Shaking The Habitual is not an easy listen. Its extensive 98 minute runtime is barren, caustic and uncompromisingly bloody-minded. It’s also bloody brilliant.
The Knife’s first album in seven years, Shaking The Habitual is their darkest, strangest record yet. Similar comments were made about their 2006 masterpiece Silent Shout but today it’s somewhat amazing how conventional that album is by comparison.
With Shaking The Habitual, The Knife take Silent Shout’s most extreme moments (The Satan-voiced beat nightmare of We Share Our Mother’s Health by way of example) and make these the new ‘normal’. That glitchy opening number A Tooth For An Eye, given striking vitality by Karin Dreijer Andersson’s strained scream, is the closest this album gets to ‘normal’ speaks volumes about the wavelength Andersson and her sibling Olof Dreijer are now operating on.
Tracks like Full Of Fire and Without You My Life Would Be Boring are compulsively danceable, their jackhammer beats forming an uneasy alliance with tortured synths and Andersson’s striking vocals. Other tracks, such as Raging Lung, are a little slower but no less electric.
Where Shaking The Habitual really differs from its predecessor is in its presentation. Silent Shout, for all its quirks, was essentially a straightforward album but Shaking The Habitual is a twisting, surprising, and confrontational listening experience. With extended track running times, short interludes of industrial scraping noises, and a mirrored structure, it’s as much a performance art experience as it is an album.
If Shaking The Habitual has any problems, it’s that it’s a little too keen to confront the listener. The obvious example of this is Old Dreams Waiting To Be Realized, the 20-minute ambient horror-scape at the album’s centre. It’s actually a really well realised experiment that effortlessly transforms any activity you’re performing while listening to it into the most terrifying thing you have done in your life – washing the dishes has never been so traumatic – but it’s easy to see a lot of listeners switching off at this point. Could The Knife have created the same effect in a more palatable running time? Probably.
Still, The Knife’s unhinged vision absolutely drives this record and it’s easy to excuse a few of its more frustrating moments in light of such a unified whole. Shaking The Habitual might not be the sort of album you’ll dip into often, but when you do decide to take the plunge it’ll reward you (and punish you) like few others can.