Review Summary: Another fine export from Land Down Undaaah.
Australia. What comes to mind when one thinks of the glorious one-continent nation? Outback Steakhouse? Shrimp on the Baaaahbbie? Damn Wallabies? Unfortunately it's generally not good music that comes to mind. To most, the only recognizable musical contributions made by this country seem to be AC/DC and a seemingly endless list of mediocre and generic ripoffs of the rock pioneers (The Vines, Jet, Wolfmother, etc.) However, as of recent a pretty awesome trend has started in the music scene of the Land Down Unda with rock bands making aesthetically interesting music that noticeably rebells against the tired confines of much of the nation's music. Karnivool is one such band.
The five-piece plays a brand of alternative rock with an artistic twist. The band uses lush layers of accoustic guitars and strings that collide with jagged, heavy riffs, Meshuggah-y (dibs on this if its not already taken) polyrhythms, and soaring, angelic vocals. To say the least, the group's sound definitely stands out clearly from the glut of angsty sound-a-likes that have been dominating the radio as of recent. Even despite Themata coming out three years ago in the band's homeland, just making it to the U.S. in the past year, it still sounds fresher than a vast majority of bands just coming out here.
The key to Themata's brilliance lies in the group's use of dynamic contrast. Instrumentally Karnivool is quite heavy. The drumming is intense, technical, and very creative and the guitars fight it with staggered, down-tuned riffs, and powerful melodies. However, instead of having a screaming, "can't hold back my bottled up anger anymore" vocalist, which is more or less expected these days, the band wisely chose Ian Kenney, who has one of the most stunning, emotionally-charged voices in rock today. Hearing this man belt, croone, and bear his soul over such intense music, without once resorting to shouting or screaming is truly something remarkable.
The epic opener "C.O.T.E.: is a perfect example of these aforementioned elements. From the slow-burning intro its clear that great things are ahead. The track is an emotional odyssey, taking the listener through mathy prog sections, beautiful falsetto parts, accoustic interludes, and a symphonic-tinged climax. From there the pace does not let up with the fantastic eastern-metal title-track and first single, as well as the groovy "Shutterspeed" and the rhythmically mind-boggling "Fear of the Sky." These last two tracks show the band's Meshuggah influence quite clearly, however, the track most evocative of these elements is by far the instrumental, "Scarabs" which sounds like it could have come right off of "obZen." Meshuggah have no doubt left their imprint on the modern metal scene, but hearing them in an alternative band is definitely unusual, and yet Karnivool pulls it off effortlessly.
The band also handles their softer material with equal finesse, in the forms of the obligatory acoustic ballad, "Sewn and Silent" as well as "Synops," a gorgeous ambient track with programmed beats and a chilling refrain. Lastly, the cliffhanger closer, "Change Part 1" ends the album perfectly, adding enough closure to make the record feel complete, but also leaving the listener wanting more and possibly making for an interesting way to kick off their follow-up.
My complaints are few with this album, one of which being that it is very front-stacked in that most of the heavy and complex stuff is up in front while softer, slower pieces tend to dominate toward the end. Otherwise the production is fine, the musicianship is great without being "showy," and the song writing is first-rate and very accessible. For the life of me I can't understand how these guys are not better known, hopefully as they continue to tour the states and put out their next record word will spread. Don't miss this; Karnivool is a band with a really refreshing sound and some great ideas. Anyone who likes their rock served with a side of the unexpected and a little Outback flavor will love this.