Black Metal, Death Metal, Metal

Ch’ahom – Knots of Abhorrence (Review)

Release:Knots of Abhorrence
Genre:Death Metal
Release Date:3rd of November, 2023
Released viaSentient Ruin
Artwork Alexander Kavtea

As can be seen by the time several of my 2023 reviews were finished, I often tend to be a little late to the game. However, apart from the fact that I also consistently take a little longer to fulfil my plans, I also tend to be late when it comes to finding out about bands from my closer surroundings. A few years ago, I reviewed the debut offering by US Death Metal outfit Tzompantli that transported a staggering amount of Death Metal strongly intertwined with ancient Mesoamerican instrumentation and cultural background. At this point I realized the latest that the implementation of these instruments in the spheres of Extreme Metal is a mixture that I highly enjoy. You might be able to reconstruct the level of confusion I experienced when having found out that a different band going towards a similar direction comes from right around the corner.

When I first heard of Essen-based bestial Death Metal combo Ch’ahom, it was a little after the release of their last Excavation rehearsal tape that preceded their demo compilation tape Camazotz Cult, which marked their Sentient Ruin Laboratories debut. On those releases, Ch’ahom portrayed a sound that can be located somewhere in the spheres of Black / War Metal, as can be seen best when taking a look at the bands they cover on their Lustfully Sinning for Death Metal tape. When trying to channel the sound by means of a genre term, it seems to become a little difficult whether to use Black or Death Metal. If you go by Profanatica vocalist Paul Ledney’s definition of US Black Metal (which is pretty much somewhere in between those genres), it doesn’t matter that much which term you’ll go for, though.

On those earlier tapes, especially the ferocity of this band that is in immediate connection with the raw and bestial sound of the entire War Metal environment is strongly present. The lo-fi production of the sound showcases the band’s interest in trying to grasp boundless fury in their sound, which they most certainly succeed. Before the release of their full-length debut on Sentient Ruin Laboratories, the release of their 1-track-tape Ts’ono’ot served was a first insight into what is to come. When comparing to the releases before, it is no secret that there was an evident progression of their sound. This is a 12 minute hazey, almost progressive descend into the depths of a different sound of Ch’ahom. Although slightly different, I felt that this track was incredibly convincing especially in the implementation of the entire instrumentation and providing backing effects.

A little less than half a year after the release of this tape, Ch’ahom’s full-length debut Knots of Abhorrence was released – and damn this is one hell of an album. By now, I don’t need to keep it a secret that this release probably marked the first spot in my 2023 list madness of albums of the year. Bringing together everything that I already enjoyed about this sound, Knots of Abhorrence surely marks an album that will see the needle of my record player numerous times in the future.

Entering this album, it only takes a few seconds of the first track “Xibalba” to find out that the alteration of the sound that was already hearable on the preceding promo tape remained present on this full-length debut. However, it also just needs a few seconds to realize that, from a holistic perspective, this is a major aspect that drastically impacted the experience of Ch’ahom’s sound. On Knots of Abhorrence, there are tracks that were already available on some of Ch’ahom’s demo releases before and there are of course new tracks as well. Especially on the first track “Xibalba,” it is directly comparable to the earlier, rawer sound of the band because of the fact that it was also present on their 2022 rehearsal tape Excavation. Of course it is self-explanatory that the sound on a rehearsal tape moves in rawer spheres when compared to the full-length debut. However, when entering “Xibalba” on Knots of Abhorrence, it is the soundscape that is generated that marks the seminal character that can also be found on the entire album. Mesoamerican flutes and percussions introduce you to the beginning of entering Xibalba, which can be translated as “place of fear” and marks the 9-levelled underworld of Mayan culture. 

With the more detailed production on this track, the tone of the band and the construction of soundscapes with the choice of ancient Mesoamerican instrumentation is perfectly balanced. Thus, the implementation of both of the different sonical surroundings can be brought into an equilibrium that brings together an amazingly unique sound that already marks the specific character of this band. After having entered the track by opening up the entire soundscape, we slowly drift into the Death Metal tone with a very classical opening. Whispering, ominous growls sometimes reminding of early Portal are combined with highly cavernous, slow Death Metal gradually progressing towards a captivating mid-tempo sound. This only remains for a few moments before entering fast and grinding outbursts and eventually arriving at the mid-tempo climax of the track.

The second track “Chavín de Huántar” then marks a new track on this album and deals with an archeological excavation site in Peru that is said to be a sacred and ritually important ceremonial center of the Chavín people. Although having entered this album with the introduction to Xibalba, it is on this second track that especially the subtle effects on the guitars most prominently present on high melodies during grinding sequences herald in the hazey and dream-like framework of this album. On this track, the ties to War Metal are evidently made clear on several occasions with blunt riffing, pounding and slower drum patterns and pure bestial ferocity.

The third track “Path to Ixtab” once again opens up with an instrumentation that might be a death whistle along with cultish chanting and ritualistic drums in the background. When having listened to this track for the first time, one aspect that caught my attention was the recurring gurgling human sound that already welcomes the listener during the first minute of the track. Since I absolutely enjoyed Undergang’s latest full-length release Aldrig i Livet, I immediately had to think of this album. Portraying a throatcut on Aldrig i Livet’s artwork, the gurgling sound of a person suffocating from its own blood is a recurring element on this album. When having looked up what Ixtab actually is, it immediately made sense that I associated this track with Undergang’s release. Ixtab can be understood as the indigenous Maya goddess of suicide by hanging. When doing so, Ixtab is the psychopomp that serves with guidance for the deceased person to directly lead them towards Xibalba. Getting to know this side information, the sounds on this track were quite clear. On this track, the hazey interludes in between the furious outbursts have the listener emerge deeper into a trance-like state. Slow and pounding drums are underlined with absolutely stunning riffing that will blatantly stamp recognition value on this track specifically. Shortly thereafter, we’re back at grinding our ears off at the very best caveman manners. The riffing that lead into this track then returns further into the track and evolves into a brief guitar solo, man this is crazy. The “Path to Ixtab” is then finished with a doomy sequence that is accompanied with instrumental and vocal chaos – we can imagine what has happened in the end.

Fourth and fifth track of the album are “Knots of Abhorrence I” and “Knots of Abhorrence II”. It was a little difficult to understand what those knots are about, but I highly recommend going into this very interesting Ch’ahom interview to get into the fact that those knots point at the quipu, which were objects that showcased a certain type of language that transported meaning via knots on strings. The first part of these two tracks was already present on the 2022 Excavation tape, the second part is an entirely new track for this album. “Knots of Abhorrence I” certainly is the longest track on this album, clocking in at above 10 minutes. Although all of those tracks are comparably “longer” when taking a look at adjacent representatives of the Death / War Metal genre, especially the versatility when it comes to songwriting upholds the attention of the listener. Thus, I don’t feel bored when listening to a 10 minute track, since multiple changes in speed or riffing will keep you tied to what is happening. This is also the case for both of the album-titled tracks. Again, soundscapes are crafted, implemented and shove you right into the depths of Mesoamerican culture and death rituals. Intentionally repetitive but also versatile, bestial riffing, cultish chants in the back and the bold implementation of indigenous instrumentation assembles divergent elements into a heavily convincing fusion of sound.

This album was released on 12” blue and black vinyl, tape and CD via US-based label Sentient Ruin Laboratories. Although heavily favoring the label, it was a pity since it made it a little difficult to get a hold of those records in Germany. Fortunately, the band received a small amount that was offered on their bandcamp page – and I was lucky enough to grab off a blue pressing. By now, only the tape version is still available. Scene master Chris from Fucking Kill Records also ordered a few pressings from the US and offered them in his shop, but they’re gone by now, too. Keep your eyes open if you’re still interested to get your hands on this amazing release!

Talking about the release format and background, it is also necessary to mention that this album was entirely self-recorded by the band. Going back to the introductory argument that this album might be considered a slight taming of the beast, it is obligatory to keep in mind that Ch’ahom themselves were fully in charge for their recording. This means that the taming process was deliberately chosen. Apart from that it is also important to take a note of the fact that the Mesoamerican instrumentation is also not made up from VST’s or samples, this is all meticulously crafted from real instruments and self-recorded by the band.

Although not having gone for a list that is attributed with numbers when addressing my favorite releases of 2023, is is probably not a secret anymore that Knots of Abhorrence was on the top level of this list. Everything this album does is highly convincing and delivers Extreme Metal in the exact manner I’m looking for. First of all not going for a specific subgenre of Metal, bringing in an absolutely unique and recognizable sound and still upholding the fury and bestiality that were present on their former releases. Keep your eyes on this band and if you missed this release, do yourself a favor and change that!

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