Review Summary: Blasphemy is another unhinged project from Kayo Dot, being surprisingly stripped down and embracing a wonky and unique progressive rock style throughout.
Kayo Dot simplifying their methodology is not something a follower of the band would expect them to do, but at this point it's pretty much par for the course to expect the unexpected from them. Their dense blend of various musical styles conjured some of the most unique and imaginative music of the past two decades, always providing a surreal and otherworldly listening experience drenched in melancholy. They have once again subverted expectations by venturing into a more traditional rock band set up in Blasphemy
. The emphasis on synthesizers from the last two releases, Coffins on Io
and Plastic House on Base of Sky
is still felt, but they take a background role in favor of a more guitar-driven approach that utilizes the energy of Coyote
and goth rock atmospheres of Coffins….
The straightforward instrumental line-up is an unprecedented move, even for a band that prides itself on wild stylistic changes that makes them impossible to classify as a whole. This is yet another new direction while vaguely drawing on their past, continuing the sci-fi themes of recent albums. Blasphemy
is less consistently impressive than the previous three Kayo Dot records, but is still a solid release that showcases their deft balance of metallic, avant-garde rock and moody, ethereal moments not dissimilar to Driver’s recent solo album They Are the Shield
The lyrics detail an allegorical science fiction story centering on three nefarious characters driven by greed and traveling by sea on a distant planet. Their course is set toward a powerful girl named Blasphemy, a journey that will see her bring about their demise. This narrative is written by long-time collaborator Jason Byron, placing the album thematically with the previous three records. What we get musically is somewhat of an offshoot from Hubardo
, also based on a story by Byron, except for the absence of lush orchestral flourishes, jazz influence, or face-melting metal riffing that characterized the wide array of dimensions that album displayed. Blasphemy
is more uniform throughout, lacking the usual diverse instrumentation or dense sound layers while still sounding as eclectic as anything they’ve done before. “Lost Souls in Lonesome’s Way” for example exists as a subdued, intoxicating song that traverses various moods and emphasizes gorgeous synths and vibrant lead guitars.
“The Something Opal” builds tension and excitement effectively, traversing an array of alien synths and dark guitar leads while Driver delivers all sorts of different singing techniques as the song goes on. “Midnight Mystic Rise and Fall” has similar strengths and exemplifies a deft balance of meditative, wistful atmospheres. The song is built on airy synths and melodic guitar lines with walls of harmonies dominating the chorus. This builds to a sweeping climax that recalls heavier Kayo Dot tracks and even a bit of Toby Driver’s previous band, maudlin of the Well. “Blasphemy: A Prophecy” ends the album with an invigorating tone, despite feeling too short and ending abruptly. Driver’s commanding vocals and the gothic guitars make it one of the best songs for its brief run time. Examples like these harness the album’s strengths at being more inviting and accessible than Kayo Dot usually sound. While they shouldn’t, and probably do not, feel the need to be approachable or cater to listener expectations, this new style is certainly an interesting one for them to take.
Toby Driver performs a highly impressive and versatile singing performance throughout Blasphemy
, veering into over-the-top and melodramatic territory at times. Even the histrionic sections command attention for the passion and skill behind them, and the intent is always felt. It also helps to read along with the lyrics and follow the story as you listen. Driver embraces everything from the whispery black metal narration not too different from Cradle of Filth, to grittier, almost operatic vocals similar to the singing during the grand moments of Hubardo
, and everything in between. These add a flair of theatricality in a way not heard before in Kayo Dot. He shines most consistently during the softer sides of the album, especially throughout highlight “Turbine, Hook, and Haul;” his vocals blend with the vibrant synths and cylindrical guitar lines for beautiful results.
For all the strengths and rewarding qualities Blasphemy
contains, various elements hold it back from achieving the same brilliance and replayability of the previous three records or first two releases. Despite a simpler instrumental line-up, there is the presence of bizarre and at times overwhelming songwriting choices. The awkwardness and melodrama can hinder the potential for compelling moments. Despite some nice melodies in “Ocean Cumulonimbus,” it largely plods along and tires the listener out with its exhausting second half that contains too much wailing and repetitive, loud walls of guitars. The longest track and album centerpiece, “Vanishing Act in Blinding Gray” promisingly begins with spaced out synths, delicately strummed reverbed chords, and Driver’s delicate crooning. The middle section builds to a roaring crescendo of shrill guitars and bellowing vocals that becomes more over-the-top as it continues. The developments in the second half are eclectic and fascinating, but when taken altogether, the song doesn’t quite feel right or develop as effectively as what the band have shown to be capable of doing in the past.
The complex rhythms and virtuoso drumming is always a highlight with Kayo Dot, but they take a subdued role in Blasphemy
. The pacing is kept largely midtempo, and while it works for the aesthetic, makes for some less than enthralling results and a lack of forward momentum. The least stimulating track, “An Eye for a Lie,” is frustratingly slow-paced and grating with overblown vocals. There are times where the drumming shines however, being crucial to the energy and build-ups throughout “The Something Opal.”
exhibits the strengths and versatility Kayo Dot possess, particularly in “Lost Souls on Lonesome's Way” and “Turbine, Hook, and Haul,” but the disparate elements don’t always gel together in a cohesive fashion. Like all Kayo Dot releases, there is much to appreciate with plenty of impressive moments throughout. Coffins on Io
and Plastic House on Base of Sky
contained dense alien soundscapes in various moods, with some of the most exciting and memorable songs of their discography. Blasphemy
follows in the path of those records and carries the same mystique, despite all three sounding noticeably different. What we have is another worthy attempt by a chameleonic band at bringing things back-to-basics and trying something new, but the disconnected nature stifles the potential for the same level of brilliance.