Compulsion | PO Box 19577 | Kilbarchan |Johnstone | PA10 2WX | Scotland | UK

Khost - Buried Steel

Four albums in and the duo of Andy Swan and Damian Bennett as Khost still deliver. Buried Steel, their latest on Cold Spring, continues with their distinctive heavy doom sound drenched in distortion and oppressive atmospheres this time punctuated by ambient interludes featuring spoken vocals from an impressive list of guests including Stephen Mallinder (Wrangler, ex-Cabaret Voltaire), Stephen Āh Burroughs (Tunnels Of Āh, ex-Head Of David), Eugene Robinson (Oxbow), Syan and Manuel Liebeskind. Percussion from the late Daniel Buess (16-17) is here too, as it has done on all previous Khost albums. Buried Steel furthers the intensity found on previous Khost albums, except this time they also extract power and horror from quieter atmospheric realms often heightened by nightmarish tracts of psychogeographic excursions.

With the clank of noise textures and what sounds like a train hurtling down the tracks, 'We Will Win' opens Buried Steel quickly falling into Khost's customary deep distorted riffing and rhythmic pummelling. Oozing dirt and grime, guitars churn with extended drone with vocals barely scratching the surface before it disintegrates into 'Blood Gutters 6x4x1' deploying Eastern sound patterns, wailing motifs which have featured regularly within the Khost sound and especially on tracks such as '14 Daggers', 'Revelations Vultures Jackals Wolves' and 'Redacted Repressed Recalcitrant' from their previous albums. This one, however, renders the monolithic slabs of guitars and bass in brutal industrialisms, clashing and clanking in disarray along with some forthright drumming.

And while it may seem it is business as usual with Khost the first evidence of their unpredictability on Buried Steel comes with 'Intravener' where hushed windswept vocal scrapes are spread over a lighter rhythmic electro dub backbone, smeared in niggling synths and smothered in distorted textures. For a group so brutal, and often pitched as industrial doom and industrial metal, this offers a neat diversion for Khost.

The recording of the album was impacted by a fire which resulted in some of the tracks having to be pieced back together. Destruction, disintegration and decay are apt reference points for Buried Steel though, as much of the album is smothered in sounds, muffled, haunted and existing in a liminal world, others are more powerful and volatile. But there's something decidedly subterranean about 'Last Furnace'. Rising from languid atmospheric detunings it continues to progress up levels from massive droning guitar splurges, and up again in monstrous slow buzz riffs but you feel it never reaches ground level. Everything sounds submerged, claustrophobic even, especially given the muted hollow rhythms and muffled vocal scrapes which pierce the mammoth sound as it lurches upwards never really breaking free of the confines of stale air and out into the light infused fresh air.

The whispered tones of Stephen ĀH Burroughs from esteemed Khost (and Cold Spring) cohorts Tunnels of Āh surface on 'Night Air' recounting a homecoming of sorts, a journey with no arrival and no end, accompanied on his travels by passages of distant pummels, chugging distorted bass and droning guitar movements. It's followed by 'Judgement Is Infallible' and its distinctive post-industrial sounds; a barrage of rumbling and quivering electronics punctuated by lamentful trumpet parps. Those trumpet sounds may be an unexpected addition to the Khost sound but this track is further evidence of the Khost members past involvement in post-industrial music. Remember, Andy Swan was active in Birmingham's power electronic scene, working with Justin Broadrick in both Final and Atrocity Exhibition. 'Dog Unit' also harks back to the harshness of that earlier abrasive experimental scene, as it literally fizzes, and surges with droning power chords and a ravaging muffled vocal wired to looped, cut-up electronics, mired in low-end bass distortion and industrial rhythms. This one crackles with a burning world intensity.

On 'December Bureau' the slow churn of guitar abrasions cascades in cyclical waves, as if cutting a path through a dense fug, propelled by the forward seeking tones of bass distortion cut with distant muffled vocals, with passages powered by bludgeoning cymbal crashing rhythms and moments of atmospheric spaciousness pierced by a trumpet score. Dispensing with the full-on Khost intensity 'December Bureau' is less direct allowing each of the constituent parts of the Khost sound to find their way to the surface.

The whole album is interspersed with interludes of spoken word further exploring the themes of the album with haunting and dreamlike imagery and atmospheric music some of which had to be rebuilt following the destruction of their reel-to-reel player in a fire. 'Yellow Light' is the first of those atmospheric interludes where former Cabaret Voltaire and current Wrangler member Stephen Mallinder intones a descriptive mysterious somnambulist tract about half-seen figures, and dilapidated structures left to rot in a decaying, dying world over a grey, degraded static buzz shredded with clips and pops.

Recurring Khost guest, Syan features on the haunting 'Kent House' with a fragmentary text; a journey into a hidden underground location, time-shifting between past and present, drenched in rainfall and riddled by the hum of long forgotten industries and populated by the voices of the dead, maybe. 'Vandals', the second contribution from Stephen Āh Burroughs, also exists in that shadowy borderworld where over faint atmospheric drone wavers he provides a cryptic monologue about an act incomplete, the result of distraction, both imagined and real. The strangest interlude comes from Manuel Liebeskind on 'Two', where in deep tones he speaks of encountering two strangers on a train. It's a journey where passengers embark from the carriage but none ever get on. "Where does this one go?" one asks. It's a question never answered.

'A Non Temporal Crawlspace' also explores new avenues for Khost unfolding with faint flickers of manipulated electronics alongside hollow taps sounding like rain on a tin roof, with voices, cut-up and barely perceptible. The gentle lull of plucked acoustic guitar and wafts of flute meander, before it lunges into a monstrous guitar roar and electronic shriek, heaving with a muted vocal howl, disintegrating into an electronic shimmer and the voice of Oxbow's Eugene S. Robinson as he speaks of rising of "out of the hole and onto the edge". That singular line from Eugene S. Robinson, another recurring figure on Khost releases, could easily describe Buried Steel an album which dwells on nature rising and reclaiming the detritus left by the folly of humanity.

In keeping with their tendency to close an album with a remix, Buried Steel is appended with 'Intravener In Dub' a remix by Mothboy. Layering ambient synths with a stretched vocal howl it strips backs and expands the original track with ricocheting and echoing dub rhythms completing Buried Steel with a stark rendering that is desolate and quietly effective.

The allure of Buried Steel is in its ability to provide intensity, atmosphere and mystique both in its sound but also in its fragments of story telling. You can call it industrial doom, industrial metal, experimental metal or whatever, and there are elements of all those genres, but what Khost are doing is thoroughly unique. As I have said before, the members of Khost have been part of Techno Animal and Final and if you've ever been bludgeoned and discomforted by the noise of Godflesh, Ice, Techno Animal you'll be at home in the dystopian world of Khost. Buried Steel offers a nightmarish vision where the promise of industrial and technological progress has ceased, replaced by a horror story which submerges everything and everyone leaving nothing but discarded, rusty metallic elements scarring the earth. Dig in and dig deep as Buried Steel is an album which reaps rich rewards from the undergrowth. Recommended. And do lookout for the accompanying book, Steel Veil, containing additional text and visuals which is available with downloads from the Khost bandcamp page. Recommended. For more information go to Cold Spring or Khost bandcamp