Review Summary: Shooting for the stars and landing.. nowhere in particular?
You would be hard-pressed to find a man that disagrees that Karnivool have come a long way since 'Box'. Perth boys have become Perth men as recognition abroad has propelled the Australian band towards the spotlights of modern progressive rock music. Taking copious amount of time between the recording of a new opus has been met with increasing expectations and desire by an ever growign fan base for the next installment, progressively from Themata
to Sound Awake
, and now to Asymmetry
. The sophistication and maturation that was showcased on Sound Awake could do nothing but fuel the hypetrain for Asymmetry more. The tricky thing with towering expectations is that they are often made to be crushed. Even though Asymmetry does not solicit one to take away the label of 'progressive heroes' that many have dubbed the Aussie five-piece, it is a convoluted mess of a record with more ups and downs, shortcomings and greatness twisted together than a sleep deprived Stephen Fry on ritalin.
Much praised Kenny's (also frontman of the more popular and poppy Birds of Tokyo) vocal abilities return with a vengeance and are key in cementing many of the albums highlights (Sky Machine/Aeons
). Altogether though, Kenny's performance is not as strong as on prior releases as he regularly relapses in vocal patterns that bring to mind the image of a tumbleweed hobbling across desert dunes, not heading anywhere in particular. On some level, the lack of hooks on Asymmetry could and will be lamented by a lot of listeners as there is no sense of immediacy in the record and a good understanding of the music will require repeated listens. A lot of Kenny's vocal choices sound like they would fit right on Birds of Tokyo tracks that were not good enough to make the cut. Kenny exhales, the note seeps into your ears, stays there for a few seconds and leaves. Nothing has changed. The feeling occurs enough to irritate the listener as it detracts from the incredible musicianship that is going on the background and how much it works to propel the song forward into something better.
The invasive presence of Judd's snare in the mix is symbolic of the central role of the drum kit on Asymmetry. The bulk of the material often feels like it is written around what polyrhythmic magic Judd is performing and which tempo changes he has concocted (The Refusal
). This relegates the guitars of Goddard and Hosking to functioning as unthankful tools of atmosphere. While the latter two gentlemen fulfill this task to a T (and with gusto), the flip side is that there are hardly any memorable riffs on the album. A more cardinal sin is that while Stockman and Judd achieved moments of greatness together on Sound Awake, and could justifiably be called one of the stronger backbones in progressive rock music, signs of pensive collaboration are only sporadically present on Asymmetry to the detriment of the end product; progression from one passage in another often sounds calculated, making entire sections sound contrived and/or confused. Stockman often seeks beauty is simplicity to draw the listener in, while Judd habitually resorts to technical wizardry to bamboozle your ears. The combination unfortunately more often disconnects (Nachasch
) than engages (We Are/Eidolon
Employing the title track as an anecdotal piece of justification for its own name is woefully jarring and abrasive. Upon repeated listens, it achieves nothing but embodying the role of the steeple in a steeplechase, an obstacle that is to be passed before the work that matters can be enjoyed. Although Amusia
is not guilty of the same atrociousness it simply serves neither as a well thought out extension of Sky Machine
or an effective prologue for The Last Few
, thus falling flat. Opening passage Aum
succeeds in building a delectably light atmosphere which unfortunately completely juxtaposes the complex drum rhythms that open Nachasch
. On the end of the record, closing passage Om
has the unfortunate fate of being measured up against Change (Part 1)
from Themata and Change (Part 2)
from Sound Awake. It chooses to do so with an electronic ambiance accompanied by a subtle piano melody, divulging a spoken passage that philosophizes on the usage of lysergic acid. There is no going out with a blast this time and instead the album just ebbs away into the absence of sound. Just like Sound Awake, Karnivool struggle to imbue the interludes on Asymmetry with sense as being part of the whole, except that this time they are not dismissable blemishes but itchy scabs under which the flesh below is not imperfect, but kaput.
All this does not mean that Asymmetry is a case in point of a band stagnating. It is the sound of a band experimenting and looking for new ideas and approaches to paint the canvas with. Nevertheless, it happens too often that there is a self-apparent conclusion drawn where the presence of experimentation itself is interpreted as a signal of growth within a band. This is not always so. Experimentation with sounds rather showcases a band that is expanding, exploring and perhaps pushing the proverbial envelope. With Asymmetry, Karnivool is somewhere in this process but has not reached any new horizons. The impressive musicianship showcased by every individual saves the record from wallowing at an average mark of 'neither here nor there', but the collective product comes dangerously close on occasion due to dysfunctional songwriting. Asymmetry is Karnivool frantically attempting to establish dynamism between sophistication and mellowness and their desire for intensity and heaviness, often solidly hitting the mark with the former (Eidolon
) and missing it by a long shot with the latter (The Refusal
). Karnivool are confused about what makes them tick and work, and it shows in some painful ways.