It took me a while to figure out how to start this review. It was hard to decide how I could best describe the absolute bone-rattling power that is displayed on Kublai Khan’s latest release, “Lowest Form Of Animal”. The 5-track EP is an explosion of intimidating strength. It’s the sonic equivalent of life at its hardest, but also of people at their most ferocious, their most formidable.
There is something about this band that has always sounded so, well, real. The lack of synth layers, the hardcore riffs that don’t try and catch you off guard in some novel way, the intense vocals of Matt Honeycutt that lash the listener about deeply meaningful concepts; all these elements come together and show the world that this band has a sincere ethos and are deadly deliberate about how they deliver that ethos sonically.
That brings us pretty smoothly into the discussion of “Lowest Form Of Animal”, their shortest but undoubtedly their best release to date. The realness of this band is only emphasized by this EP. The themes that are explored throughout the 5 tracks are matched in heaviness by the band themselves. The band dives deep into the harsh realities of the human experience, the many walks of life that are on rougher roads than others.
Whilst being crushingly brutal for most of the 14-ish minutes, the songs are catchy, the lyrics stand out and stay branded in the front of your mind, and the small quotes and samples littered throughout the experience are an extra little treat for the listener to think about, to engage with.
Speaking of treats, the production is tasty as all hell. In a world where everything is beginning to sound more pristine and cleaner, Kublai Khan pummel the listener with a raw and dominating production, carried out by the legendary Randy LeBoeuf at Graphic Nature Audio. It’s got more bass than Barry White’s voice, but it’s not muddy. The mix punches the listener, hard (especially Isaac Lamb’s bass drum), but during the violence you can still appreciate what’s happening.
The first track starts just the way any Kublai Khan release should, aggressive and in your face. “Swan Song” was the second single to be released off this EP but it certainly deserves its place as the opener to “Lowest Form Of Animal”. Featuring Scott Vogel from Terror, the fierce rhythms and pounding breakdowns are just what is needed to carry the weight of the song’s theme. Vogel and Honeycutt trade lines like a hardcore version of the Beastie Boys to lament the lives of women trapped in the dehumanizing machine that is the sex trade. The lyrics are well thought-out, something I really appreciate. A line as simple as “eyes up” could be seen as a way to encourage or brighten someone up, or it could be seen as a verbal decrying of the objectification of women, both well-placed meanings when considering the track’s concept.
There is a genuine sadness and grief portrayed by both vocalists, and that’s arguably what fuels the anger in both vocalists’ voices during “Swan Song”. Honeycutt screaming “sometimes you gotta let the rough end drag” before the final pulverizing rhythm had my spine tingling. That’s what gargling nails sounds like, I imagine, and I mean that endearingly. Lamb’s snare in this final sequence is ‘stank face’-inducing, ringing out like a ringside bell to signify that round 1 is coming to an end.
“Loyal To None” begins with a sheer animosity that reminded me straight away of The Acacia Strain’s “Angry Mob Justice” from all the way back in 2006. It’s unflinchingly heavy, mixing groove sections with some straight up neck-snapping breakdowns. Seriously, the final blistering rhythm in this track is a stand-out moment. It hits the listener with not an ounce of remorse. The riffs from Nolan Ashley have the confident animosity of a brawler, made extra dirty by the slinking bassline from Eric English. A big highlight of this EP is how easy it is to hear English’s contribution to the sound. That extra rattle from his bass gives the mix that extra rawness that was mentioned earlier. By the time you appreciate what’s happening in “Loyal To None”, you’re shoved onto the next track… all the more reason for the listener to put this EP on repeat.
To put track three into a simple description, it lives up to its name. “Taipan”, just like the predator itself, strikes lightning quick with a deadly dose of venom. It begins with a quicker pace than the other tracks, assaulting the listener with punk and blast beats, but drops superbly into the heaviest waltz you’ll ever hear. Stomping with intense weight, Honeycutt delivers his lines seething with fury whilst English’s bass wickedly fills up the empty spaces. Ending with the line that becomes the EP’s title, the listener is given a very small reprieve in the form of guitar feedback and a small voice clip. Reprieve is a generous term, however. The feedback seems to carry the energy from one song to another, holding the listener in suspense for what will come next. Spoiler alert, it’s more Kublai Khan delivering their best material in their 13-year career.
“Resentment” was the first single to be released from this EP, and it had people hooked immediately. The opening line “take a swing at me” left me feeling more unsafe than a rabbit at a dog park. The pace isn’t consistent throughout the track at all, and that’s great. The listener doesn’t know where the track is heading next, but they can be sure that something of great impact is about to hit. The sudden change to a punchy yet neat beatdown isn’t expected, and I only say neat due to a closed hi-hat being flogged by Lamb during this moment. The rattle of the bass stands out once again, something that listeners won’t be able to get enough of.
The standout part of this track, though? Undoubtedly the end, a furious snarling build-up that feels like the wick of a dynamite stick burning away, and the explosion comes in the form of a slow and disgustingly heavy breakdown that obliterates the listener. Easily a highlight on this EP.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that’s the end of the EP. It’s a pretty solid way to finish a release, and one could even feel fulfilled as much as they’d feel demolished. However, it is “Dynasty” that Kublai Khan has chosen as the ender for “Lowest Form Of Animal”. It delivers just as much aggression as the rest of the release, throwing some serious sonic uppercuts to the listener, accentuated at one point by a devastating “ugh” from Honeycutt that caused a drop in my stomach. Riffs are abundant, lyrics are abrasive and poignant and the drums pound away with vicious conviction. This all comes together at the end to blast us one more time, everything chugged, screamed and hit with the most rage and intensity possible. The EP is tied in a nice bow with a final quote with a familiar saying, and like me, the listener is then ready to press repeat.
Despite “Lowest Form Of Animal” having a 14-minute duration, there is enough high-quality material to digest over a long time. Full albums are great, but when there is an intelligent and destructive curation of 5 tracks like this, then it’s easy to appreciate what is provided. Each track is memorable, having their own ideas and “wow” moments whilst still connecting via the same chaotic and dominating personality, and most importantly, this album is a tonne of fun to listen to, multiple times.
The Texan 4-piece are showing the world that even with four full-length albums under their belt, they still have something of real substance and value to offer. Kublai Khan have given fans something worthy of a 3-year wait, and for new listeners, have shown exactly why they’re one of the heavyweights in the metal world.
Released On: April 1st, 2022
Released By: Rise Records
- Matt Honeycutt / Vocals
- Nolan Ashley / Guitar
- Eric English / Bass
- Isaac Lamb / Drums
“Lowest Form Of Animal” Track-list:
- Swan Song (Feat. Scott Vogel)
- Loyal To None
Hold onto something stable, because Kublai Khan are completely shattering the ground beneath your feet with “Lowest Form Of Animal”. The Texan 4-piece are showing fans and new listeners that their power and strength as a band is growing with every release. With an insane level of fury, coupled with intelligence and straight-up great songwriting, Kublai Khan have provided an EP that is not only worthy of being put on repeat, but damn well required to be.