Governance by KhostRelease date: June 5, 2017
Label: Cold Spring Records
In horror writer Thomas Ligotti’s short story The Red Tower there is a large factory that stands somewhere out in the country. There are no roads leading to it and it has no doors or accessible windows. It has no workers inside yet still it manufactures strange and malevolent goods, distributing them through a network of tunnels that appear to have developed organically, grown like gnarled roots, their openings appearing at random. From them appear perverse and unwanted curiosities: boxes that when opened emit the sounds of someone’s death rattle, a case of living organs rife with some unknown, unspeakable disease, a clock powered by strange unidentifiable insects with lizards tongues for hands. Our narrator posits the idea that the factory built itself in reaction to the banality of the landscape around it. No one knows of it’s existence yet everyone talks about it, even if they don’t know they’re talking about it. Everything we say is about the Red Tower.
The story came to mind while listening to Khost’s Governance. It’s impossible to think about industrial music without hearing the whirr and the hiss of the factory, and it’s impossible to listen to Khost without thinking about, or experiencing, horror. When horror and music combine it usually results in camp – it’s people playing dress up, fake blood, makeup and harmless fun, like a dumb zombie movie to chuckle at over a few beers with your friends. Khost are that other kind of horror, the kind that isn’t satisfied with jolting you awake with the occasional jump scare but seeks to push you further into the dark, suffocating you with its claustrophobic atmosphere and testing how far it can push you before you have to say, “enough.” Film critic Mark Kermode often says that the fans and makers of the most disturbing pieces of horror are almost universally the loveliest of people in real life. That may well be the case with Khost – but there are moments on Governance where you feel you’d rather not chance it.
It’s a record that sounds like it’s constructing and then deconstructing itself as it goes. ‘Redacted Repressed Recalcitrant’ begins with warped Arabic vocals (a familiar sound on a Khost record – fitting as they’re named for a town in Afghanistan), lead pipe drums, guitars that sound like a doom band heroically playing to their last breath while being forced into an industrial sander and gutteral vocal rumblings that sound like a horror folio artist’s darkest dreams. It’s like a cyborg Khanate struggling to assimilate it’s new mechanical organs, or Gnaw Their Tongues if they decided that at least nodding towards song structures might be a nice idea. ‘Low Oxygen Silo’ is all eerie muted trumpet, guitars that sound like static become sentient and stilted Wilhelm screams. Stranger still on ‘Subliminal Chloroform Violation’ is the curious sound of synth bleeps which upon closer inspection sound just like those from ‘Tainted Love,’ as if they fed Soft Cell into a grinder and this is the only still recognisable piece of them left amidst the blood and gristle.
It’s so grim and grimy you can almost picture an abandoned factory floor and hear machines starting up of their own volition. After a disquieting, revenge focused spoken word piece by Eugene Robinson from Oxbow (another frequent occurrence on Khost records) at the end of ‘Cloudbank Mausoleum’ the record kicks into another gear. On ‘Demenized’ the tempo increases, tormented samples filling out the saturated soundscape. Drums pummel with pile-driver rhythm and force and the vocals take on a more ragged human form. By the time ‘Coven’ comes around they’re dabbling in what, if you pull away all the barbed wire and moss, is a fairly conventional song with an identifiable chorus refrain that’s almost in the vicinity of ‘catchy’. But then the grinding, relentless finish pulls it back into the murk before too much light seeps in.
Governance deconstructs itself then for the malevolent groaning menace of ‘Depression’ and the almost elegant dirge that makes up the first half of ‘Defraction’ before the Godflesh-esque boom-bap drums come in at the songs conclusion. And like all their records Governance finishes with a remix, but while perfectly serviceable the rejigged version of ‘Coven’ comes after – and detracts from – what would be an ideal finisher in ‘Stockholm Syndrome’. A strung-out spoken word piece from another regular contributor in Syan gives way to tectonic bursts of noise and furious political diatribes that ends on the perfectly haunting line of Syan’s “…and there are only traces left…” It’s the most overtly political track on an album Khost say, “ruminates on the exertion of wills that are not your own.” Like the best horror there’s an allegory behind the terror and throughout Governance you get the sense of oppressive forces beyond our control weighing down upon us. You get the feeling it’s not a record about any specific political dogma, more about the question of much anyone’s will can truly said to be free in modern society. Horror is the perfect medium to articulate such concerns – what else is there to feel but dread when addressing that which robs you of your freedom? Only rage, something Khost also deal up in droves. You feel Khost want you to feel every bit as angry as you do intimidated when listening to the heaving static of Governance.
It’s always tempting to put a ‘not for the faint of heart’ disclaimer in reviews of stuff this twisted. But how would the faint of heart even know about it to have got so far as to read this review? If they caught so much as a momentary accidental glimpse at horrors Khost wish to show us, these things that lay just at the edge of our perception that we all try our best to ignore, they’d lose all grip on what they believed to be real. Before long you’d see them hunched over in the kitchen at work, drooling and babbling as they tried to articulate something their language had never prepared them to accommodate into their way of thinking, staring hopelessly into the void just over Beverly from HR’s shoulder as she suggests that they might want to Talk To Someone. But what could they say? How could they explain Khost to them, that factory of broken, terrible things operating of it’s own accord? How could they explain that the factory has always been there, that it will always be there, spewing forth perverse offerings such as Governance, mirroring and mocking the diseased world it pushes it’s roots ever deeper into?