Approaching the mouth of the cavern, you see a man sitting cross-legged, clothed only in the smoke from a small fire. Many have vouched for the seer, and after a season of failed crops and illness, necessity outweighs your distrust of the unknown. You will ask him for his wisdom. The signs of magick are nowhere to be found as you walk toward the man with his back turned: no wands, no arcane symbols, no strange tongues reverberating against the rock. As you sit before him, you look to his face—he is yourself. With a swell of vertigo, you withdraw from the physical world, joining with a host of spirits that guide you on an inward journey.
Flammarion, the debut LP from Finland’s Khanus, serves as a musical companion to such a voyage. Loosely based on the works of the 19th-century astronomer Camille Flammarion, the album renounces blackened death metal’s fixation on Satan, instead focusing on spiritism and the mysteries of consciousness. The first track, “The Serpent’s Harvest” (a well-disguised Darkthrone cover), wastes no time introducing listeners to the trappings of ritual that permeate the songs. Wordless chants overlap above hand drums, devoid of the typical meter associated with lyrics. This improvisational quality, mixed with the sheer variety of voices, gives the impression that Sovereign (vocals, guitar, bass) and Meltiis (soprano & choir) are conduits for forces beyond our understanding.
Sovereign’s vocals range from a Batushkan baritone to phlegmy gutturals, sometimes within the same phrase; these chaotic shifts mesh well with the genre-bending experimentation throughout the album. In “A Timeless Sacred Art,” winding, expressive black metal (reminiscent of Bölzer) quickly gives way to death metal breakdowns and a lurching, processional riff that oozes attitude. Elsewhere on Flammarion, strands of thrash and disso-death collide in “The Uncreated,” and the album closer, “Magick and Numbers,” deals almost exclusively in doom. Despite the slew of extreme metal genres present on the album, Khanus avoids the evil posturing endemic to their kin—trading blasphemy for reverence, poison for ambrosia.
The inclusion of Meltiis’s choir serves as a testament to their songwriting skills, solidifying the atmosphere of veneration. Rather than smothering the compositions, the choir imbues Sovereign’s lyrics with added intensity and lends an aura of antiquity to the tracks. The album highlight, “Ageless,” showcases her versatility; beginning with monosyllabic bursts, the choir transitions into rhythmic chanting before taking center stage. An earworm chorus follows, drifting above palm-muted slam riffs in a strange and captivating moment that sets the band apart from their peers. Balancing accessibility and the avant-garde is no easy feat, but the band manages by keeping the song structures relatively simple. No matter how weird things get, there’s always the anchor of a returning riff or choral arrangement for listeners to latch onto.
Lordt’s drumming provides another anchor, piercing through the disparate layers and forming a backbone (both structural and emotional) for the songs. From the ecstatic groove that opens “Titan Souls” to the frenzied cymbalwork of “Surrupu,” he avoids genre tropes (read: incessant blastbeats) wherever possible. This diversity, coupled with the album’s pristine production, results in a constantly engaging experience that rewards repeated listening.
Like the man in the Flammarion engraving, Khanus approach the barriers of convention with a skeptical eye. Moving through the firmament between genres, they meld the brute physicality of extreme metal with choral music’s meditative beauty. Flammarion serves as a bridge between the corporal and spiritual realms—encouraging both indulgence in the familiar and exploration of the unknown.
Originally published on Toilet ov Hell: http://www.toiletovhell.com/review-khanus-flammarion/