|Title:||The Xun Protectorate|
While doing research about Khonsu's second album, I came across a very interesting review defining "The Xun Protectorate" as «Emperor that chose to live on the dark side of the Moon, instead of its eclipse». Perhaps Emperor and Pink Floyd might seem a tad far-fetched as references for Steffen Grønbech's band, but this comparison — albeit a bit exaggerated — does make some sense.
After choosing to self-release this record through the private label Jhator Recordings, and after the debut released under Season Of Mist's wings, Grønbech returned to paint a vast and diverse environment: a mixture of black, progressive, and industrial metal, plus several other extremely uncommon elements, all contribute to shaping the foundations of the Norwegian musician's creature. On this occasion he also worked with some guests, starting from vocalist T'ol (who has pretty much been part of the project since 2014) and of course Steffen's own brother Arnt "Obsidian Claw" Grønbech (Keep Of Kalessin), leaving a notable mark on solos throughout the album. As for the lyrics, there was a huge contribution from Torsten Parelius (Manes' bass player), working together with Grønbech himself who created the concept on which "The Xun Protectorate" is founded.
It is this very articulated and, of course, sci-fi based concept that gives Khonsu all the room needed in order to express each facet of their music. "A Jhator Ascension" starts off by winking at Thorns and Zyklon, and then moves on closer to the complex and extraterrestrial sound by Kovenant and Red Harvest. "Liberator" strikes as a ruthless black metal seemingly straight out of the Nineties, but over its nine minutes it still manages to include a few excursions to melodic and progressive territories, almost (almost) reminding me of Star One, if Arjen Lucassen were born evil; all this while alternating screams, clean or filtered vocals, and keyboards. On the other hand, "A Dream Of Earth" features a direct and essential riff, gradually welcoming synthetic sounds over about eight minutes, very close to some outputs by Progenie Terrestre Pura and — in its more atmospheric parts — Sybreed.
The great thing about "The Xun Protectorate" is that it can really go anywhere it wants throughout its hour, going back and forth from galaxy to galaxy while remaining perfectly consistent, as the band members are completely in control of the situation and especially of their own music. As if it weren't enough, Khonsu's work is strongly imaginative and it has a coherent narrative, each single song — apart from its lyrics — is also associated with a specific digital illustration created the notable Adrien Bousson, visual artist from Season Of Mist. This huge amount of information needs an attentive and thoughtful experience, also meaning that "The Xun Protectorate" will likely need a few listens in order to be wholly understood and appreciated, just as a good science fiction book would.
The world put in music by the Trondheim based duo — lightyears away from ours — is worth all of our attention. Unexpected, well developed and, above all, inspired, this is a work of rare appeal.