Khors
Mysticism

Ukraine’s Khors have consistently refined their songcraft with each new release since their 2005 debut, something not many bands can sustain over the course of five albums. Their latest, 2012’s Wisdom of Centuries, may have suffered from some overall flow and filler issues, but it still contained some of their strongest songs and, furthermore, some of the best from any band that year. Despite being earlier in their development, Mysticism was a profound leap forward for them and is more than deserving of this reissue by Svarga Music, especially since earlier pressings aren’t so easy to come by nowadays. (Osmose Productions also reissued it on vinyl recently, but I’m only covering Svarga Music’s CD version here.)

If you’re familiar with the original version released by Paragon Records in 2008, the first difference you’ll notice is the cover art. The original wasn’t necessarily bad, but this new one conveys a much more appropriately epic feeling with the giant eagle emerging from dark storm clouds over ancient ruins. Although, the symbology at work could be unfavorably construed given the context. I would love to comment on the rest of the 6-panel digipack, but I only have a digital copy.

As for the music itself, this is Khors at their most atmospheric and subdued, but don’t misunderstand that as a weakness. Even though 2010’s Return to Abandoned reintroduced some of their early aggression into the ideas explored here to make an even more potent sound, this is still a great album in its own right. Anyone who was into what Century Media was releasing in the mid ‘90s will especially love it, as the aura, attitude, flow, and pacing all closely resemble the output around that time from Samael, Rotting Christ, and most of all, Moonspell. Basically, if you remove most of the goth leanings from Wolfheart, you have the recipe for Mysticism. The mystical, woodsy atmosphere, gritty guitars, and sturdy, tempered rhythms are very similar. I hate to make such a simple, direct comparison, but I think it’s a flattering one. This consistent, even balance of strength and melancholy is hard to come by. Yet, even with all its similarities to the early works of that certain Portuguese band, there’s still something distinctly Ukrainian about it. It’s a mysterious quality that I can’t quite put my finger on; I just know that I also hear it in fellow countrymen Kroda, Nokturnal Mortum, and Drudkh.

The vocals of Helg have a harsh, menacing tone much like Sakis of Rotting Christ at his best and all instrumentation — both metallic or otherwise — is masterfully performed. The passion these guys must have for their craft is palpable. Unlike their other albums, the pace here never gets above a mid-paced gallop, but there’s nary a dull, sluggish moment as almost every song is brimming with creative drum fills, emotive solos, and lush ambient instrumentation. The only exceptions are the keyboard/drum/whisper-filled “Milk of Heavens” and acoustic instrumental “Pagan Scars,” which are the only low points, but they’re by no means terrible. If the album had a hit single, it would most definitely be the entirely clean-crooned (courtesy of Mental Home vocalist Mikhail “Maiden” Smirnov) “Red Mirrors,” which comes off like a stirring mix of Amorphis, Root, and the aforementioned Moonspell-isms. They’ve never done anything like it before or since, which is a little disappointing since they do it so well.

In an age when most atmospheric metal bands seem to share the belief that longer equals better, Khors smartly keep their recordings concise. All five of their albums have exactly eight tracks with a total runtime that’s right around the 40-minute sweet spot (not too long, not too short). Svarga Music messed that up a little here by tacking on demo versions of “In the Cold Embrace of Mist,” “Through the Rays of Fading Moon,” and “Raven’s Dance.” Rougher versions of album tracks don’t do anything for me, but they’re easily ignored and maybe some completists out there will appreciate them. At least the album was spared the often unnecessary remaster treatment that many reissues go through. The original sounded great — clear, rich, and meaty — and so does this.

I can’t really recommend this reissue to anyone who already has the original pressing unless they want the new artwork and demo tracks. But, for anyone who appreciates this style and missed out on Mysticism the first time around, I can’t recommend it enough.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Adam Palm
February 25th, 2014

Comments

  1. Commented by: gabaghoul

    I’d like to hear this, I thought Wisdom had some terrific tracks on it (and yes, too much filler as well) but Return to Abandoned was even better. I haven’t gone further back into their discography but this is a nice excuse to do so. Also your description of Amorphis + Root sounds too cool to pass up.


  2. Commented by: Stiffy

    The fact that this has been reissued on vinyl is intriguing. I’ve always had MP3s of this album. Time to change that. Good review!


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