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Kayo Dot - Gamma Knife CD (album) cover

GAMMA KNIFE

Kayo Dot

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

3.55 | 72 ratings

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LakeGlade12
3 stars 2.5 Stars; Lo-Fi Blunted Knife

Kayo Dot's Gamma Knife came out at a critical point in the band's career. Their last 2 records and EP had sold poorly and resulted in them being kicked off their label and with no money for future albums. Toby Driver (the band's leader and only consistent member) considered ending Kayo Dot at that point, but instead took the challenge of creating another album with no budget. The music was composed and carefully practised, before being recorded live using whatever resources they could borrow for free.

This backstory is important, as it hugely affects the quality of Gamma Knife. This was also the first album since their debut to go back to their Black Metal sounds, which when combined with their low recording budget turns Gamma Knife into something like a Lo-Fi 90s Black Metal album. This in itself does not have to be a bad thing, Lo-Fi Black Metal can give incredible walls of sound that mesh together nicely to create a coherent musical statement. The problem with Gamma Knife is that the music was not written to be Lo-Fi, it has many technical and nuanced sections that are best presented in a high-quality recording studio that can pick up on those details. So, what you get instead is a very muddy sound with all of the precise playing becoming blunted

To make things worse the song writing on Gamma Knife is quite patchy. "Lethe" start strong with Church bells and imposing dark ambient drones, however the build-up is never rewarded. Instead, the rest of the track sounds like hymns from a Sunday Church service. It's probably the weakest track in the Kayo Dot cannon and certainly the most boring.

Things pick up with "Rite of Goetic Evocation" with a nice sax and deep bass intro, which leads into low frequency death grows and wild drums. This is the song that suffers the most from the Lo-Fi recording, as there are certainly some atmospheric details inside this death/black metal maelstrom, but the cheap microphones and live setting does not pick it up properly, and the vocals are too quiet as well. So, the majority of the song becomes a muddy sonic mess that takes all the power out of what should be an intense song.

"Mirror Water, Lightning Night" is my favourite song on Gamma Knife by far, as its complexity is fully captured on tape this time (along with some cheering from the audience at the end!) and the song writing is very strong here. This is a hard song to describe as it has several movements, but it manages to combine intense and fast playing with the more abstract and dream like attributes found on maudlin of the Well, which you rarely see in most Kayo Dot material. Definitely the most Avant and original song on the album, while also not having any Black Metal.

"Ocellated God" is by far the darkest and heaviest song on Gamma Knife, and unlike the other Black Metal track this one is naturally aggressive and loud enough to function with poor sound quality. Toby screams and howls like there is no tomorrow and makes for a good companion piece for the epic Hubardo album that follows this one.

The final track in this brief 30 min album is "Gamma Knife", which is by far the quietest song on the album. This is the only song where the sound quality is studio quality, which is mainly due to the lack of any walls of sound, so that every detail can be heard. Toby shows off his great vocal range and love for haunting drama, finishing the album on a strong note.

Overall, this is quite easily Kayo Dot's weakest album, partly due to the hit and miss song writing, but mostly due to the fact that Kayo Dot and Lo-Fi are not compatible together, even in a Black Metal setting. But this was the best they could do with their $0 budget, and I am still impressed with the technicality of their performance, along with them not compromising their artistic integrity. For that reason, I will round up the rating to 3 stars. I would still only get this after you have gone though Choirs of the Eye, Hubardo, Blasphemy and the twin 2001 maudlin albums, as they show Toby's metal side at his best.

LakeGlade12 | 3/5 |

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