Review: KhirkiΚ​υ​κ​ε​ώ​ν​α​ς

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In ancient Greek literature, the theme of nostos describes a hero’s homecoming, usually from an epic journey by sea, rife with trials and adversity. To end a quest in diminished form was seen as dishonorable; nostos implies not only survival, but emergence as a stronger version of oneself, tempered through tests of mind and body. This tradition can be found in literature from around the world, but perhaps the most well-known example lies in Homer’s Odyssey, and Odysseus’ voyage home following the Trojan War—beset by mythological beasts and deities alike, he perseveres after a decade of struggle to reclaim the throne of Ithaca.

Since the release of their debut album, Κ​τ​η​ν​ω​δ​ί​α (Animal), Khirki has embarked on a similarly treacherous journey, namely defeating the sophomore slump—a Herculean task for many artists. Through its bold spirit and broad scope of influences old and new, Κ​υ​κ​ε​ώ​ν​α​ς (K​y​k​e​ó​n​a​sraises the band to new, intoxicating heights.

From the start, allusions to the Odyssey punctuate the album; “Featherless” recounts Odysseus’ meeting at sea with the Sirens, albeit through the eyes of these deadly, alluring creatures. This retelling parallels Khirki’s combination of well-trodden genres into a novel form: the battering triplets of thrash; the swagger of hard rock; the joyous freedom of folk merge into their signature style. Another crucial aspect of this sound is its theatrical flair: as vocalist/guitarist Dimos Ioannou sings “No one has escaped the siren’s wailing / None deny me when I sing”, his voice grows more distorted until he himself acts as the jaded siren, howling after her vanishing prey.

Waterhouse, John William. Ulysses and the Sirens. 1891, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.

The storytelling aspect of lyrics can be lost in the extreme metal genres, where harsh vocals act as additional instruments or serve to distance the vocalist from their humanity; in the process, we lose an entire avenue for connecting to an album’s narrative. On the other hand, sometimes we simply want to hear something with gravity; something fierce and intense to break away from monotonous reality. Theodore Zefkilis’ production on Κ​υ​κ​ε​ώ​ν​α​ς, vastly improved from his already solid work on the debut, helps bridge this gap with its impactful bass presence and overall dynamism—breathing life into the band’s increasingly complex compositions.

“Σ​υ​μ​π​λ​η​γ​ά​δ​ε​ς” begins with lush, hypnotic interplay between bass, acoustic and electric guitars, and drummer Spiros Stefanis’ kit, before dropping the tempo for a delicate, pared-down groove. This languid moment calls to mind Odysseus’ encounter with the island-dwelling Lotus Eaters, a people grown complacent by the narcotic effect of the lotus flower. Those who consumed its fruit were said to lose all desire to return home, longing only for the oblivion of sleep. As his crew members succumb to lethargy, this affront to nostos drives him into a rage, reflected in “Σ​υ​μ​π​λ​η​γ​ά​δ​ε​ς'”s slowly ramping distortion and aggression. The jarring breakdowns and meloblack riffing of the song’s second half, combined with Dimos’ bellowing vocals, echoes his disruption of the sailors’ reverie.

van Thulden, Theodoor. 17th-century French engraving of Odysseus on the island of the lotus-eaters. 1633.

Khirki’s use of auxiliary percussion instruments stimulates the imagination, adding a spark of adventure wherever they appear; while they were already a trademark of the debut’s songwriting, they’ve grown in variation and prominence in Κ​υ​κ​ε​ώ​ν​α​ς‘s mix. The result is a dense, vibrant sound, immaculate in its clarity, despite the many layers. “Σ​υ​μ​π​λ​η​γ​ά​δ​ε​ς”‘s frenetic finale balances the band’s dual acoustic/electric riffs, Stefanis’ kit, a flurry of bongos, and belted vocals without collapsing—no mean feat, especially in a genre known for brickwalled masters.

Speaking of masters, the band answers to none. Unsatisfied with merely returning to the scene with a refined version of their style, they’ve actively sailed into waters unknown in search of novel experiences. “Your Majesty” draws from the wellspring of ’70s proto-metal with its playful vocal lines and driving, strummed chorus before letting the guillotine fall on our expectations: the song’s defiant protagonist speaks through a clarinet solo, courtesy of guest musician Kostas Dimou. Surprises like these stud the album like crown jewels, shining examples of successful experimentation. “The Watchers of Enoch” fuses Orestes Katsaros’ funk basslines with lurching doom in its first half, before a final, chest-rattling breakdown replete with bongos and choral chants of “Γη εν τη γενεσει” (“Birth of the Earth”). These disparate elements should clash like spears on shields—surely, strange alchemy is at work.

Perhaps the album’s most unexpected moment comes at the start of “Heart of the Sea;” while Khirki flirted with extreme metal on Κ​τ​η​ν​ω​δ​ί​α‘s “Stara Planina,” the churn of blast beats and double kicks here sees the band moving at blackened tempos. Coupled with the urgent, soaring harmony of the chorus, there’s a palpable sensation of being swept along by stormy seas, powerless in the hands of Nature’s might. Odysseus’ flight through the Strait of Messina mirrors the song’s intensity: surrounded by the mythical beasts Scylla and Charybdis, the latter of which takes the form of a living whirlpool, he successfully navigates the strait, but loses several members of his crew to Scylla’s ravenous appetite.

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Renan, Ary Ernest. Charybde et Scylla. 1894, Musée de la Vie romantique, Paris.

Κ​υ​κ​ε​ώ​ν​α​ς translates to “mixture”—an apt name for an album that merges nautical themes, music, mythology, and language into one. Circe herself poured Kykeon for Odysseus’ crew, its hallucinogenic effects incapacitating them so she could turn them into pigs. (Maybe this explains the “oink” in “Pumping the Vein?”) It’s impossible to tell which shape Khirki will take next, but rest assured it will confound and captivate in equal measure. With goblet in hand, let us raise a toast to nostos completed; to mysteries made familiar; to devotion, intuition, wisdom, and freedom. Yiamas!

5/5 Flaming Goblets ov Kykeon

Κ​υ​κ​ε​ώ​ν​α​ς is out now. Go buy it, ya goobers.

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