Earlier we reviewed the 2012 debut album from these Norwegian electronic experimental metallers entitled Anomalia, and now after several years, we finally have a follow-up in The Xun Protectorate. This album marks their second release and could very well be their last one, at least from what I observed while reading a recent interview with the band. If that is to be the case, this album sees the Nords with an impressive amount of attention to detail, vibrancy and downright variety. Regardless of the album's overall concept, there isn't a necessary structure that flows in between all of the songs here and it is a bit of a Baskin Robbins album. But you really can't go wrong with thirty-one metallic flavors instead of vanilla, and when I describe each of them to you, I think you'll have even more of an interest in this material.
The first track here is “A Jhator Ascension” which is also the first single released from the band. The track pounds with blazing drums and blaring black metal tremolos. In all instances, it is the essential “black metal” track on the disc and feels inspired by Emperor. After that, things dramatically shift to a sort of electronic/industrial metal in “The Observatory” which features the first of many clean vocal spots from Rune Folgero of Manes. It sounds almost like eighties industrial, and I would have never expected it here. But as I am a huge fan of that style, I welcome it. With the guitars and electronics combined here, it almost sounds a bit like the final satellite stage from Mega Man X4 in some areas. There is still some black metal to be had here, and even some death metal bits before an astonishing solo effort. After that unexpected moment comes yet another in the fearsome black/death of “Liberator.” This is what happens when Khonsu fuse with latter-era Behemoth and tack some Cannibal Corpse onto the end of that. It's also nearly ten minutes long, so you're getting more than just a pummel. S. Gronbech knows his way around entertaining melodies, which have so far been one of my personal favorite things about this album. The track is still going to pound your face off, but then it goes straight into Manes style territory complete with a barrage of trumpets that almost sound like a king is being welcomed in. As the track ends, it gets hugely theatrical, which you may not expect – but keep in mind that this one battles between pomp and pulverisation at the same fucking time. It's quite unprecedented. The death metal continues as well, with frontman T'ol showing his hefty pipes on what soon sounds like a mixture of old-school Swedish death, robot rumblings and even more of Gronbech's melodic and moon-faced riffs. That guy knows how to write one hell of a nighttime melody and proves it here. There's even another strong clean vocal performance from Folgero.
I know that Manes is dead (I have no earthly idea why) but it's good to hear Folgero still able to perform similar material today. Do you even remember Manes? Have you heard any of their albums? Even the disc where they experimented with more modern and alternative approaches (it has rapping, for instance) is worth checking out. I'm not going to mention it by name, as I kind of want you to do that research and start from their first record, working your way up as I did. It is also necessary to do that with the band I'm supposed to be reviewing here as well (No, I didn't forget about you, gentlemen.)
Getting back to the record, we get a nice mix of harsh and clean sections within “The Death Of The Awakened One” as well as a decent solo section in the middle. Gronbech doesn't use a solo on every cut, but he does utilize similar melody lines, which manage to bring a little bit of uniformity to the album. Perhaps it is not quite the chaotic mess I may have described in the beginning, but it is still chock full of variety nonetheless. “Visions Of Nehaya” throws the most extreme moments of black and death metal together for a little less than three minutes and offers a filthy sledgehammer to the face. There are no clean vocals to speak of here. “A Dream Of Earth” sounds like it was written in space and is wonderfully filtered in the vocal region to sound like a machine is singing the lines. This piece heads even deeper into electronic territory as a female vocalist (uncredited, but a wonderful perfomance!) comes into play and fades out leaving us with a very familiar sound effect around the 4:15 – 4:19 mark. Yes, that very much sounds like the noises that the metroids made in games like Super Metroid and AM2R which only gamer nerds like myself will probably notice. Let's just hope Nintendon't!
Without spoiling any more of the listen, it's safe to say that the work done here is nothing short of exemplary. If you're looking for something heavier than you might be getting with other electronic metal acts, you're definitely going to find it here. As a matter of fact, I need to mention that some of the solos and riff-melodies I've accredited to T'ol may actually have been performed by Keep Of Kalessin's Obsidian C. That's because he performed additional guitars throughout the entire record, along with Rune Folgero's many clean moments. Altogether, it sounds like a full band with a highly produced and undoubtedly professional level of production quality. I'm surprised that I didn't hear much about Khonsu in mainstream heavy metal news media, but seeing as they are too busy talking about bands that I listened to back in my teenage years, it makes perfect sense. I think it goes without saying that the late release of this album might have placed it well under the radar for many of you – and since it seems to be their last, you may want to pick up on it now. If you're a fan of acts like mid-era SepticFlesh, mid-era Satyricon and of course Manes, then you'll definitely want this one in your collection.
(10 Tracks, 58:00)