Review Summary: Karma To Burn at their peak.
Karma To Burn were on a roll in the late 90s releasing 3 albums that all are instantly memorable and a lot of fun, whether they are instrumental like 'Wild, Wonderful Purgatory' or 'Almost Heathen' or filled with vocals, like their great eponymous debut.
A lot of people when hearing about an instrumental album are turned off, expecting monotonous structures or endless suites and solos, therefore losing interest halfway throughout the album. But on 'Almost Heathen', the music is varied within the desert/stoner rock genre. The band blends anything from energic, hard driving riffs (akin to Kyuss) to slower, doom-like ones(more similar to Sleep). Also, all the tracks clock in at a maximum of five minutes, making them more accessible and to the point.
The band plays real tight and the production is flawless. Rob Oswald's drumming is really malleable, he knows when to have more presence or when to just let loose, while bassist Rich Mullins' fat bass tone completes Will Mecum's fuzzy riffs, creating the overall heavy, dirty sound. So, whether it's the stomping rhythm of "Thirty Nine", the darker, heavy "Thirty Four" or "Nineteen" or the sharp riffs of "Five", they are all amazingly good and keep you attentive, just waiting to see what's next.
If you really want to take this album as a soundtrack to something, it could be a hot rod drive through the desert. You never ask yourself where are the vocals, because the songs don't need them. The riffs are pounding and twisting and they never seem to run out of them. Karma To Burn don't necessarily achieve anything new, nor do they want to sound pretentious, so they just give more of the same and you don't really need more, since everything here sounds so good. As a result, in the end you can't really pick one track (okay, maybe one or two that are clearly highlights) and you just put the album to play and lose yourself in the music.
However, taken in smaller doses Karma to Burn is great, but after listening to 'Almost Heathen', chances are you won't listen to this or another record head to toe again. The whole record is attention demanding and after 50 minutes you really feel like you've had enough for now. That's the flaw of giving more of the same.
Unfortunately, after this, the band decided to quietly disband for the next 9 years and the two albums that they have released since reconvening are less rewarding, leaving this album a peak of their career for now.