Deep within a pock-marked chapel with cracked and occluded windowpanes / Withered ivy breaches the façade like consuming, pestilent varicose veins / Corpulent roots tear mottled floorboards and entangle with glee decaying pews / As spluttering light in copper braziers illuminate bodies in sallow hues / The congregation moan and shuffle, clutching their hands against their chest / While acrid smoke from burning censers coils in pools at the priest’s behest / An eerie thrum begins to vibrate, its violence smothering the crowd’s sharp cries / As shadowy figures approach the pulpit with fanaticism burning in their eyes / Khanus are here, robed and feverous, a rictus grin creases their face / For no limp sermon is on offer as Flammarion is delivered in its place / Bent and twisted, the notes are alien, an exhortation of the strange / So gather to this odd procession to hear a homily for the deranged.
If you want to get weird, then you’d be hard pressed to find a label better suited to your needs than I, Voidhanger Records. They’ve amassed left-of-field acts similar to how a dropped lollipop collects hairs on carpet and Flammarion, the debut full-length record from Finland’s Khanus fits right into the label’s oeuvre. Khanus take the offal from death, black and doom metal and churn them in a bubbling cauldron, producing a concoction that gives off an otherworldly tinge. If you value clarity and focus in your music, then the loose, unwieldy structure of Flammarion will likely grate. But if oblique atmosphere layered with staccato riffs and serpentine leads stokes your fire, then there’s plenty here worth exploring.
Not at first, however; Flammarion was a difficult beast to tame. It wrestled from my grip, biting and snapping, not wanting to be brought to heel. Persistence, coupled with the desire to fathom just what Khanus were hoping to deliver brought me around to enjoy the whole with a few caveats in tow. Take opening track “The Serpent’s Harvest,” an eerie cut that opens with shamanistic chanting and segues to thick, shifting riffs. The sound refuses to adhere to a flow, stopping and starting in staccato fits, punctuating the guitars with unnerving vocals that slither from Tom G. Warrior barks, Garm-like undulations and the wet, guttural upheavals that Dani Filth makes on occasion. It’s not a complex arrangement, but the way the elements are affixed to one another colors the music in intriguing splotches. This is the formula for the entirety of Flammarion, with the prime differences emerging from the pace of individual songs. “Secular Spiritual Existence” and “Magick and Numbers” are examples of the slower approach, leaning into the atmosphere with dislocated bass and loose, tribal percussion. It’s unsettling, evocative, and just a bit dangerous; the ravings of an acolyte who speaks of truths you hold beneath your breast.
It’s when the songs up the tempo that the flaws become apparent. The aversion to variety leads to stretches of bland repetition, “The Uncreated” the worst offender, a turgid stretch of recycled notes that lingers for far too long. That’s another issue with Flammarion: the songs often drag their heels, limiting the impact of the music through protracted farewells. Had the record more moments like the brief, jazz-like bass breakdown on “Surrupu,” it would be easier to justify the odd bit of bloat. Instead, I found myself wishing the album was a track or two shorter. These flaws are notable but not damning, and they are balanced by a clear and welcoming production that allows the depth of the surreal cacophony to be wholly realized. The album art deserves to be lauded, continuing I, Voidhanger Records’ dedication to delivering a complete, quality package. On balance, a solid debut but the teething issues highlighted need to be excised on future releases or the good will be muffled by the bad.
The fractured sermon has now ended, a thunderous echo of the absurd / Pallid apostles shift and jostle, left to ponder what they’d just heard / They crease their brows and wring their hands, struggling to verbalize thoughts awry / But those words are fleeting and fail to surface no matter how hard they may try / Khanus raved and undulated, a yearning booming out aloud / a shocking paean to furtive spirits that cascaded out amongst the crowd / The proselytization of the preachers shook them to their very core / As the bleak notes’ twisted melody reverberates inwards forevermore.