I figured it was high time I opened this door for myself and review another album from a band I’d covered before. It’s a difficult maintaining such a bubbly attitude towards musical mood from one day to the next, and as it happens this has been a particularly barren Thursday, when for some reason I couldn’t really muster the energy to do much of anything, except listen to the new Kayo Dot album and feverishly ponder (on the music) and plot (on world domination). In any case, here goes, another dose of Kayo Dot.
I’ve been waiting for this release for two years now, for their 2010 album, Coyote, definitely left me hungry for more and their next release, titled Stained Glass, just added fuel to the fire. While Coyote had a clearly defined concept behind it (a sort-of reinterpretation of the late-seventies and eighties Goth aesthetic from a purely Kayo Dot standpoint), I’m still struggling to understand the underlying concept behind Gamma Knife, if there is one at all. Not that the music needs one to retain its considerable expressiveness, but I can’t help but search for it, seeing as it’s still a release from a band I perceive as eminently intellectual and passionate for connections and references which act above and beyond the musical realm. I was surprised to see that the album is so short, especially by their standards, but I’m pleasantly reminded of how little that means when it comes to substance and actual content.
This is a five-track record, structured in such a way as to allude to their previous method of shifting focus from one genre to the next within one song, but expanded throughout an entire release. The limits between approaches seem more clearly traced, as the first and last track are ethereal, majestic songs of dazzling beauty, while the three tracks in the middle stand on the chaotic, enraged bedrock of metal at its most fierce, but I get the impression the band is playing with a sort-of fractal approach here as well, managing a more subtle and tight weave of modern-classical composition with the black metal element than ever before. I’ve heard these three middle songs, which seem to be the enigma and the key to this record, classified as “black metal” with bold, albeit blind, in my opinion, decisiveness. I’ve heard black metal, and this isn’t it – these songs are so much more, so much more structured and complex in their flirtation with chaos, so much more mesmerizing in their patterns and frequencies. As always, straight-forward classification is a trap Kayo Dot seems to use as a form of temptation, only to pivot at the very last second and leave one’s maw gaping in surprise. Surely, there is ferocious anger and despair in these songs, but these sentiments are presented in such a way that they end up acquiring qualities which clearly set them apart from their labels as base emotions.
The way the album is put together, barely containing this deluge of exquisite brutality between two wonderfully meditative and melodious songs, is driven home by the fact that the material was recorded in two different locations – Lethe and Gamma Knife at Toby Driver’s home studio, sounding looked-after and remarkably well-polished, imbued with what feels like an pristine, white expanse of sound, and the three middle-tracks, in a live location, giving them a rough, slightly distant, muddled sound, which complements their aesthetic very well. One would think that with such division, the album would sound unbalanced but it isn’t so at all. If anything, Gamma Knife uses music to create the image of a bell, crystalline and massive, containing overwhelming resonance and volume. Perhaps this isn’t a random reference, seeing as the first track of the album begins with a delightful musical pattern performed on mellotron bells… In any case, the band seem to be doing something rather odd and slightly scary to me – they seem to have forsaken the concept of clear, easily identifiable melodies, in the search for greater expressiveness and freedom, and they’re taking me along with them, even though I could’ve sworn I was rather conservative on this point. I’m very much a fan of repetition and melody in music and usually condone dissonance and noise only as a pleasing form of contrast, meant to empower the underlying or alternating melody. And yet, here’s Kayo Dot, presenting this tumultuous, challenging record which I can’t be sure I would’ve liked a year ago, and instantly convincing me that I’m faced with a musical treasure. Wondrous…
In any case, I feel Gamma Knife is a great way to break a pattern for ZaRecords and allow myself to delve deeper into the moods certain bands can weave, even if it takes a couple of days. I hope you’ll give this record a spin (excuse the pun), and I’ll see you soon!