Written by Kep
>Knoll – Metempiric
>Released independently June 24, 2022
It’s hard to find words to suitably describe Knoll, and I mean that as a compliment. The sheer amount of shit going on at any moment in their music intentionally rides the line between massive stimulation and overwhelming chaos. Death riffs, noise, turbulent grind, more riffs, polyrhythms and head-spinning dissonance; it’s all there and in copious amounts. And yet there’s an intelligence that’s undeniable, intent and design in every angular moment. That’s Knoll in a (poorly drawn) nutshell, and that’s Metempiric, too.
Knoll has been (rightfully) taking the metal world by storm for nigh on a year and a half now, since their debut LP Interstice dropped in early 2021, and if this new record is any indication then they’re not slowing down in the slightest. It’s utterly jam-packed with the sort of incendiary shit you play at preposterous volumes when you either want to take the house party from “lively” to “apocalyptically destructive” or make sure those annoying neighbors are too afraid to come visit.
As fun as it is to say things like that, though, and even though we all love to bang our heads to frenetic blasting until our neck muscles ache, it actually sells Metempiric short to pigeonhole it into a “chaos and violence” box, because Knoll is the thinking man’s deathgrind. Despite the overwhelming assault that they can throw at the listener, they never actually cross the line into chaotic pandemonium. The assault is structured, brilliantly engineered to a blueprint that’s far more cerebral than a casual listen might lead you to believe, and it’s the reason that Knoll’s brand of sonic disintegration stands out so notably from the crowd. Take lead single “Felled Plume”: the way they’re able to weave dissonant serpentine riffage through asymmetric meters and into dumb heavy stomps and then again into classic pit-annihilating grindcore grooves, without any of those transitions feeling sudden or unprepared, is just special.
Vocalist James Eubanks must be a literal alien or banshee or something, as quite literally everything that comes out of his mouth sounds completely inhuman. Sometimes he’s shrieking like a demon and others he sounds like he’s wretching his actual guts out through his throat, and most tracks give you the full top to bottom package like that. It couldn’t be better suited to the music either, as the ponderous jerking and shuddering of musculature that Knoll is fond of makes every song feel like the death throes of some abomination. Eubanks is also the man behind the noise elements in the band’s sound, an extremely vital part of their oeuvre. It doesn’t try to set you floundering in abstract machinations with no ground beneath your feet; instead the noise exists to deepen the texture, and to help create an overall cohesion between tracks. Check out how it’s used in “Throe of Upheaval”: a rippling, rolling rumble at the opening that acts as a connector to the previous song and a sort of bed of sound for the…wait a goddamn second, is that trumpet??
Yep, that’s right, the electronics are plenty great on their own, and Knoll’s use of them is probably my favorite out there, but the noise/trumpet combo is particularly effective. Guitarist Ryan Cook provides meandering brass lines both in the intro of “Throes” and in the pure instrumental “Dislimned”, which sits as a sort of moment of apprehensive pseudo-rest after the first third of the album. It’s a delightful touch that adds a bit of noire whimsy, like the demented voice of improvisation amidst all the carefully crafted carnage surrounding.
Speaking of all that carnage, it’s fantastic. The band’s three guitarists—Evan Kubick and Drew Miller are the two non-trumpeters—create a musical fabric that’s extremely thick and consistently huge. You know when the guitar tone is so thick that even the spideriest fretboard crawling still feels like it has the body of a goddamn elephant? Take that, cube it, and you’ve got the guitars on Metempiric. Hell, there’s a multi-guitar tapped passage in “Gild of Blotted Lucre” that’s fatter than the dictionary I had to look up the word “lucre” in. And that comes after an extended tremolo-picked that sticks a toe or maybe a whole foot into the filthy black pool of blackening, and a sequence of monumentally heavy drops. The riffs are tight and the songs even tighter, so they can move from crushing moments like the opening of “Whelm” to its black-metal-chords-with-no-drums-filtered-through-a-computer-in-hell midsection and back again totally seamlessly. They also specialize in riffs that bend and knot in on themselves, sinuous motions like gnarled fingers turning inward; these are all over the place but my favorite is probably the ones in powerhouse track “Flux of Knowing”.
The final piece of Metempiric is a particularly great performance from the rhythm section. Bassist Lukas Quartermaine is about as active on the fretboard as any grind bassist you’ll hear, and his tone is goddamn steely and delicious. The bass isn’t just doubling the guitars, either—though it does to great effect sometimes—it’s got it’s own slinky life down there, and when Quartermaine takes a solo line like he does notably in “Of Troth to Atom” it’s stone cold killer shit. Jack Anderson, who’s played with the band for some time despite this being his first studio appearance with them, is a force best described as dynamic and destructive behind the kit. He pummels at all times, even when he’s dancing through incredibly fast blasts or lilting asymmetrical rhythms. The drums sound fantastic production-wise as well.
I’ve mentioned tones enough that I’d be remiss to wrap up without one last point: Metempiric is impeccably recorded, mixed, and mastered, and this entire band deserves a massive shoutout for doing things DIY, without monetary support from a label. Their abilities and work ethic combined again with the production team of Andy Nelson (recording), Kurt Ballou (mixing), and Brad Boatright (mastering) has resulted in an album that sounds fantastic on every level.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Knoll are a phenomenon for a reason, and Metempiric is the second round of undeniable proof. This album rules hard, and it’s completely fucked up the mid-year top 10 list I thought I had set in stone. Don’t you dare miss it.