(Earlier this month we published a review by Andy Synn of the new album by Norway’s Khonsu, and now we present a second one, written by TheMadIsraeli.)
I had this review already written, then Trump won the election and I thought I needed to take a step back and re-evaluate music and its significance to us, especially in the coming time. Things have changed, more than likely for the worse, and metal has a newfound place in my heart and soul in light of this. I’m angry, I’m pissed, and I wish I lived in a different world or dimension altogether, but here we are. It’s albums like Khonsu’s The Xun Protectorate that provide the kind of metallic excess of rage, sorrow, and apprehension that help quench my current emotional turbulence and leave me finding peace. It is also the closest it gets this year to transporting me to a different dimension.
And it’s also the best album of 2016.
I admit to being shamefully late in hopping on board the Khonsu train, I never even checked out their debut Anomalia despite it being reviewed on this very site. I listened to the promo we got of The Xun Protectorate out of curiosity, got hooked instantly, listened to Anomalia on Bandcamp, and pre-ordered the subject of this review and bought the latter.
Khonsu, to me, is errantly labeled black metal when they more resemble the progressive hybridism demonstrated by bands such as Darkane, Byzantine, Gojira’s early work… you get the idea. It’s a compelling mixture of death, black, and thrash metal combined with industrial undertones and ’80s Blade Runner-esque synth work that paints a delightfully cold, dystopian picture. Metal like this is, to me, is where the style in its totality is finding its strongest stride. I’ve found dedicated sub-genre bands quite lacking this year in general, partially contributing to my almost total absence from NCS.
This shirking of stylistic orthodoxy is what makes The Xun Protectorate one of the most enigmatic metal albums released this year. It is everything, and nothing precisely identifiable, all at once, despite maintaining crushing brutality and suffocating despair in every single solitary second of its run time. It’s not even a technical album really, but it’s superbly written, every detail the result of 100% deliberate design, resulting in an immaculate work of art that it takes a consummate musician like S. Gronbech to produce.
It helps that aside from new vocalist T’ol, a much more diverse and powerful vocalist than Thebon, the album is lifted up by pretty hefty session-musician talent in the form of Gronbech’s brother, Obsidian Claw of Keep of Kalessin (on guitars, of course) and Rune Folgerø of progressive black metal band Manes contributing clean vocals. The presence of these two is most felt on four of the album’s ten songs, “The Observatory”, “Death Of The Timekeeper”, “Tragedy Of The Awakened One”, and “Toward The Devouring Light”.
The greatest strength of The Xun Protectorate is its diversity, which comes as a result of that shirking of stylistic orthodoxy. The scorching blackened thrash and blackened death metal assaults of “A Jhator Ascension” and “Visions Of Nehaya”, the Depeche Mode-made metallic groove of “The Observatory”, the doom-laden drag of “The Tragedy of The Awakened One”, which feels like a death-metal-influenced Candlemass — every song on this album is distinctly different from the others yet unified because of Gronbech’s distinct style of riffing, synth work, and the guitar/drum symmetry at play.
The Xun Protectorate is a masterpiece, Hieronymus Bosch in musical form, and I’ll more than likely be listening to it on a regular basis not just for the rest of this year but well into the future. I love the brutaliarian epic that is “Liberators”, I love the fact that “A Dream Of Planet Earth” is an almost entirely instrumental industrial metal drone, and the fact that “Death Of A Timekeeper” brings the kind of monolithic nuclear-impact groove that Gojira hasn’t been able to write since From Mars To Sirius. I feel that calling this album, and this project, black metal is a disservice to the pedigree, the diversity, and the progressivism the music inspires and aspires to. Gronbech is really onto something here, something musically transcendent, something alien.
Something like The Xun Protectorate.
The Xun Protectorate will be released on November 18 via Jhator Recordings/PHD. It’s available for pre-order HERE, and on iTunes.