Review Summary: motion to add "meshuggahchugging" to the dictionary
Karmanjakah is a four-piece, Swedish progressive metal band of the "djent" variety. They released their debut self-titled EP in 2016, then disappeared from the universe for four years. In 2020, they began releasing singles that showcased a much more mature form of their original sound, with more technical riffs and cohesive songwriting, as well as stronger vocals. These singles lead to the release of their first album, A Book About Itself
, in February of 2021. I did not actually discover Karmanjakah until a few months later while browsing through random djent bands on Spotify, but after thoughtlessly throwing on A Book About Itself
, I knew about five minutes into the album that I had discovered something truly special.
Karmanjakah's style of songwriting is groovy, melodic and technical, comparable to bands such as Tesseract, Vildhjarta, and Textures. This is immediately apparent in the opening track Nautilus
, which features a mix of tried-and-true meshuggahchugging riffs that are interspersed with occasional high notes for melody. One of the interesting things about Karmanjakah that I feel separates them from the pack of their prog-peers is that they only have one guitarist (Viggo Orsan), and each song on A Book About Itself
only contains one primary guitar track (with a few exceptions, such as a rhythm track playing during a solo). I've found that many prog-djent bands rely on layering guitar tracks to give their music a "fuller" sound, but Viggo's riffs are so simultaneously rhythmic and technical that he can take care of the jobs as rhythm guitarist and lead guitarist himself. His playing is a thing of beauty, and to try and add extra depth to it would only serve to bog it down.
Karmanjakah's other two instrumentalists are no slouches either. Lukas, their bassist, can match tit-for-tat all of Viggo's riffs on his bass – which is pleasantly audible at all times in the mix – and occasionally takes the lead himself, such as on the first verse of Wild Horse
. Sebastian, the drummer, is above average for the genre. While most djent-prog drummers lazily follow the Tomas Haake formula of playing standard cymbal and snare beats and letting their feet do all the work on the kickdrums, Sebastian seems to always be proactive in his performance, adding those extra snare punches and tom-fills wherever they can be used to accentuate the riff. I must also mention that there are some instances of synth-play in the form of a grand piano on the album, used tastefully to accentuate a few of the slower tracks.
The impressive instrumentals on A Book About Itself
are brought together with the vivacious serenading of vocalist Jonas Lundquist, who confidently uses his high octave range to deliver memorable verses and hooks at every turn. I can't overstate the passion with which Jonas dispenses each line on this album, and to add to this feat, his lyrics are in English, which is, I assume, not his native language. Having read through all of the lyrics on the album, I wasn't able to detect a central concept, but many of the songs seem to deal with personal existential questioning, written with colorful metaphors often referencing nature.
Individual performances aside, I also want to talk about the flow of the album. While A Book About Itself
isn't a long, interconnected journey like some other prog albums, there are a few transitions between songs that sound organic and well thought out, my favorite being the light strumming from the end of Nautilus
to the beginning of Vardkasar
. But most of the time, each song demands to be recognized as an independent idea from the others, beginning as softly or as harshly as it wants to, and ending as gradually or abruptly as is needed. The fifty-minute album, which I feel to be the perfect median length for the genre, provides content from start to finish, without any useless interludes or meaningless meandering.
I learned while researching the band that their name comes from a town in the children's fantasy novel The Brothers Lionheart
, which takes place in the imagination of a dying boy's fever dreams. Although I haven't read the book myself, I can concede that Karmanjakah, who delve into the strange, the ethereal, and the beautiful in their music, could not have chosen a more appropriate name for themselves. Amidst a sub-genre of progressive metal that can start to sound a bit samey from band to band, Karmanjakah have written a book, or an album, excuse me, that is uniquely their own.