Review Summary: All we want is enough to get by.
I have always felt that each groundbreaking album has its roots in its predecessor, whether subtle or obvious. Maybe one song in particular caters to a sound the artist was planning on fleshing out, or possibly even a single moment. The funny thing about Karnivool’s sophomore album Sound Awake
is that it told us exactly what to expect from its successor. The moment was one we didn’t think about much, though-- it was the album’s end, when “Change” dissolved into a single jagged drum beat, deconstructing bit by bit. And by the time it ended, all sense of time within the track had been lost. The deconstruction existed only to spark questions, to introduce uncertainty at the end of a relatively digestible album.
is a full-fledged continuation of that moment’s sharpness, for better or worse. Much of the record thrives on jarring the listener, and on being as uncomfortable as it can bear. This presents innumerable issues for Karnivool, considering the group has always been one of the more conservative bands to use the progressive metal tag. So why, then, does Asymmetry
begin in just the way you’d least expect it to? Its first true song “Nachash” kicks off with a weird-ass drum part, then brings in oddly fuzzy bass, and then... Ian Kenny’s voice through vocoder?
Yeah, not sure I understand that one either.
There are multiple disturbing things about this picture, the first being that this is the first impression of this album that Karnivool newcomers are going to receive. The way all the ingredients of the track clash against each other, along with the modern progressive ideology of as many unexpected noises as possible to jar the listener-- is there a worse way to begin this album? Much of the album’s first third takes on this mindset; “Nachash” disorients through instrumentation while “AM War” alienates via pure music theory. The latter song is rooted in dissonance-- its main riff is so egregiously off-putting that the end product is just exhausting. When in mainstream progressive metal, things like dissonance are best used to provide contrast to, and not be
, the norm. The song works best when it breaks down after a couple minutes, when Kenny sings “one more day, to see it through,” and the instruments give proper space to the moment. The light finally shines through, and the song is as urgent as it set out to be-- for just a fleeting instant.
In fact, I think that’s what the main issue with Asymmetry
is, that it has a very confused agenda. Some of it wants to carry on the torch of its predecessor, other parts of it want to redefine Karnivool, and other parts don’t even seem to have any discernible purpose, like those god-awful interludes. Speaking of those-- “Asymmetry” and “Amusia” can’t connect the album’s ideas together since they’re devoid of substance. The previous song is actually one of the most amusing things the band has ever done, but for reasons they couldn’t have intended. The one-second guitar loop that cycles throughout the song’s two minutes could be included in a UK house track, and the vocal sample that comes in at the song’s end fits this idea, even, until it glitches out like a pissy ‘90s desktop computer. Time to, once again, pose the question I keep wondering: why?
Despite the curious nature of Asymmetry
's beginning, the group’s trademark sound is still intact-- it's just concealed within the record’s second half. Standout track “Sky Machine” glimmers when drummer Steve Judd joins in, playing a rhythm that is complex-- but fitting. He’s playing alongside guitarists Drew Goddard and Mark Hosking, locking his drumming to their ideas. The entire song is as tightly structured as this specific bit, and, in fact, much of the record’s second half is too. Another stunner is “Aeons”, and because of how the song builds up continuously, much like Sound Awake
And many of these later songs could have easily been on Sound Awake
, which makes the record’s dichotomy that much more stark. But some of the tracks bypass such filters, bringing something entirely new to the table. “Float” is one of Karnivool’s defining moments, an interlude fleshed out to a five-minute length. It’s delicate, emotive and telling-- before the choral swells come in, before all of the intricacies the song eventually introduces, Ian Kenny sings “all we want, is enough to get by.” And maybe Kenny is thinking about the recording process of Asymmetry
, and how the group originally wanted to make a simpler album than it did. Karnivool has always been surprisingly basic in nature-- and in “Float,” things are that simple again. There’s no need to beat around the bush, because when dropping all of its typical instruments, Karnivool find their footing again and begin to pave themselves a new path. Maybe “Float” will most resemble the group’s next work, and we’ll look back to the song as that one
reason we kept tuning in, the inspiration for us to stay patient for what will be Karnivool’s most fulfilling release yet.