Review: KhirkiΚτηνωδία

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The cartographer unfurls a sheet of parchment on the table and sits down to the work of birth and extinction. By a candle’s flickering light, tectonic plates collide and ancient waters evaporate, leaving valleys in their wake. Lands below sea level are shaded with verdant hues, while peaks form from crimson ink. (Or is it blood on these daggers of stone?)

Depending on the eyes that scan them, maps can be extensions of knowledge, a way to understand one’s origins, or tools of oppression. Wherever there are divisions, geographical or man-made, there will be conflict. There will be pain. There will be winners and losers. With their debut album, Κτηνωδία, Khirki has drawn a new type of map—a musical topography of the Balkans, charting loss, impermanence, and the fragile barrier between myth and reality.

Κτηνωδία begins as most surveys do: a familiar road, inquisitive eyes and ears, and the goal of recording something new. The opening track, “Deadpan,” is quick to display its influences, racing down paths worn into the countryside by Lemmy and decades of punk boots. It’s comfortable, nostalgic in its simplicity. When vocalist Dimos Ioannou first opens his mouth, the slap of modernity is enough to give listeners vertigo—a strained, emotive style (sans “Hyyyeah-hyeah!”) that flirts, to the chagrin ov the trve, with singing. The lyrics are unflinchingly modern as well, tackling anti-maskers and the matadors that continue their bloodsport to this day (“Raging Bull”). Paired with the effect-obliterated tones of Mutoid Man, these clashing eras create a soundscape full of niches to explore.

Songs like “Black and Chrome” and “Wolf’s Lament” walk the ridge between meadows and sun-baked wastes, encompassing extremes within their runtimes. A layer of acoustic guitars runs the length of these tracks, enriching the riffs with a tinge of folk. (Nechochwen‘s Heart of Akamon comes to mind.) We’re left with a sound akin to the Mediterranean—rugged, rocky outcrops, harboring pockets of undergrowth. From a sludgy ode to Mad Max‘s future to Phil Collins crooning, the terrain shifts constantly underfoot.

As the album reaches its midway point, the geographical references become more explicit. “Medea” delves into Greek mythology with strange melodies, both mournful and festive, that weave the goddess’ tale of jealousy and the murder of her mortal family. The song’s progressive structure mirrors the complexity of human interactions (with ourselves and everything we encounter). By the time the djembes and ganzá arrive in a flurry of percussion, all traces of metal are gone; the impression is of a stark divide, worlds with little hope of reconciliation.

On closer inspection, there’s far more intermingling of cultures than the soundwaves bouncing off our eardrums lead us to believe. While the myth itself is plucked directly from Greece, the instruments involved in this segment are mostly African (djembe, wooden claws) or Latin American (ganzá) in origin. In fact, the only instrument of Greek/Macedonian origin, the stamna (named for the ancient Greek water vessel), is part of the “goblet drum” family with roots in Turkey and Egypt.

Shoutout to Spiros Stefanis for both his stellar drumming on this record and his insights into the percussion (including the stamna pictured here) used throughout.

Despite the dreams of tyrants, there is no such thing as an impermeable barrier; people slip through cracks, and ideas follow: in their memories, their voices, their stories. The album’s finale, “Stara Planina,” conjures beings from several mythologies, most notably Muma Padurii (Romanian) and Chernobog (Slavic). The restless dead wander the Balkan Mountains, stirred by battles fought here long ago—fitting for the band’s closest brush with extreme metal, a surge of double bass and tremolos that’s at once thrilling and despondent. By eroding the borders between genres and incorporating folklore from around the world, Khirki has embraced the inevitable to great effect. Purity is an illusion, a concept as vital as ruins exposed by desert winds.

Khirki takes their name from another Greek goddess, capable of changing her victims into all manner of beasts with a flourish of her enchanted staff. Ask yourself: would this be such a terrible fate? To lose your human form, to roam beyond the trails of civilization? Κτηνωδία permits us this transformation, if only for a moment—pleasure centers ignite in the brain, and the terrain around us no longer seems like an obstacle. We fly, swim and slither across the regions on a map, over strange symbols we can’t understand. They don’t ensnare us; we continue in our search for sustenance.

4.5/5 Flaming Bukovo Chilli Flakes ov Hell

Κτηνωδία is out now on Bandcamp. You’re late.

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