Knut are a band whose obscurity is understandable but unjustifiable. See, they’re from Geneva, Switzerland, and they’ve only toured the U.S. once that I know of, back around 2001 or maybe 2002. So it’s no big shock that most American fans of jackhammer noise rock aren’t hip to their awesomeness, even though they’re signed to Hydra Head. Hell, this record came out in July, I think. But I’ve been a fan since hearing their debut album, Bastardiser, a full decade ago. I saw them play at CBGB on their sole U.S. tour, and bought a T-shirt I still own.
Every one of their records—Bastardiser (originally released in Europe in 1998, gifted to U.S. listeners in 2000), their self-titled 2001 EP, 2002’s Challenger, 2005’s Terraformer, and even 2006’s remix collection Alter—is great. Wonder (buy it from Amazon) does nothing to break their 16-year hot streak (the group formed in 1994).
Their core sound is a mix of classic noise-rock stutter-riffage with hardcore’s rage and metal’s technical skill. If you like Botch, Converge, or Helmet at their most alienating and least pop-friendly, you’ll love Knut. Their music is tight, disciplined rock made by, and intended for, intense men with short haircuts. It doesn’t seem intended to be pleasurable as much as cathartic and cleansing. Frontman Didier Severin has an extremely harsh, hoarse voice, and he screams his lyrics at a constant pitch—he’s never “off message,” it’s pure rage at all times. The guitars, by Tim Robert-Charrue and Christian Valleise, are unrelenting and mechanistic, somewhere between Helmet and Meshuggah, and on most tracks the sound is a grimy roar with elements of sludge metal to it. On the instrumental “If We Can’t Fly There, We’ll Take the Boat,” a tiny hint of beauty is permitted to pierce the fog, but the underlying fury and focus remains.
The album sprinkles instrumental tracks amid the post-hardcore rants. Two of these, “Ultralight Backpacking” and “If We Can’t…,” are played by the full band, and they’re among the album’s longest tracks, each one passing the six-minute mark while songs like “Damned Extroverts,” “Calamity” and “Lemmings” never reach two minutes. There are also two guitar-only pieces, “Segue 1” and “Segue 2,” which aren’t palate-cleansers so much as ominous interludes during which the listener awaits the next pummeling.
Knut engages in certain ritualized behaviors. One of these governs how their albums end. Bastardiser and Challenger both concluded with long, crushingly repetitive songs; “Crouch,” the last track on the debut, was just under 11 minutes long, while Challenger‘s final offering, “March,” ran a staggering 19:51. With 2005’s Terraformer, though, they switched gears a little, and wound things down with the six-minute “Fibonacci Unfolds,” which began with a longish stretch of ambient guitar fuzz. Wonder concludes with the eight-minute “Wonder/Daily Grind,” which sort of bridges the gap between the two approaches—it’s a pounding math-metal track, but has some weirdly atmospheric stuff going on at the margins and ends with a full minute of feedback and oscillating hum, drifting slowly toward silence.
Knut should be much better known than they are. But they’ve got the respect of their peers (Hydra Head signed them at the recommendation of Converge frontman Jake Bannon), and their records are always extremely carefully crafted, cohesive works. Like Helmet (or Oxbow), they have seriousness of purpose on their side, and to me anyway, that counts for a lot. Wonder is one more excellent release by a band that doesn’t have any other kind. Whatever they do now or in the future, I’ll be listening.