REVIEW: Kublai Khan – Balancing Survival and Happiness [2014]


Artist: Kublai Khan

Album: Balancing Survival and Happiness


There are some things studied in high school that, even in spite of their surrounding subject matter, stand out.There’s always a chuckle (or, for the more immature of us, a full-scale laughing fit) that rises out of the sex part of a biology course. Most people even get a thrill out of the projectile demonstrations in their otherwise-dull physics course. No matter who you are, chances are, you at least were entertained by the blood-soaked antics of the warlords and fiends that punctuated your medieval history course. Aaaah, Vlad the Impaler, Owen of Walves, An Lu-Shan—all masters of murder in their own rights. However, one name brings with it a certain reputation—not one of pure chaos and horror, but one of ordered aggression and invasion; a superior breed of bitterness. This name is Kublai Khan—and the same notoriety that adheres to the Mongol emperor and descendent of Ghengis Khan adheres to the Texan triplet. Sweeping through the listeners head with a punctual, intense burst of raw hardcore and metallic riffing, Balancing Survival and Happiness is a release that witnesses the band undergoing the maturation they need in order to truly reign supreme over the realm of beatdown-influenced metalcore.

On one hand, Balancing Survival and Happiness is a strategically written release—flanking the more well-structured dynamically written tracks with punctual bursts of whalloping misanthropy. Tracks like “Balancing Survival and Happiness” and “Ghost Pains,” linked by the ambient “A Quarter Up the Staircase”, showcase the band’s penchant for intelligently written and emotionally moving songs. “Balancing Survival and Happiness” toggles between booming, bass-driven dirging sections and gritty, dissonant riffs that ebb and flow into skull-smashing breakdowns. Meanwhile, “Ghost Pains” is a more intimate track, trading in instrumental variety for emotional lyrics that truly reach out to the listener and convey a startling, harrowing story of single parenthood. “Box Beneath the Bed” combines these two elements—using jarring, metallic riffs and topsy-turvy, grooving percussion to link crushing, churning chug-heavy segments. All the while, the vocals walk a fine line—balancing if you will—between raw, pure anger and emotive, sincere lyricism. In this manner, Kublai Khan manage to craft a relentlessly cold and bitter release that still has a soul lit ablaze with intelligent, unique song structure that keeps the listener’s head bobbing and heart throbbing.

The other hand to Kublai Khan’s two-handed stranglehold is truthfully more of a closed fist. Balancing Survival and Happiness is home to a bony, hate-filled hand that punches harder than Mohammed Ali. Short, intense tracks like the album’s introduction, “Eyes Up,” as well as “The Guilty Dog” and “Dropping Plates” beat at the listener’s defenseless head until Kublai Khan’s knuckles are bloody—and then they keep going. These tracks are lessons in short-but-sweet aggression that combine straightforward hardcore and punk percussion with equally bold and brute-force fretwork. Chugs flow with dissonant chords and booming, rollicking bass to create wave after wave of pure, untinted beatdown and let them crash down upon the listener with no remorse or reprieve. It isn’t until these tracks morph and mature into the more full-bodied “Balancing Survival and Happiness” and the other two components of the three-track compendium that the listener gets any kind of break from the visceral, bitter intensity of Kublai Khan’s jabs and kicks.

Even then, when Kublai Khan do flow from short, intense attacks on the listener, the listener doesn’t truly get a break. What the middle portion of Balancing Survival and Happiness might lack in punchy, tongue-in-cheek aggression, it makes up for in acidic, slow-burning intensity. However, these two, well-perfected elements are followed by two tracks, “Blossom” and “Crown of Books” which feel almost lazy on the end of the band, regurgitating a bland and tired mix of their previous two “modes,” that results in nearly five minutes of filler that takes up a considerable portion of the already-short release. Two otherwise bland tracks would be almost hard to notice in the grand scheme of things if it weren’t for the fact that the release is so raw, visceral—and yes, short—in other areas and for the remainder of it. However, even in slight of this misstep, Kublai Khan find themselves only acquiring a slight limp in their hike to the pinnacle of unpolished, gritty, metalcore perfection.

While far from perfect, Balancing Survival and Happiness is the result of a true balancing act between emotional unfiltered, pure feeling and gritty, anger-driven hardcore intensity. Borrowing dynamic elements from beatdown, thrash metal and hardcore of all kinds, Kublai Khan live up to their dynastic name, proving that with just a touch more refining, they have exactly what it takes to dominate a truly divided and tumultuous scene.



For Fans Of: Left Behind, Downpresser, Rotting Out, Kingmaker

By: Connor Welsh