The arrival of Kublai Khan’s third full-length poses an interesting question – is this the sort of thing this scene needs more of? This sort of dirtied-up hardcore / metalcore hybrid isn’t exactly in short supply, and when looking down the various degradations of quality – Knocked Loose perhaps having the most success followed by The Acacia Strain, and Emmure picking up the scraps at the bottom – all the bases are pretty much covered. And for a band like Kublai Khan who have the necessary touring connections to bigger names but are yet to properly establish themselves just yet, they’re already fighting an uphill battle.
So what does Nomad bring to the table that’s not already there then? Well, in truth, not a whole lot; this is Kublai Khan embracing the fundamentals of their genre more than anything, dealing in rumbling, snarling guitars, the deathcore sense of groove and Matt Honeycutt’s bestial roars to top it all off. That said, while that surface-level perception might paint a picture of yet another band looking to make it big through played-out beatdown tactics, Nomad‘s core reveals a much smarter band with a surprising amount to offer compared to the usual. For one, Kublai Khan have a bit more skill to their writing, venturing beyond simple death and fury into social commentary on tracks like True Fear which is definitely a rarity for a band like this.
The second, and perhaps more important point given the band’s overall sound, is their maintenance and presentation of heaviness. Nomad most definitely conforms to some of the standardised hardcore layout, but it’s done so in a way that never feels too rigid, and Kublai Khan display enough of their own flair to keep them standing out. The nu-metal and deathcore influences on the crushing groove of Antpile and the bass-and-drums opening of Salt Water, but then there’s the jagged, meticulously-timed guitar snaps on 8 Hours that borrow from industrial metal and even mathcore, and sinister bass work and whispered vocals of closer River Walker could’ve been taken straight from a King 810 track. It’s worth clarifying that these are individual moments rather than combining pieces of a much bigger whole – as inevitable as it would be for this album’s baseline to be rather standard hardcore, it’s still disappointing how one-paced it can feel overall – but the fact they’re here and as noticeable as they are is a plus, and coupled with a production style that gives an extra set of teeth to Honeycutt’s already incendiary vocals, Nomad doesn’t skimp on its blunt impact.
That’s more than enough to deem this album a success for what it’s trying to do, but that Kublai Khan push themselves into more adventurous territory for this sort of hardcore is definitely refreshing to see. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but there’s definitely a difference that comes in more relevant lyrical content and instrumentation that doesn’t just stoop to the bare minimum, and Nomad does feel those benefits. For as much of this sort of hardcore that’s already out there, Kublai Khan are laying down a claim for being one of the most capable bands to make the most of it.
For fans of: The Acacia Strain, Hatebreed, Cane Hill
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Nomad’ by Kublai Khan is released on 29th September on Rise Records.