Review Summary: 13 years on, Karma To Burn is still one of the coolest sounding records ever made.
Dirty, fat 70’s Sabbath riffs coupled with brooding, eerie vocals generate a foreboding atmosphere that is Karma To Burn’s distinct and excellent 1997 self-titled debut. Any forays into their subsequent releases may be met with disappointment as they are almost entirely instrumental, more one dimensional and lacking atmosphere. The 90’s saw a 70’s Sabbath inspired Stoner Rock and metal grooves and blues movement. Kyuss were the best but there were many other great releases during this time from acts such as Corrosion of Conformity, Down, Monster Magnet, Fu Manchu and Floodgate (checkout their one and only release Penalty form 1996).
Karma To Burn’s sound is most reminiscent of C.O.C and Down. Whilst Kyuss take you on an odyssey through the desert and beyond, KTB ventures underground and explores the darker side of humanity. This is a flawless album which moves effortlessly from track to track with each song containing seamless transitions between light and shade. Karma To Burn remains a laid back journey with an underlying seediness and tension as you take in an array of sights from the criminal underworld and serial killers to wild sex parties, and then onto Ancient Indian Burial Grounds. This is what the music has evoked in my mind anyway.
KTB is an experience which delves beneath the surface to make your skin crawl. Few bands can create an overbearing cinematic soundscape like Neurosis, although KTB go a long way albeit in a more cruisy and economical manner. KTB also take you through the gamut of emotions: melancholy, sorrow, hurt, indifference, serenity, humour, arrogance, mysticism, eroticism, danger and debauchery.
Whether a song is vocal or instrumental, reverberates between light and shade, or just builds to a crushing climax, they all convey their emotions effectively. The vocals range between ugly, murky, sexy, cruisy, haunting and menacing. Beautiful, eerie female vocals are also used to great effect. Every track is a winner and most of the song titles alone are great value – ‘Mt. Penetrator’. If I had to pick standouts, then it’s the tribal beats and chants and climactic breakout of ‘Patty Hurst’s Closet Mantra’, the straight-up dirty rock outs ‘Six-Gun Sucker Punch’ and ‘Twin Sisters and Half a Bottle of Bourbon’, and the emotive bluesy crescendos of instrumental ‘Thirteen’.
13 years on, Karma To Burn is still one of the coolest sounding records ever made. It doesn’t have the pace of 80’s thrash giants nor the heaviness and explosiveness of a lot of metal, but it isn’t overtly derivative and scientifically formulated like some breaching the periphery of copyright. This baby exudes ambience and breathes organically.