Wednesday 21 August 2019

Khoraja - Sailing Our Ships to Martyrdom (2019)

Country: Greece
Style: Black Metal
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 16 Aug 2019
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Metal Archives | YouTube

After the unexpected non-extreme nature of Planet Mastergod, I thought I'd look for something extreme to counter it and I came up against a whole bunch of black metal albums that sounded terrible. I mean, I know that black metal is traditionally supposed to sound terrible, but it's meant to refer to the production not the music. There are a lot of bad black metal bands out there and the first good one to emerge from that festering pit was this one.

Khoraja are a black metal band from Thessaloniki in northern Greece, pretty countryside for a genre born in the cold and bleak forests of Norway. They were formed "in 2017 under a crimson moon", says their Bandcamp page and I have to say that Greece delivers for me yet again, whatever the stars have to say about it. This is a versatile and solid album that blisters the way we want black metal to blister but does a lot more besides.

Submerged into the Firmament is a worthy intro. It's short and sweet and it builds from a soft and quiet beginning to a heavier ending. It bodes well. Then Nocturnal Uprising immediately kicks things into high gear. It doesn't stay at hyperspeed but it does goes there. The guitar tone is dark but not jagged. The vocals are bleak and harsh, but DM utilises timing to excellent effect to vary his delivery, punchy here but sustaining there. These songs are actual songs, not just four minute walls of sound.

Khoraja also know the benefits of contrast. Blood Veil pulls back halfway in to give us a neat interlude where the guitar stays harsh but the keyboards are surprisingly pleasant, even mellifluous. There's another quiet interlude at the beginning of Colours of the Dawn, before it ramps up. The sweet parts are sweeter for the chaos that follows and the blistering parts are all the more blistering for following that sweetness.

I enjoyed this variety a lot. Even on songs like Homa that don't let up, the melody even in these harsh vocals makes the song memorable. There are points where it's almost catchy. Lydia is never slow but it slows down considerably at the end to good effect. And the title track, which closes out the album, kicks off with what sound like bells or some sort of windchimes. DM hums as the song builds, not an approach we tend to associate with black metal. That track ends with a surprising quote from Conan the Barbarian too.

For all the variety, the majority of this is done at serious pace, with the blastbeats provided by a gentleman named Leonidas, who also handles bass and keyboards, not to mention lead guitar on a couple of songs. Thomas Goud, who wrote the music and lyrics and created the cover art, takes care of the rest of the guitars.

I loved black metal back in the early days because it was so extreme and so evil, not to mention so ruthlessly uncommercial. However, the reason that it was extreme is because it was new. Over time, familiarity rendered extremity not so extreme and much of the genre got tame and boring. Fortunately, there are bands who have kept invention within the genre and I think they're back at the fore lately.

Khoraja aren't remotely as inventive as some of the ambient black metal out there, let alone wild projects like Panopticon, but they're inventive enough to make this an enjoyable listen.

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