Album Review: Kujo – The Rebels Have No King

[Modular Mind; 2021]

Accompanying the rise of global nationalism and the influence of right-wing factions is a resurgence of interest in the works of writers like Kafka, Huxley, Orwell, and Philip K. Dick. Also apparent is a heightened appetite for shows such as Mr. Robot and Westworld, which explore the corrupt nature of power and the concomitant unraveling of society. Additionally, popular music’s industrial branch is undergoing seminal reinterpretations. Given the genre’s typically bleak lyrical themes, jolting rhythms, and serrated textures, and its energetic attunement to fundamental polarities – the individual vs. the state, freedom vs. order, and diversification vs. conservatism – it’s no surprise that its influence would be contemporarily pertinent, continuing to evolve via Death Grips, Dreamcrusher, and Preoccupations, among other bands.

Add to that list The Rebels Have No King, Lebanese/Amsterdam-based Kujo’s amalgam of dystopian tones, regimented rhythms, and harshly atmospheric textures. Throughout the project, the composer and musician draws as much from Swans and NIN as they do from news sources, war documentaries, and classic films, including Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times. The Rebels Have No King is at once an audial exploration of ontological and social dynamics and a political diatribe on the way in which dominant blocs; i.e., parties, corporations, militaries, and entire countries, use mass conditioning and violence to squelch ‘otherness’ and the rebellious spirit.

The project opens with “Uprising”, portentous tones wrapped in abrasive static. Voices in the background chant, bellow, and protest, buffeted by trebly sounds that bring to mind aerial assaults. As the piece progresses, the static-y tones throb and erupt, high-pitched accents resembling screams processed through a phaser. “100 Days” further develops this apocalyptic palette: distorted accents, sinister drones, and a pulsing percussive sound replicate the metronomic rhythms of large machinery. On “Abuse of Power”, Kujo explores fleeting swells of melody, background echoes, and what sounds like a choir singing a celestial chorus. The prayerful tone, however, is soon buried beneath ominous distortion, illustrating the way in which the sacred and beautiful are routinely devalued by consumeristic and militaristic agendas.

“Unchained and Concrete” includes a sound that brings to mind someone being flogged with a steel whip. Tribal percussion sounds are blended with electro-cacophonies, rendering a study of the perennial clash between indigenous cultures and imperialistic societies. As the piece unfolds, the two grow more enmeshed, suggesting a cross-cultural symbiosis, though as the track concludes, the tribal elements fade steadily into the industrial static, a lesson re: the way in which traditional societies have been invariably displaced by hegemonic forces. “Al Moukawama” builds on that theme, featuring a mix of voices that sound disembodied, the pleas of native people – exiled and murdered over millennia – reverberating in a hellish soundscape.

The spacious opening to the final track, “End of Passion”, suggests the possibility of a concord between disparate cultures, perhaps even global harmony. The piece, however, transitions abruptly into reiterations of static, drones, and howling voices, illustrating the primacy of humankind’s exploitive tendencies and the collectivization of greed. The track includes what sound like gunfire, explosions, and human laments, ending with a high-pitched drone that affirms and amplifies the anxiety evoked throughout the project. In this way, Kujo completes a misanthropic depiction of modern life’s worst attributes, leaving a listener to ponder the nature of suffering and its multifaceted causes and conditions. The Rebels Have No King is a 21st Century ambient landmark, voicing the horrors of post-humanitarian existence.