Title: Buried Steel
Label: Cold Spring
Release Date: 13 March 2020
Format Reviewed: Digital Stream
In “Jam”, the mind-bending, UK horror-comedy TV sketch show, there was one particular scene where a woman calls a plumber for an important job. It becomes apparent that her baby has died. After his initial bemused horror the man agrees to do his best and the scene ends with him having constructed a series of pipes through the baby which is now belching steam, much to the mother’s satisfaction. The dark, dreamlike, hypnotic and industrialised world of “Buried Steel”, the new release by Birmingham Experimental Industrial Metal duo KHOST, maybe the sounds you’ll hear if you put your ear close enough to that baby’s mouth.
Those familiar with the work of Justin K. Broadrick (GODFLESH, JESU, GOD and way too many other projects to mention here) should find this a familiarly dark and oppressive landscape of mechanised death marches, hypnotic pulsing, and churning waterfalls of static. This familiarity is no coincidence, Andy Swan (half of KHOST alongside Damian Bennett) was for a time in Broadrick’s new solo project FINAL. This is a dark and dreary world. Ominous, metallic; the sound of technology and industry chugging in shadowy, smog-filled basements.
The industrialised, churning marches of tracks like album opener “We Will Win” and “Last Furnace”, with its Industrial Metal guitar riff set atop the sound of rods and pistons clanking and rotating, are especially reminiscent of GODFLESH. “Buried Steel” though very much lives up to its name, as the music has an intentionally muffled quality to it like you’re pressing your head against a ventilator pipe in a cold, damp cell, somewhere underground, hearing these distant nightmarish, thumping and thudding rhythms. The vocals, heavily processed and often delivered in warped, hushed tones add to the dreamily, hypnotic quality. Though these dreams are not the stuff that COCTEAU TWINS are made of; these are bad bad dreams indeed.
Contributing to the unsettling feeling of menace, of something bad you can’t quite put your finger on, are a number of creepily banal narrations. On tracks like “Kent House” and “Vandals” a series of seemingly unconnected stories keep the listener off balance. Are they talking to themselves, are they talking to me? To someone else in the room? What’s going on?
Alongside Industrial Metal as a reference point, the music here is heavily infused with Doom and Drone Metal, but never in a way that you would pump your fists or stamp your feet to. Everything is heard in a lethargic haze of technological fog, like the droning dream journey of “Dog Unit”, or “December Bureau” a track that cascades slowly, like a billowing waterfall of TV static; a muffled rhythm of metallic fragments pushing themselves out from a box buried in the earth.
Towards the end, on “A Non Temporal Crawlspace” it seems for a moment that the clouds are parting and finally we can come to the surface, as the distortion fades and an acoustic guitar gently strums alongside a fragile horn melody. But of course, it’s all a trick as suddenly we plunge into a harrowing, churning storm of feedback. Eugene S. Robinson of OXBOW cuts through the static for the album’s final words (aside from a spacey eight-minute Dub remix to close the album), and his presence is both sudden and surreal, while somehow totally fitting in this odd, subterranean dream world.
The heavy atmosphere of “Buried Steel” is inescapable. There’s no catharsis here, no raging release, but there is a morose pleasure to be taken from this hypnotic, grey, swirling journey of droning, industrialised, metallic noise. Here horrors are always somehow in your peripheral vision, but they’re there for sure. 7.5/10 Tom Boatman
7.5/10 Victory is possible
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