Khors - Beyond the Bestial - (8/10)
Published on January 10, 2019
Where to begin… This band showed up back in 2004 and has put out 6 full-length albums, so they’ve been around long enough to find their sound. The latest EP, Beyond the Bestial does feel like it’s coming from a band that has perfected and modified its style over time. For a short and compact release, the content is satisfying and the ideas are bountiful. Black metal has never been a genre that spoke to me in particular and it doesn’t leave too much room for creativity as the recipe is quite restrictive. But these Ukrainian masters of the dark arts have bent the rules and shifted the typical sound into an original hypnotic and atmospheric form of black metal, with lots of twists from the pattern. The atmospheric aspects are very prominent and overall the album is surprisingly melodic, leading towards a mystical and tragic sound, rather than straight aggression.
There’s a certain monotony to the music, as it is mostly mid-paced, relying on flat linear riffs and repetitive patterns. This part of the picture was necessary to make sure that the music is still powerful and menacing enough to be taken seriously, but Khors really gets noticed where the counterbalancing melodic ideas come around. There are a lot of brilliant – at times almost bluesy – lead guitar sections, often topping over an atmospheric background with echoing drums and ethereal synths and a very strong acoustic element that makes the album feel sad and nostalgic. I can’t say there’s an obvious folk or pagan influence, but this album creates an atmosphere that very much resembles the stillness of a dark forest on a winter night. The keyboard work is the centerpiece that creates this immersive atmosphere, ranging from classical piano to synths and celestial sounds. There isn’t a keyboard player in the band but the atmospheric groundwork on top of which the guys built the riffs and solos is definitely well placed and the album would suffer massively from its absence. It may sometimes lose credibility as it tends to feel more like a fantasy movie soundtrack than a heavy metal album but for the most part, they kept everything balanced and on track.
The riffs are cold and harsh and the production sure helps the music feel more natural. Despite the powerful melodic elements of the album, the overall expectation should be that of a raw and natural vibe. I find the vocal performance to be perfectly suited for the atmosphere that they aimed to create. The menacing shrieks are easily the most savage part of the sound and a very accurate contrast to the creepy whispers that often come around along with the softer sections. The album has an obvious bipolarity between aggression and atmosphere, and the band rarely stays too long on one side of the fence, allowing for a serious amount of surprising shifts in the energy that they send. The vocals really make this alternation shine and make the structure of the songs easier to follow and comprehend. It sometimes feels like the band has the potential to sound a lot more massive if they didn’t focus so much on making the everything very melodic, but on the other hand, it’s also what makes their sound unique. Admittedly the closing track laying only clean vocals, acoustic guitars and synths is a bit of a pointless fiddle, and really pushes the band a bit too far into fairy tale territory, as do a few other dreamy bits. Now I’m generally a fan of orchestral stuff in metal music and these guys have totally surprised me with it in a positive way, but at times they overshadow the brilliant guitar work with too much sugar-coating, and when it’s gone for good, as it is in this last song, they just lose sight of the target and don’t build much of an atmosphere.
However, when the band focuses their strengths in the right direction (as they do 5 out of 6 songs), there can be some serious high soaring melodies coming your way and I want to put the third track on the spotlight to make this point. It’s the only instrumental song on the record and it revolves around a recurring main riff and tremolo picking melody that sounds really massive. Alternating with guitar leads and ambient sections, it’s the perfect example of the bipolarity that I mentioned earlier and easily the most memorable song on the record. It’s not technical nor complex but it’s contained in the right way to put the ideas to good use, and it’s this kind of stuff that really lifts the record to high praise. While I expected this album to be completely out of my comfort zone, it has given me enough to remember the name of the band for a long time to come and I believe they’re very close to finding a balance between all of their influences. They play a risky game because listeners of this genre usually know what to expect and it’s not this, so for a true black metal fan, this EP might seem too pretentious or soft. But even so, one can’t overlook the talent that this band has in creating dark yet beautiful music.