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Album review: Koto Kill - Fight Us All


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Gabriel Ralls is the mastermind behind Koto Kill – a collaboration that seeks to fuse the intricate textures of Bristol trip-hop with the harsh synthesisers of late 90s rave and industrial music.

Source: Bandcamp

Working against an overarching unity is Ralls’s decision to invite a different female vocalist to lend her voice to each track. The cringe-worthy lyrics of the album opener ‘War Zone’, which are placed directly at the front of the song, are a real turnoff and sadly underneath there is little to compensate for the lacklustre vocals in the form of a pleasant, but rather outdated, instrumental derivative of the Massive Attack of two decades ago.

Her masculine delivery is then juxtaposed with the girlish exclamation of “Let’s go!” at the start of ‘Riot at 45’ whose posh annunciation of Americanisms would be easier to swallow if it were possible to believe them ironic. Part of the listener revels in the novelty of hearing sounds thought long consigned to history revived in the early Incubus-like distorted guitar work combined with pop production so evocative of a certain era. However, again, the lyrics are inconsequential, and the track just sort of lazily peters out, cutting abruptly to the third song ‘Fire Down’.

‘Fire Down’ is perhaps the most interesting texturally of Fight Us All’s offerings, featuring a spicy mix of Bollywood sitar and moody electronics. What is a subtle and intelligent blend is then disrupted by a brashly overdriven guitar long since outmoded and even more jarring in this otherwise evocative atmospheric context. This track showcases Koto Kill’s potential in production, which is unfortunately wasted on an uncritical pastiche of the idiosyncrasies of the 90s.

From the comparative chill of ‘Fire Down’ we are thrust into ‘Sugar Rush’ with its filthy bass synth à la Justice. The production here lets the song breathe for at least the first 30 seconds with a punchy drum pattern that suggests a nod to Prince, however, we are soon back in overblown, sonically saturated territory of rock with a capital R. Lyrically, it pushes over the boundary of tastefulness and instead of passion, we're left with undisciplined vocal technique.

‘Hot Waters’ showcases the Turkish saz, although it’s driven by a synth pop bassline reminiscent of Depeche Mode. Here the vocals, while pretty, seem rather incidental and safe, and the whole thing, though cool, has a thrown-together quality abundant in hours-long bedroom pop compilations to be found on YouTube. This really feels more like a jam than a proper tune and that's only then backed up by the messy piano outro serving as a weak conclusion.

Fight Us All ends with ‘Vagabonds’, similarly lacking in direction. There is no chorus here, only an endless build-up and uncompelling vocals. Perhaps the only point of interest here is some interesting audio engineering in the panning around the three-minute mark, but that hardly saves the mini album from a confused send-off.

Occupying that awkward space between an EP and a full-length LP, Koto Kill has decided to release a “mini album” that succeeds neither in capturing the former’s appetite-whetting succinctness nor the latter’s artistic cohesion. This is a project that wears its influences on its sleeve but does little to transcend them. As far as instrumentals are concerned, the album cannot speak for itself because it is too saturated in the tropes of its obvious inspirations.

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