Geneva Switzerland’s Knut (pronounced CA-NOOT, the Russian word for “whip”, thanks Wikipedia) were one of those bands that I always loved, but for a long time whenever I brought them up, no one else seemed to know who they were. I chalked this up to a couple of factors: first, that my taste in obscure, elite underground bands was/is really impeccable and second, that Knut is from Europe and American hardcore/metal kids don’t pay attention to European bands. Its mostly the first reason though.
Over the years, Knut put out most of their releases in the US through the venerable Hydra Head Records, after having become friends with label owner Aaron Turner when playing with his band ISIS (not the caliphate). Their first proper release on the label was the ground-breaking Challenger, an appropriate title for a record that disputed what preconceived notions I had about how muscular and heavy mathcore bands could be.
The album begins with a tense, dissonant buzzing that leads into the bestial groove of the first riff of opening track Whacked Out, which is exactly what it sounds like – a spastic journey through some kind of nervous breakdown, punctuated intermittently by sections of crunchy, satisfying chugs that don’t qualify so much as breakdown or beatdown as much as simple dick-punch. All in all, one of the better ways to light a motherfucker up at the beginning of an album.
These juxtapositions between mathy, complicated riffs played at a breakneck pace and dense mid-tempo punch with a sonic emphasis on the beefy low end are Knut’s signature. To me, so many bands that emphasize complex riffing and song structures wind up paying for it in a loss of heaviness and density, simply because all the guitars and bass are playing different things at any given time. Knut largely avoids this by having the bass follow the drumming most of the time to pin down a rhythmic backbone, and then just as things are seeming a little light sounding on the guitar side, they bring it back to the middle with a chunky riff where they all lock in together for a minute, during which time you are punching yourself or the person in closest proximity to you in the face out of pure rage and excitement.
This formula is readily apparent on other excellent cuts from Challenger, particularly Repressed, El Nino, and Neon Guide. However, if these tracks are the bright, shining stars in Knut’s night sky, then the unseen and ominous black hole nestled in among them is the album’s true hero, track 6: H/armless.
This song begins with a breakdown. It begins with the kind of breakdown that is so innately satisfying that you don’t know whether to mosh or have an orgasm on the spot, and so you do both, flailing wildly and cumming in all directions as the ecstasy overloads your senses. Except then the best part happens, which is that IT DOESN’T END, it just recurs like a chorus of glorious 5 ton angels singing as you ascend to some guitar distortion-based afterlife.
Its like the sound of a thousand hammers being dropped on the face of your shitty boss from your part-time job in high school, or the sound of the corpses of your enemies all hitting the floor simultaneously in an infinite loop that only lasts 3 minutes and 52 seconds (that didn’t have to make sense). Still though, it rules.
Someday, after you stop listening to H/armless on repeat, you will figure out what the rest of the album sounds like. I have vague recollections of having traveled in this territory once or twice before, but I won’t spoil the moment of discovery for you, or re-discovery, or whatever.
Anyway, as far as selling Knut’s Challenger to new recruits, I think my work here is done. In conclusion, here is a video of all of Knut and most of ISIS playing H/armless on stage in some foreign land with like 60 guitars and 8 basses or something, and even though the sound is garbage, you’ll still ruin your pants over it. See you in heaven.