1. Whacked Out
3. El Niño
4. Bite The Bullet
5. Neon Guide
8. Ice Will
2002 Hydra Head Records
Switzerland. Hearing Switzerland probably conjures up random items, such as Tolberlone chocolate (you know, the chocolate that comes in a long triangular box), Swiss Army Knives, and offshore bank accounts. Well, now you can think of Knut. A band that's existed in Europe for a while, but has only recently received attention in the states over the past few years, courtesy of Hydra Head Records and the group's two available U.S. releases, "Bastardiser," and its self-titled EP. "Challenger" is the unit's latest full-length for both continents, and let me state right now that it easily surpasses all expectations and anything that the band has produced thus far.
Don't get me wrong. "Bastardizer" was a good album, albeit outdated when released stateside. Meanwhile, the EP was a nice transition to "Challenger." But it's the subtle changes that have benefited Knut and its music in the latest effort, from the slightly faster tempos, to the less straightforward chord pummeling. "Whacked Out," the album's opening track, leads off with discordant guitars and a very thick sounding bass, and then breaks into a math-metal groove that would make Botch proud. Accompanying the chaotic guitar line is the constantly flowing and frantic drumming, stop-and-go rhythms, and heavy crunch. "Repressed" and "El Niño" comes off with a groove feel as well, and could be something you'd hear on a Coalesce record. The former song has some alternating high and low guitars and a grindcore interlude, while the latter feels as if the guitars and drums are tugging at each other for control, and has an impressive build-up that leads to the song's frenzied beginning. "Bite The Bullet" displays many of the aforementioned characteristics, but closes with an incredible breakdown at the end. The fifth track, "Neon Guide," is where Knut begins to slow things down, teetering on the edge of some sort of black doom metal. The tempo is mid-paced and methodical, reminiscent of Neurosis or Cult of Luna. "H/Armless" continues with the slower-paced music that gradually intensifies, while exhibiting vocals that just tear. "58.788" is predominantly composed of clean melodic guitars, a distorted guitar in the background, and some vocal samples. "Ice Will" reverts back to the chaotic pounding from the earlier, and the disc closes with "March," a long track that has some repetitive (and sometimes dirty bluesy) riffing. Again, the changes, such as faster tempos, a more-math-metal sound, complex drumming, and an elevated level of intensity have brought out the best in Knut.
In terms of production, the album sounds raw, but it suits the style of music Knut churns out. The only minor issue with the record's mix is that the guitars may be a bit overwhelming at times, but this is a minor complaint. The low-end is very dense and, again, perfect for Knut's sound.
Aaron Turner handles the art direction for Knut once again (Turner directed the EP layout). The "cross hair" pattern returns in the CD tray and parts of the booklet. Elsewhere, photos of rock formations make up the rest of the pages, with lyrics and sometimes-abstract geometric shapes in metallic gold gracing certain images.
Bottom Line: As mentioned before, this album exceeds all expectations. The music and intensity have evolved and is far better than anything Knut has released thus far. The musicianship is excellent, and the layout is eye-catching. Overall, this is just an excellent record that will pummel listeners. Fans of Neurosis, Keelhaul, Breach, Unsane, or Cult of Luna should definitely pick this one up. Those of you who want a break from the run-of-the-mill hardcore should give "Challenger" a listen.