ARTIST: KUBLAI KHAN
LABEL: PURE NOISE RECORDS
WORDS: SEAN HUBBARD
While Kublai Khan’s fourth full length release may lack the catchy lyrics of Nomad’s ‘Antpile’ – “Shit, son of a bitch!” – It is undoubtedly a much more polished and well rounded product. Nonetheless fans of the signature angry lyrics of Matt Honeycut will not be disappointed, with the pre-breakdown callout on track three ‘Us & Them’ going “truth be told I don’t even like you bitch!” It is clear that Matt has been working on his vocal technique since 2017’s ‘Nomad’ though. There’s more variation throughout the album in highs and lower screams than appeared on their previous release. It would certainly be a fantastic step up for the band’s reputation if his improvement in recorded vocals translates well in the live atmosphere when they next tour in support of ‘Absolute’.
On to the album itself, ‘Lower Level’ is a real highlight and opens with a gut-punch of riffs and screams. It’s a perfect example of how to start a pit within seconds of beginning a song, and absolutely never lets off the pace for its 2 minutes 26 seconds of run time, including an absolutely brutal outro that teases a sense of security, only to hit back in with a vengeance.
“a much more polished and well rounded product”
‘Truest Love’ contains some of the most personal lyrics on the album, “You call yourself a man, but you just leave… just protect your young!” Matt has said before that this is a song about preserving the family unit and that “it concerns my qualms with the current state of male responsibility,” arguing that “everything comes down to responsibility, self-love, and love of your family.” It is obvious that this is an issue dear to the frontman’s heart, and he sees the breakdown of family units becoming normalised, which is greatly concerning.
There is also strong lyrical content throughout the album, both concern about the polarisation and toxicity of American citizens that is occurring in Trump’s America, and also discussion of the difficult nature of life as a band on tour. In the first instance Matt looks to social media as a prime engine driving the toxic machine, as he feels that people never act so obscenely in person, and it is only the anonymity of online life that drives the dangerous discourse.
“Kublai Khan have the chance to truly become an icon of hardcore”
Kublai Khan spoke about their recording process with longtime engineer and producer Randy LaBoeuf as being focussed around recording the drums last, and this is clear as daylight on ‘Cloth Ears’ where the drums completely force the song forward – opening with a clever solo before setting the pace for the rest of the song. It’s not just on this song however, musically the band are exceptionally tight, and throwing in some interesting breaks and solos to keep things feeling fresh even despite the fact that it’s still obviously a Kublai Khan album. Yes they might not have reinvented the wheel, but they do enough to keep ‘Absolute‘ interesting while still a noticeable follow-up to ‘Nomad’, through slight alterations in Matt’s vocal style and the more complex drum patterns. But thankfully they still maintain that signature downtuned guitar sound that’s come to be associated with the Texas hardcore crew.
‘Absolute‘ is a solid record from a consistently solid band, and while it may not be the most complicated record in the world, it’s a brilliant hardcore album at its core, created by a band who deserve more recognition in the UK and overseas than they are currently receiving. With ‘Absolute’; Kublai Khan have the chance to truly become an icon of hardcore alongside contemporaries such as their former touring partner Knocked Loose.