Music is often a direct product of its creators’ natural environment. It’s no coincidence that the snow-covered forests and mountains of Norway birthed the cold, bleak sonic landscapes of black metal; nor is it that the arid, sun-baked deserts of the United States produced the leading lights of the stoner rock movement. It’s almost inevitable that some of the atmosphere of a band’s home will seep into their music in some way. As such, you’d be very much forgiven for thinking that the potent mix of crust punk, sludge and death metal that Khmer call their own couldn’t have been born anywhere but in a dark, miserable corner of Scandinavia. And yet, astonishingly, the rage-fuelled musical nightmares found within the band’s debut album ‘Larga Sombra’ were brought to life in the band’s home of Madrid, the capital city of Spain and one of the most glamorous cities in the world. That extreme dichotomy in itself paints Khmer as an anomaly, a singular entity that should by no rational means even exist. And yet it does, and thank the dark lord for that, because ‘Larga Sombra’ is one of the most invigorating hardcore records released in 2017 so far.
At only 25 minutes long, ‘Larga Sombra’ is brief by most standards, though every second is so densely packed with bone-splintering intensity that were it any longer, listeners might have found themselves in traction before the needle hit the run-out groove. Wasting no time at all, the album screeches to life with its gargantuan title track, an anthemic wash of rampaging D-beats, alternately savage and disarmingly melodic riffing and vocalist Mario C. Vaises’ tortured howls. Calling to memory sadly departed post-crust titans Fall Of Efrafa and Alpinist, Khmer are clearly already masters of stitching together a variety of extreme influences into a cohesive whole. Second track ‘Perdiste El Filo’ awakens with a barrage of blackened blasts and harrowing guitars before shifting into the kind of agonisingly catchy hardcore that Converge at their most tuneful are capable of. The song then veers off again into a storm of riffs that Kvelertak would be proud of, mixing dark rock with a strong black metal atmosphere, resulting in a head-spinning cocktail of mesmerising horror.
Following a brief instrumental interlude, the album’s mid-point and arguable centrepiece hits in the form of ‘El Ardor De La Crueldad’. A masterclass in aggression in a little over 2 and a half minutes, this song is genuinely goosebump-inducing, most pertinently at its midway point when it manages to switch on a dime from a raging, The Secret-esque hardcore stomp into one of the most perfect melodic death metal riffs that At The Gates never wrote. It’s a completely blindsiding turn and makes for one of the most flat-out exhilarating moments on any heavy record this year. That it comes only halfway through ‘Larga Sombra’ could, in lesser hands, have spelled trouble, as it could very easily have gone downhill from a moment that revelatory. However, Khmer are not playing games here, and the album’s back half is just as vital as its first, particularly on the churning and epic ‘Soledad’, which shifts from moments of relative melody and quiet into walls of Oathbreaker-esque blackened crust without even breaking a sweat.
The record closes with the sombre instrumental ‘…Para Ver El Mundo Arder’, a dynamic shift in both pace and volume compared to the rest of the album. Whilst ending on a faster and noisier track might have made more sense on paper, this song brings ‘Larga Sombra’ to an emotionally devastating end that fits with the mood of the record on whole, whilst maintaining the band’s ability to surprise at every turn. Khmer have crafted something very special with their debut album, a short sharp shock of concentrated musical venom that’s every bit the equal (or even superior) of the vast majority of their American or Scandinavian counterparts. If we are indeed living in a just world, ‘Larga Sombra’ will push Khmer onto the next level of success, and pry the eyes and ears of influential trendsetters worldwide open to their spine-tingling brand of blackened D-beat.