Review Summary: One of the best Metalcore albums ever.
Upon completion of this album your ears may pull out the rape kit. To call this album intense would be an understatement; Challenger
is so intelligently brutal it’s almost implausible. Hydrahead records have a knack for signing inspired artists that more often than not create amazing music that feels fresh and original. Jake Bannon (Converge
) introduced Knut to Aaron Harris (Isis
) who then signed them to HH and toured with them that same year, which should give some idea how good these guys are.
Knut, pronounced cnoot, is influenced by hardcore, heavy metal and punk. Flourishes of math metal are present but it doesn’t feel as pretentious as that genre can sometimes be. Their first official album Bastardiser
introduced their style of alternating fast chugging riffs, sudden breaks and time changes. With Challenger
they have perfected that formula; not so much changing it as improving upon what they began with. The songs are much more focused, abrasive, and powerful; sounding more cohesive than the at times meandering feel of Bastardiser
. While they aren’t necessarily doing anything brand new they are doing it better than anyone I’ve heard.
The first 4 tracks are executed with precision and ferocity. Songs like "Wacked Out" begin at a deceiving slower pace then erupt into a volley of pyroclastic riffs. There is always some kind of musical interjection thrown in whether it’s pick slides, drum fills or some well placed dissonant chords or riffs.
The 4 songs have cleverly had a barely noticeable but gradual slowing which segues nicely into "Neon Guide" so that it doesn’t feel like such a sudden change of pace. It simmers along before lambasting you with a crushing mid tempo thrash a feeling more along the veins of earlier Isis
, which sets the mood for "H/armless". The amazing thing about "H/armless" is that it is basically the same palm-muted chord repeated for almost 4 minutes yet it doesn’t get boring. I have a soft spot for droning music but after a point even I get bored if it feels like nothing is happening. There lies the brilliance of it, the chord may be exactly the same all the way through but the touches like the varied intensity of the drumming, interlaced harmonics of the 2nd guitar and the passionate tortured screaming of Didier keep it feeling fresh all the way through.
By the time "58.788" rolls around you may be stunned to hear a lack of insanity coming from your system. It’s a simple acoustic guitar progression backed by a resonating distorted guitar and eerie vocal samples from the Challenger shuttle disaster in 1986. The first signs of a problem were sighted exactly 58.788 seconds after liftoff hence the album and song title. "Ice Will" picks up with the speed intensity of the first tracks with a bit of mathematics thrown in. Then it’s time for the album closer "March". At 19+ minutes this is a grind, but there are actually two parts to the song. The bass is incredibly ominous and builds tension allowing the guitars and drums to progress to the impending climax found in the second half of the song.
The production here is consistent and in my opinion perfectly done; everything can be heard clearly and has plenty of punch. The instruments are mixed so loud it’s almost to the point of clipping/distortion. Pounding fullness of the drums create the perfect base for the lunacy taking place. Usually the bass gets lost in this type of music but here it’s always prominent stampeding along furiously. Imagine if the support cables for the Golden Gate Bridge were stuck on a bass and you’ll have some idea of how great it sounds. The guitars are heavy and have quite a bit of punch but have more of a dirty type of tone compared to the usual more cutting tone used.
One of the things I dislike about the album is it’s pretty much impossible to understand any of the vocals. The song I can get most of the lyrics from is "H/armless" and even then I can barely decipher most of it. It’s more of a nitpick than anything else because the musicianship and power more than make up for the lack of vocal clarity. As is common with this style of music the dying vocals will turn off some listeners but behind it is some of the most cleverly vehement music you could find. If I had to pick a soundtrack to my impending doom this would be one of my top choices, going out with fire and attitude.