Kansas death metal crew, Kohnerah, formed in 2016 but took their time producing their debut album. Three singles in six years are all they wanted to share with the public leading up to Ominous Ubiquitous, but that’s because music with this level of technical precision needs plenty of time and dedication in the practice room. You don’t start off as a unit with the ability to blitz through your instruments like blacksmiths after one month of rehearsals. Accommodating the tastes and creative inputs of five members is also a process that requires much give and take. The seven years that brought Kohnerah to this point of maturity paid dividends, and it’s no surprise that they sound ready to share a stage with any of the cutting-edge death metal bands in their country. But is their determination to prove their technical proficiency a help or a hinderance to your listening needs?
The adrenaline inducement of opener, ‘Wake of Oblivion’, suggests the group studied the importance of starting with a song that can make your eyes expand and your pulse accelerate. Imagine Psycroptic interpretating modern-day Decapitated with violent bursts of guitar syncopated like a live-fire exercise. Stephen Babcock’s guttural vocals seem monotone on first listen, but, as Lee Dorian once said when asked about his grunting technique in Napalm Death’s music, “How else can you sing it?” Do the band the courtesy of listening to this with the lyrics on your screen, and you’ll find it much easier to appreciate the ferocity and excitability of this track. Then you can enjoy the switch to a tremolo rhythm for the chorus: “Merciless tides smash the shore/ Bones burn against rock/ Death’s volcano pours/ Incinerated, now you burn,” roars Babcock in unison with the instrumentation.
Like most modern death metal, Kohnerah look for fertility in screeching chord shapes that reverberate like the velocity sound effects of a catapult. They steer clear of letting this element dominate their music on ‘Bovine Excision’ and ‘Antimatter Annihilation’, where they wring their instruments of every drop of energy. The rhythmic bludgeoning is like Archspire or Fallujah without the effulgent lead guitar wizardry. Drummer, Chris Thorpe, proves his expertise on the double-bass pedal to the point where he could upload one of those YouTube videos called “How to mix a death metal drum track.”
You might underestimate the efficacy of the middle parts to Ominous Ubiquitous if you take the technical proficiency for granted. It’s easy to fall into that dismissive attitude that all the songs will dazzle with complexity to the point where none of them stand out. You’ll need a breather to keep up with the rhythm section, and you might feel like a cyclist pursuing a sports car if you let your mindset concede defeat. Fortunately, Kohnerah discover their love of Death’s Symbolic album for the last three songs and recognise that balancing the low-end brutality with the thrill of high-register patterns makes for a more mystical experience. ‘Plucked from the Sky’ thrives on an extended harmonic minor riff with guitars and bass locked into a parallel journey that leads to a neck-crushing audio attack before they re-introduce it again. Caveman death metal this is not. ‘Elegiac Departure’ would be just as thrilling if it didn’t stray beyond the point of saturation.
Perhaps Kohnerah embody the strengths and weaknesses of the modern scene. The vocals are too monotone to retain your attention beyond three songs, yet the guitars are a constant thrill. A scintilla of restlessness threatens you at every turn, but new surprises appear along the way. If only you could hear more human frailties in the music. Then you could find a hidden sense of empathy with things that cannot be envisaged. Ominous Ubiquitous has much promise and enough imagination to single it out from the glut of death metal records available at the click of a button, but it can feel like a marathon sprint when you want a more thoughtful expedition.
Release Date: 13/01/2022
Record Label: Self Released
Standout tracks: Wave of Oblivion, Inoculus, Plucked from the Sky
Suggested Further Listening: Immolation – Acts of God (2022), Decapitated – Blood Mantra (2014), Reeking Aura – Blood and Bonemeal (2022)