For Fans Of
Let’s face it: by this point, when going into a new Kublai Khan TX album, you know what you’re going to get. Year after year, cycle after cycle, Kublai Khan has delivered nothing but an angry, heavy barrage of aggro one-liners and massive riffs and breakdowns. Depending on the person, you either love it or you hate it. Fortunately, for myself, I’ve always quite admired the no-nonsense charm behind this band’s steamrolling, pummeling metallic hardcore sound, and have found something to love in every release thus far, save for their rather boring debut project, ‘Youth War.’ Every album since though has been satisfying in its own right, and with the new album ‘Absolute‘ kicking down the door on October 4th, it looks like nothing has changed in both my feelings about this band or their sound itself.
It all beings with the groove-laden ‘Armor of Goddamn,’ where Kublai Khan TX continue their tradition of minute-long hype tracks to open up their albums. While not quite as massive as its predecessors (the steaming pitter ‘Eyes Up‘ and the absolutely disgusting ‘Antpile‘), the track serves its purpose, and transitions the listener straight into the real opening track, ‘Boomslang.’ This song is a back and forth of big tempo changes and crushing drums, ending with a huge breakdown that will be sure to break some bones in the pit. In a way, this song is indicative of most of what is to come on ‘Absolute,’ with Kublai Khan TX returning to most of these techniques and tricks on the later songs to come. ‘Us & Them‘ and ‘The Truest Love‘ are perhaps the best examples of this, being two of the finest songs on the whole record. ‘Us & Them‘ begins with a blazing buildup intro which leads into a one-liner that rivals the endlessly quoted “you will never ever know” of ‘The Hammer,’ as vocalist Matt Honeycutt belts out “truth be told, I don’t even fucking like you, bitch” before a mental, groovy, and raging cacophony of palm-muted chugs hit. All as the track concludes with an insane guest feature from Left Behind’s Zach Hatfield.
Elsewhere, ‘The Truest Love‘ moves at breakneck speed towards an absolute monster of a build-up and breakdown; one that just might destroy a few venues come live performances of it in the near-future. ‘Absolute‘ is bursting with testosterone and hyper-energy, solid buildups and good payoffs as it speeds through its run-time, rarely ever breaking the typical Kublai Khan TX formula. (I mean, what else do you expect?) However, in rare moments, this record can throw the listener for a bit of a loop with the odd curveball. ‘Self Destruct‘ welcomes a spoken-word sample in certain parts of the song that speaks about individualism and finding oneself. Later in the track, Kublai Khan TX then take a turn into left field with a bass-only breakdown, which satisfies just as much, if not more so than any other normal breakdown would. However, ‘Lower Level‘ is the key example when speaking of curveballs, as halfway through the track it suddenly falls completely silent for a brief moment before gaining back its momentum just as quickly to keep you on your toes. ‘High Hopes‘ also features a nice break from the noise, with a bouncy drum solo rounding off this short cut.
The lyricism of ‘Absolute‘ interchanges between political and personal, keeping Honeycutt’s often blunt and no-bullshit method of writing with catchy one-liners and bold statements. ‘Boomslang‘ tackles the stresses of the touring lifestyle, and how it creates an internal rage, while ‘Self Destruct‘ talks about the lack of conversation in modern society and the dangerous effects of cancel culture. While the latter is now known for its massive one-liner of “every fucking human is built to self destruct,” its lyrics overall offer a tasteful take on the great divide of political society, with surprisingly relevant, pin-pointed lyrics such as “occupied with choosing a side instead, too full of pride to put aside the hatred. There’s no choice. Eat your kind. Bow to war. Self-destruct.” ‘The Truest Love‘ provides an emotional critique on people who abandon and break their families, powerfully screaming out “you call yourself a man, but you just leave”, and “just protect your young” as the song comes to a sick climax in the second act. While they aren’t anything poetic or laced with deep hidden meanings, the lyrics on ‘Absolute‘ serve their purpose with their biting edge – no doubt a point of great catharsis for Honeycutt when writing and tracking them.
Yet the thing Honeycutt does the strongest on this album is his vocals. Throughout ‘Absolute,’ it’s really noticeable that he stepped up not only his delivery and flow but his word enunciation too. On previous albums, his vocals had a tendency to sound somewhat slurred, but that problem is no more on ‘Absolute,’ as Matt is clearly looking to better solidify his spot as one of the best vocalists in metallic hardcore right now. For real, the dude sounds like an utter monster in every single line delivered on this album.
As much affinity as I have for Kublai and this album alike, there are a couple tiny yet still noticeable setbacks from the previous effort which makes it slightly less up to par with its predecessor. ‘Absolute‘ bogs down towards the very end of its run time, with the last three tracks being relatively unremarkable and not having as much replay value. This isn’t to say that ‘Beneath a Crescent Moon‘ and ‘Before It’s Too Late‘ are not good tracks – they’re all fine – but they simply don’t come anywhere close to the monstrous ‘Us & Them,’ ‘The Truest Love,’ and ‘Cloth Ears,’ that come before them on the tracklisting. The fiery energy just seems to lose its spark a little towards what is a bit of a lackluster ending. Which is quite disappointing given how brilliant Side-A is here.
The other big issue that I took away from ‘Absolute‘ is the lack of variety and the “samey” songwriting style. Yes, these guys aren’t writing experimental music or out-there, weird heavy music; they’re writing hardcore songs you can lift weights too. But they also could’ve taken things further in better differentiating each individual track. Whereas ‘Nomad‘ had solid, distinguishable differences from track to track, some of the songs off ‘Absolute‘ can be a little hard to tell apart. Towards the back-end of the album, if this is playing in the background, it’s pretty hard to tell whether you’re listening to ‘High Hopes‘ or ‘Beneath a Crescent Moon.’ For this reason, the instrumentation comes off slightly lazy and even inferior to past albums. Nonetheless, this is a small gripe in an overall very positive outlook on ‘Absolute,’ only slightly holding the LP back from being the strongest, most ideal Kublai Khan TX record yet.
Although nothing has really changed about Kublai Khan TX other than their band name, ‘Absolute’ remains a stomping, strong effort in their bludgeoning, ever-growing discography. If only falling slightly short of being their best album, with ‘Nomad’ only a short distance ahead in my mind. Anyone who is even remotely a fan of the early 2000s hardcore revival scene that suddenly sprouted up with bands like Knocked Loose, Sanction, and Jesus Piece will eat this new record right up. ‘Absolute’ is a pissed-off and pummeling metallic hardcore behemoth which moves at the pace of a boulder in a landslide, easily grabbing the full attention of anyone caught in the groovy opening of ‘Armor of Goddamn.’ As Kublai Khan TX remains one of my favorite heavy bands, and while not perfect, this record just cements my love for them further. There are zero doubts in my mind that ‘Absolute’ will land high up in the list of my favorite albums of 2019 list come December, and I’m sure this beast will take the scene by storm upon release.
Armor of Goddamn
Us & Them
The Truest Love
Beneath a Crescent Moon
Before It’s Too Late
‘Absolute’ is out now October 4th: