REVIEW: Khroma – Ex Nihilo

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“The end of the world may come in many shapes,” begins the press release for the new album, “Ex Nihilo,” released in September 2021 by the Finnish electro-metal outfit KHROMA. The English writer, T.S. Eliot, wrote already in the 1920s that the end will not be a bang, but a whimper – and this Helsinki-based metal bunch seems hellbent on proving the opposite. Whether we are going to meet our demise in the shape of a zombie apocalypse or some cataclysmic shitstorm, one thing is for certain: this band is going to make some noise about it. “Ex Nihilo” is their third serving of metal madness, released via Inverse Records, and it latches on profoundly dystopian themes with nothing short of an appropriate sonic coating, ranging from high-octane metal riffing to synthetic breakbeats and unsettling, cinematic soundscapes. While the band’s music sounds rather tightly sequenced, it radiates a distinct aura of organic warmth, thus evading the common pitfall of sounding like the faux Nintendo-metal that plagues the genre – or the even more horrendous fate of warming up yesterday’s Gothic chique with a disco beat.

The combination of down-tuned djent grooves, Blade Runner synths, and nu-metal vocals about how we are being enslaved by some evil pathogen on the opening track, “Slaves,” couldn’t possibly resonate with a more profound sense of having your finger on the pulse of the now. Clichéd as it may sound by default, KHROMA cooks up some evil sonic brew that manages to crack the cynicism of even such a seasoned music snob as me. Maybe these crooked metal ruffians managed to tap into some latent sense of nostalgia; this is probably what science-fiction metal would have sounded in the 1990s if we only had the studio technology to sequence the chugging riffs to the grid this tightly. Then again, how can I feel nostalgic for a past that didn’t really happen? There must be a glitch in the Matrix.

The misplaced sense of nostalgia might also derive from the vague feeling that the closest kindred spirits to KHROMA may not, in fact, come from the metal fraternity, maybe excluding MESHUGGAH-influenced djent outfits. The synthetic textures and drum machines resonate with the sonic aura of classic electronica artists such as THE PRODIGY, THE CRYSTAL METHOD, and PENDULUM. Of course, the innocent, ecstasy-engendered PLUR-sentiment of the 1990s – that is: Peace, Love, Unity, and Respect – has been replaced with the claustrophobic paranoia of the world AD 2021. Some cutting-edge electronica artists back in the day, such as ORBITAL, layered their music with a poignant critique of the time. KHROMA passes the torch on, if only to voice a concern that the future is not what it used to be.

I must admit that I’m not exactly a fan of this genre, mainly due to the fact that way too many bands conjuring up this sort of metal sound as though they have sacrificed the good, old-fashioned songwriting in favor of the all-too-fancy studio gimmicks. Maybe the biggest appeal in KHROMA‘s sci-fi aesthetics boils down to class-A songwriting. When you strip away all the layers of electronic ornaments and chugging power-riffs, you find a song that kicks ass. The good thing is the album comes jam-packed with a whole bunch of them. It’s actually hard to pick one out because once you listen through a song, you kind of want to put it on repeat before moving on. If I had to sell this outing to someone by blasting just two tracks, I might have to pick “Tidal” for its excellent synthwork and “Dead Arrive (Run Tell Them)” for its punch-in-your-face science fiction atmosphere. I am only kidding, of course: I would have to blast the whole album. Before you write the whole genre of electro-metal off as chiptunes for metal instrumentation like I used to, listen to KHROMA without prejudice. It may just prove to be the one exception to the rule.

Written by Jani Lehtinen

Tracklist

  1. Slaves
  2. Dead Arrive (Run Tell Them)
  3. Tread Light
  4. Tidal
  5. Drop That Treble
  6. Kill The Friction
  7. Waste All Reason
  8. The Overthrow
  9. Trace Amounts

Lineup

Riku Rinta-Seppälä – vocals, electronics

Mikko Merilinna – guitars, keyboards

Maarik Leppä – bass

Antti Honka – drums

Label

Inverse Records

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