Artist: Kublai Khan
Album: New Strength
These are tough times—but you didn’t need me to tell you that. Everywhere you look: every station on the radio and every channel on television is laden with atrocities and horrors of the worst kind—the kind we are inflicting on one another. A thick skin isn’t enough to get through the daily bombardment of bad news and boorish behavior, at least it isn’t anymore, and Kublai Khan know it. It isn’t enough just to survive any more—what we, the citizens of planet earth need is New Strength. Based on day-to-day trials and tribulations of living on Earth, Kublai Khan’s sophomore release is, in many ways, a natural continuation of Balancing Survival and Happiness. New Strength sees the band recognizing there is more to life than just getting by—but to achieve that, it takes more then clenched teeth and dedication. It takes a sport of iron, unbending under the world’s countless pressures. It takes experience, growth through repeated failure and patience—the sort of things only life can teach you in the first place.
Instrumentally, Kublai Khan are metalcore in its purest and most unrefined form. Raunchy, ruthless riffs segue into spine-snapping breakdowns that inspires violence in mere seconds. New Strength is a filler-free display of bare-knuckle, brute-force metal-turned-hardcore that doesn’t let up until the last song is sung. Percussionist Isaac Lamb sets the tone for the album’s energetic assault. Lamb’s name is misleading, as his patterns are punchy, fast and furious—more akin to a wolf than anything—as they keep the release roaring along on all cylinders. From the first seconds of “Life for a Life,” throughout mile-per-minute bangers like “Partners” and “Smoke and Mirrors,” Lamb never lets up. Even slower, chunkier tracks like “Still Here” and “Dear God” see his energy more focused on precise, punishing breakdowns—working in spine-snapping syncope with bassist Eric English. Here, the duo align their instruments with absolutely devastating efficacy, where other parts of New Strength see English acting alone, deviating from Lamb’s steady beats to build into a rousing riff or terrifying two-step that stands to level entire venues. These passages—defined by aggressive, simple-but-effective riffs and crushing chugs—highlight the fretwork of guitarist Nolan Ashley. While Ashley’s riffing doesn’t re-invent the wheel, it sees Kublai Khan attacking the listener more belligerently and brutally than the band’s debut did. Tracks like “Dear God” and “Mistakes” see Ashley effectively doing by himself what it typically takes two (or more) guitarists to accomplish.
Instrumentally, Kublai Khan are a solid—but not revolutionary—example of burly, bold metalcore. Where the quartet truly gain their unique edge is with the consideration of frontman Matt Honeycutt. Simply put, the listener will be hard pressed to find another vocalist with a raspy, ragged scream as unique as Honeycutt’s. While some may find it off-putting, Honeycutt’s one-of-a-kind shout sets Kublai Khan apart—allowing the listener to understand every lyric and, thereby empathizing and identifying with the struggles and stories Honeycutt speaks of. Whether it’s the solidarity in “Still Here” where Honeycutt partners with The Acacia Strain’s Vincent Bennett to yell “Still here, still clean” or Honeycutt’s intense aggravation and energy during “Dear God,” few hardcore (or metalcore) vocalists are able to hit the listener with the same combination of articulation and emotion that Honeycutt does. Like all unique things, this goes both ways: some will find Kublai Khan to be a fantastic band with a lacking vocalist—but others will identify with the inclination given in this review: Kublai Khan are a good mix of metal and hardcore thrust into greatness by the furious, full-bodied screams from Honeycutt.
This talented Texan quartet have moved forward from their debut album—a solid release plagued by filler—to a new, stronger one. However, New Strength is not entirely without weakness. Where there isn’t a second of filler to be found on the album’s twenty-seven minute runtime, some listeners (especially those unimpressed with Honeycutt’s vocals) will find it slightly monotonous. Again, this is a blessing and curse: if Kublai Khan have just the right energy and aggression levels for you, then the fact that some songs run together will probably fly right over your head. But a repeated series of careful listens will reveal that some of Kublai Khan’s songs sound dangerously similar. Saved by an under-thirty-minute overall length, New Strength isn’t truly crippled by monotony—but it is enough of a weakness to make note of, in spite of the overall solidity of the release.
Whether you love it or are indifferent to it, there is little doubt that Kublai Khan’s album is a quick, crushing example of metalcore mastery that can raise the listener’s pulse faster than a full-on sprint. Trading out a major flaw for a minor one, New Strength is the sound of a band doing more than surviving. Rather, Kublai Khan are beginning to thrive—sending shivers down the spines of venue-owners around the world.
For Fans Of: 2×4, Drowning, The Acacia Strain, Culture Killer
By: Connor Welsh