Normally, when reviewing or describing any album you can use a simplifying approach to distill the main identifying pointers of the album and break them down and then reorganize them neatly in a summarizing fashion the reader can understand, so that they know a) what the damn thing is, and b) if the reviewer thinks the album is good or not. Talking about a Knelt Rote album in simple words is a near impossible task, both because nothing about it is simple or condensable in a way that does it justice, and also due to its craziness and near-implausible traits, it yanks on so many of your emotional strings that it leads you to lose focus on your primarily rational summarized writing goal. That said, their new album Alterity is an utter monster, and while one can rest assured that we’re talking about grindcore here – the most liminal strains of grindcore, however – on the other hand, so many other aspects of this band and its music seem to stretch beyond grasp and get lost behind a puzzling and ungraspable horizon, so some context is essential to help understand the beast we’re dealing with here.
I got into Knelt Rote late in the game, but holy fuck am I glad I finally found them. I’ll never forget the first time I encountered this band. It must have been around 2013 or something like that. I went out to a local show in the Bay Area to catch Stargazer on tour from Australia, and the night’s lineup was comprised of the legendary Aussie band, with Velnias, Hell, Gloam, and Knelt Rote supporting, the latter whom I knew nothing about until then. When Knelt Rote took the stage I wasn’t even paying attention to what was about to happen. The merch stands and the usual talk and brews between sets were the recurring distraction at that point of the night. But then their first few “notes” rung out in the room and my attention was captured instantly. My head turned in utter horror as I heard this monstrously thick wall of organized chaos lunge toward me, and I immediately pushed myself through the crowd to the edge of the stage to see what or where the utterly senseless sonic annihilation I was being exposed to was coming from. What I witnessed that night was an otherworldly experience. Something that changed me forever and turned me into the most devoted fan ever since. That night Knelt Rote literally devoured the stage and the crowd, engulfing everything in a firestorm of meticulously constructed aural devastation that seemed both boundless and formless in its absurd majesty. Their set made me feel like I was being pulled apart by horses. Like I was being mauled at light speed by something I could not see or touch. I’m not even going to get into the technical aspects of the band’s performance or musicianship cause we’re simply talking about some of the most gifted people in extreme metal. What I’d really like to remark upon instead is the astonishing and absolutely implausible intensity of their performance. In the live/stage environment their music just fucking obliterates you and you can’t make out any sense of how they do it but it ruins you irreparably and creates permanent changes (scars) within you.
Of course, once that revealing night was over, the following weeks were spent online trying to dig up any info I could find on the band, buy all their records on Discogs, get shirts, patches, and any other merch I could find, and make up on all the time and material I had missed until then. And, of course, what I found just raised my love and respect for this band to the next level. Their three (then) available albums (From Without, Insignificance, and Trespass) were all different and spectacular in their own way, and upon slowly digesting each one I came to the full realization that I had found something special that I loved almost obsessively, and which had touched me in of the deepest and most intimate places of my soul. I was able to catch the band live two more times, each one being like a flashback, where reality came chasing after me; where I was reminded that, yes, all that I thought I knew until then was true and then some. The following history is known, and is also a disappointing, sad tale. Knelt Rote lost their drummer and disbanded shortly after the heavy touring around Trespass, and right when the tales about their flesh-eating live sets were becoming every day talk at shows and online. The band eventually replaced their drummer, and although they weren’t able to tour as much afterwards, they were able to record one more album before calling it quits for good following years of logistic band turmoil and uncertainty. I was not able to see them in action with their new drummer, but the stories I heard are those of total awe and disbelief. What they left us is the mind-abusing horror of their posthumous fourth album, Alterity, a work which much like all its predecessors has taken grindcore to yet another realm of the impossible.
For those who who are unfamiliar with the band, Nuclear War Now! Prods. has been the main label working with Knelt Rote for most of their career, and this should provide the first pointers to their sound. We’re talking about the bestial shit… The utterly horrific strain of extreme metal. But even within NWN’s roster packed with some of the most hateful and wretched bands to have ever walked the earth, Knelt Rote still stand out like a sore thumb. Like something unique, ungraspable, ambiguous, and constantly out of place. Guitarist/vocalist Gordon Ashworth’s historic noise background can provide a few clues on Knelt Rote’s elusive and ambiguous aesthetic, and on their exquisite uniqueness. Much like it is in the experimental, harsh noise and power elctronics circles, Knelt Rote’s music is founded upon abstract and immaterial concepts that don’t really follow the cliches of extreme metal (you won’t see goats, gas masks, or inverted crucifixes in their album art). Their aesthetic instead is something that turns and looks inward, to the deformities we have on the inside, analyzing and dissecting the most hidden and remote anomalies of the self, of the human consciousness and condition. Their lyrics in fact explore unpopular and unappealing themes within extreme metal, setting the band completely aside and placing them at the center of a world entirely their own. Such themes pertain to social dissolution, personal identity, dissociative states, personality disorders etc, within a conceptual framework that attempts to analyze fatalism, inevitability, powerlessness etc. Their stark and apparently uncommunicative artwork is probably there to convey this deafness and “muteness” that is life and such fate – this deafening silence of reality that they then try to embody through sound as an annihilating wall. The white featureless wall that is existence, and then it’s meticulous evisceration.
As such, much like its predecessors, Alterity is another horrific exercise in excavating and disemboweling the human nature almost as if a person is being turned inside out (literally, physically) to expose their organs. The Scandinavian black metal elements present in their sound since Trespass seem to resonate with more clarity in Alterity, almost as if the blunt ramming force of their sound has been sharpened to cut through flesh with more ease. At the same time Alterity also brings Knelt Rote back closer to their grindcore roots after Trespass had moved them more toward blackened death metal. Trespass’s traumatic black/death onslaught however remains mostly untouched and its just more subtle and refined, suggesting that this album is mostly dominated by additions and not by replacements – all their every most annihilating career traits now on full display and firing on all cylinders at all the same time. Once again however the one dominating, most remarkable and recurring trait – the one thing that has made Knelt Rote so memorable and special over the years both on stage and in the studio – isn’t so much the utterly visionary songwriting and uniqueness in style they purvey, but rather the mind-tearing intensity of it all. And on Alterity the band once again throw their entire yielding power into an absurd power struggle of a performance. A Knelt Rote album, much like their live set, in fact isn’t so much about “what” is being played, but more about “how” that something is played. They’ve always been famous about their intensity, and Alterity drives this point home once again in a metter of seconds. It is absolutely unbelievable in fact to listen to this record and not remain speechless in the face of the astonishing intensity with which it unloads its payload of destruction on the listener. The concept of steroids applied to music doesn’t even begin to describe the realms of destruction that Knelt Rote can harness in a song. They simply construct a bludgeoning weapon of sound and then drive it into your skull in a suicide act – with all the force, hatred, and energy they can gather, seemingly self-destructing in the process and taking the listener with them. But they do this repeatedly, passage after passage, change after change, blast beat for blast beat, inch by inch, second by second, the band never relents, and just keeps going until nothing is left standing. This is the most mind-boggling aspect of this band’s music: the seemingly inexhaustible and self-replicating stamina and charge it has, which always yields results of unseen terror and of utterly horrific intensity.
All in all, what must be remarked about this band and its music is that it’s definitely recognizable within some obvious stylistic guidelines that gravitate around grind and black/death metal (Assuck, Incantation, Discordance Axis, Immolation, Blasphemy, Revenge and so on), but that beyond the initial simplistic identifiers of “grindcore” there lies a wretched sonic world which seems deformed, disfigured and warped beyond repair – unrecognizable, barely identifiable – any sense of familiarity disintegrated in a superstructure of senseless and lawless chaos of superb and sublime craft.
While the band is no longer active (RIP), Knelt Rote’s Alterity has recently dropped on Nuclear War Now! Prods on CD and is slated to arrive on vinyl in May.