Ask twenty people what they think of Khanate, and nineteen of 'em are going to give you a blank look. But that twentieth person's eyes will roll back with rhapsodic zeal as he or she stammers out the word "heavy," and the word will come out so slowly and with such fervor that you know it was uttered in an Old English gothic font, all knotty and crippled with a thicket of serifs, like a black-magic word or an ancient tongue poorly translated.
That is the power of Khanate, a four-piece doom-metal band made up of superstars of the metal underworld. Khanate's eponymous debut set a new standard for slow, and 2003's follow-up, Things Viral, is an even more harrowing, slower-than-slow-motion journey through a sepulchral nightmare. Guitarist Stephen O'Malley and bassist James Plotkin wrench slabs of noise from their instruments, collapsing forward on Tim Wyskida's barely moving drums. Fifteen minutes into the second track, "Fields," an undulating mass of harmonics rolls through your skull, gently massaging your spinal cord, softening it up enough so that Alan Dubin's strangled accusation "I did this for you" can more easily flake shards of calcium off your vertebrae with each percussive syllable. It is repugnant and beautiful, a crush of sound so thick and dense it is a tactile sensation, an enveloping sense of dread, a scathing voice rending that onyx mass with either tortured defiance or ecstatic relief.
Says O'Malley of Dubin's guttural style: "He's not one of these guys who mics real close to his mouth and makes insane sounds at whisper volume. He fuckin' goes for it. When we recorded our first album, he blacked out when he was doing his vocal tracks."
Even better, O'Malley claims, "The Khanate live band is way more powerful than the albums. The albums are loud and stuff, but we really go for a really high volume, a demolishing level of intensity."
Khanate piledrives the Lemp Neighborhood Arts Center (3301 Lemp Avenue, 314-771-1096) at 8 p.m. on Monday, March 22. Tickets are $5.