Kayo Dot
Moss Grew on the Swords and Plowshares Alike


4.0
excellent


Release Date: 10/29/2021 | Tracklist

Review Summary: the flow of time is distorted

The stars are aligned. October 29th 2021 finds both Kayo Dot at a juncture in their career and myself at a point in semi-adjusted adulthood where it no longer seems mutually flattering to draw firm lines between Kayo’s oft-touted credentials as a capital-E experimental band and the more intuitive fantastical pangs that ultimately make their music so memorable. Don’t get me wrong, their resume still reads like a bucket list for pretentious such-and-suches craving the throbbing tip of the avant garde (we’ve all been there), but the real reason anyone sticks around is the potentially unique access they provide to unlikely pockets of imagination. This hasn’t always been the case - there are certainly Kayo Dot albums best approached as installation hours (2016’s sci-fi flunk Plastic House On Base Of Sky springs to mind) - but when all is said and done, project mastermind Toby Driver isn’t a great composer because of his proclivity for the unconventional and recurrent mockery of genre constraints, but thanks to his uncommon knack for giving voice to a precious sense of the beyond.

So it goes for the project’s 10th LP Moss Grew on the Swords and Plowshares Alike. Driver’s work this time around is darker, denser and decidedly heavier than anything he’s produced since his bloated masterpiece Hubado; the fantasies in question may be a grimmer shade to the campy Blasphemy or the noirish Coffins on Io, say, but they’re as evocative as ever. However, Moss… has deeper roots than the album-to-album progression Kayo Dot has been tracing out in chicanes for the past decade: we’re treated to performances from the founding roster of Driver’s earlier metal band maudlin of the Well, bang in time for their 25th anniversary. The record inherits a lot as such, in ways that may surprise those who never explored beyond the cosmic whimsy of landmarks Bath and Leaving Your Body Map; Driver has dredged up his long-buried death/doom fixations and embraced a tone overwhelmingly geared towards melancholy and occult fantasy, with legendary bands Tiamat and My Dying Bride lurking in the shadows all the while. The album’s more visible facets are earthen through and through, steeped in a pagan tone that evokes marshes, overgrown forests, and decay, all poised like a final breath in a world on the brink of stagnation and backed by occult versesmith Jason Byron’s ever-dense imagery.

The focal point for all this sits squarely behind the mic. Driver, still developing as an increasingly capable vocalist over time, delivers his most exclamative and extensive performance in many years, growling, howling and shrieking his way through each song like the ex-prophet of a M.I.A. deity. Read: striking, but ambivalent - a lot of the overripe bardness of his Blasphemy performance lingers on here, but his newfound ferocity equips Moss… with the stakes and conviction its predecessor so frequently lacked. There is, however, something attritional to his delivery here; his approach is relentless and at times exhausting, hammering at Byron’s verse as though it’s some form of endurance test. At best, the results are mesmeric: album highlight “The Necklace” sees Driver’s throatiest shrieks pair up with a vertiginously tense soundscape that takes cues from atmospheric black metal (all reverb, no distortion!) and dishes out a disarmingly passionate snapshot of a moving final scene (that title is as stealthy as suicide euphemisms go). It’s an entirely new look for Kayo Dot, challenging to a certain degree but also one of the most rewarding tracks they’ve landed since their flagship early records.

“The Necklace” has an emotional depth that justifies such an exerted performance, but in earlier tracks Driver’s voice lands with a bracing theatricality that I’m not always convinced is warranted in such measures. His tone is dour and steely, maximalist in many respects but hard-eyed and short of the sensory kitsch that its death/doom forebears channeled so evocatively, a little too fixated on the grit and grain of obscure storytelling to land the same kind of sentimental body blows. There are exceptions: midway nailbiter “Spectrum of One Colour”’s touch-and-go antics and “Void In Virgo”’s rousing melodic chorus are both a cut above, but the strained quality that runs through, say, “Brethren of the Cross” and “Get Out of the Tower” feeds a slightly awkward sense that someone may be trying just a little hard to live up to the crushing brief of his adopted style.

However, my main reservation over Driver’s enactment of the Book of Byron rests on the stranglehold it maintains over the band’s instrumental roster. Kayo Dot may so often be about image and fantasy, but Moss… shifts so overtly towards bearing the weight of its narration that it occasionally struggles to flesh out its progressions with the full contour they deserve. This is less evident on any particular moment of any given song than at the points where a sudden moment of brilliance cuts through the gloom momentarily, only to leave an aftertaste of hmm, could have used more of that earlier. “Spectrum of One Colour” packs several such twists, but the real case study is the gargantuan closer “Epipsychidion”, the only track that truly lets this lineup’s elephant-shaped two-point-five-decade chemistry out of the room. It’s by far the most mobile piece here, unashamedly convoluted as it lurches through a flurry of sections with abandon and finally reviving that classic maudlin of the Well feeling of every performer bringing their best without any gingerly show of respect for each other’s space. For six glorious minutes, the track runs away with itself, spilling its lifeblood with exhilarating generosity only to burn itself out and seep away in an extended drone coda, lumbering death throes that feel deliciously well earned.

This is the part where the cynical listener twists the closer’s various strong suits back at the rest of the album and uses them as a counterpoint to label it retroactively turgid, but - - - not so fast, idiot paladin. Literally the baseline rule for this whole spiel has been that Kayo Dot caters to moonfaced dreamers more than tetchy avant-jerkoffs, and you were that close to forgetting it? Back to the fantasy. Yes, Moss Grew on the Swords and Plowshares Alike has its share of trudge (doom!), and there are certainly lessons to be learned on how far a little restraint can go for a domineering vocal performance, but this is all a secondary concern in the face of the be-all-and-end-all: that irreplicable spark of atmosphere. Even the most sluggish tracks buy into Moss…’ bleaktimes of decline aesthetic hard enough that its morbid morose adventureshivers become a tone becomes a mood becomes a feeling becomes a dream becomes an engaging listen, and lo and behold we have a journey! A pretty great one, it turns out, coherent in its ups and downs and hits and misses, and momentous enough to terminate in a thoroughly satisfying manner. So - off you hop. Kayo Dot are still the business, give them all your money, take care along the way, goodbye. Lord knows what they’ll have in store for us next time. End.




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user ratings (159)
3.8
excellent


Comments:Add a Comment 
JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
October 29th 2021


43008 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

this is ridiculous but also really good ・best KD since coffins or maybe (probably hubardo)・i never want to write on this band again ever



here is some cool shit that i like that happens on this album:



- twinkly creepy gothic opening groove thing

- toby screaming his face off about his dead horse on Spectrum of 1 Colour

- the necklace is a top 10 kayo song yes all of it

- DRONE FKING METAL OUTRO OH YES

Digging: Lali Puna - Scary World Theory

Scoot
October 29th 2021


20905 Comments


maudlin of the dot

Pikazilla
October 29th 2021


19934 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

This is better than Coffins and Hubardo



May or may not be AOTY

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
October 29th 2021


43008 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

RIP Coffins RIP Hubardo RIP Asian Glow

brainmelter
October 29th 2021


7653 Comments


Nice read, can’t wait to jam this one

Digging: Flaming Ouroboros - Uphold the Majesty

Frost15
October 29th 2021


889 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

This is at least on par with Coffins and Hubardo, and it may be even as good as their first two. Need like 10 more listens to fully appreciate Toby's work here.

Digging: Kvadrat - ?????? ??????????

Josh D.
October 29th 2021


16902 Comments


Oh yeah, I forgot about this.

GhandhiLion
October 29th 2021


14019 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

"This is better than Hubardo"

hopefly

Digging: Resina - Resina

TalonsOfFire
Staff Reviewer
October 29th 2021


19894 Comments

Album Rating: 2.7 | Sound Off

Good review Johnny. Having covered all of Driver's releases on this site for 5 years until now, that first comment made me chuckle.

For the best that I didn't write this one - can't really connect, even less so than Blasphemy.

There are a lot of moments I like throughout tho, and Void is great. Of course since it's Kayo Dot, further listens may change my view.

Digging: Cynic - Ascension Codes

Gyromania
October 29th 2021


33321 Comments


Yeah good review. What you say about the necklace is true

Frost15
October 29th 2021


889 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

@TalonsOfFire See ya on a few months bumping this to a 4 at least... This band always grows on you, it's scary actually how albums somehow improve like wine. Toby must be playing some hypnotic sorcery on me. Quoting Michael Scott: “If I had a gun, with two bullets, and I was in a room with Hitler, Bin Laden, and Toby, I would shoot Toby twice."

Djang0
October 29th 2021


683 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Awesome review. Yeah I’ve accidentally called this a new maudlin of the Well album a few times lol. Haven’t fully listened yet but I have a hard time seeing this be outside the Driver-verse top 5-10

Cimnele
October 29th 2021


1744 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

noice, excited for this

FadedSun
October 29th 2021


2849 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I listened to the first 3 tracks last night, and loved them. Vinyl is coming. Probably will absorb the whole album then.



A 2.7 from Talon? Nah, dude haha. The first 3 tracks alone are enough for me to 4.0 this haha. If you're going to change your mind, then why even rate it? Looks silly.

TalonsOfFire
Staff Reviewer
October 29th 2021


19894 Comments

Album Rating: 2.7 | Sound Off

Funny how opinions work! I don't think I'm gonna change my mind, at least no higher than a 3. Believe me I want to like it a lot more. And plenty of users change their ratings a lot more than I do.

TheMonster
October 29th 2021


98 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

To evaluate art based on sheer "opinion" is to subscribe to a postmodern version of Wimsatt and Beardsley's 'affective fallacy' and voids any claim to the legitimacy of the judgement.

Ryus
October 29th 2021


26452 Comments


what

Digging: Rx Papi and Gud - Foreign Exchange

Cimnele
October 29th 2021


1744 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

it's not enough to like or dislike something, you have to impress some guys who wrote an essay

Jasdevi087
October 29th 2021


6817 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

yeah bro, i got an infective phallacy you can legitimately judge right here

AnimalsAsSummit
October 29th 2021


5790 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5 | Sound Off

I hope the vocals in the first track grow on me, tbh even the black stone has better growls

Digging: Da Force - Battlestation EP



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