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or official website.

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