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Kayo Dot - Gamma Knife CD (album) cover

GAMMA KNIFE

Kayo Dot

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

3.51 | 40 ratings

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Anthony H.
Prog Reviewer
3 stars Kayo Dot: Gamma Knife [2012]

Rating: 6/10

Gamma Knife is the fifth full-length album (and sixth overall release) from American avant-rock band Kayo Dot. Toby Driver's flagship band has been pushing itself to the forefront of modern experimental music ever since its inception in 2003. This group has reinvented itself many times in order to fit Toby's constantly fluid ideas. Kayo Dot began as an avant-garde metal band, but the metal influences slowly melted away from their sound. Coyote and Stained Glass from 2010 were full-on RIO/avant-prog releases, combining elements of jazz-fusion and chamber music. Both of those releases contain some of the most interesting and memorable avant-rock that I have ever heard, so I was happily anticipating a follow-up. This album was produced in quite an unorthodox manner. It was recorded in front of a live audience and was subsequently subjected to heavy doctoring, overdubbing, and reproducing. Multiple new instruments were added and all evidence of an audience was edited out. This is an odd way to record an album, but it works well. I would never have guessed that the album was made this way if I didn't already know beforehand.

Musically, Gamma Knife signals a return to the heavier and more abrasive elements of the band's sound. However, heaviness is approached differently here than it was on earlier Kayo Dot records. Albums like Choirs of the Eye and Dowsing Anemone with Copper Tongue featured crushing sludge-metal riffs and bombastic crescendos; Gamma Knife features black-metal inspired fury with hyper-speed blast beats. This ferocity is bookended by two mellow pieces of ethereal chamber music. The quiet moments of the album are wonderful, but the heavy tracks are disappointing. They lack the intricacy and finesse that I have come to expect from Kayo Dot. Instead, they often fall into indiscernible noisiness. Multiple ideas are repeated without proper variety.

"Lethe" is an unorthodox opener, to say the least. This is a haunting piece of gorgeous chamber music centered upon strings and bells. The vocals are what really make this track strange, however. The group harmonies sound like Gregorian chanting; in fact, they would not be out of place in a cathedral. "Rite of Goetic Evocation" takes the album in a radically different direction. Deathspell Omega comes to mind while listening to the crushing chords, cacophonous drums, and demonic chants. This is an interesting track, but parts of it end up sounding needlessly noisy and directionless. "Mirror Water, Lighting Night" continues in the same direction. The saxophones sound phenomenal here, but the track feels disjointed and anticlimactic as a whole. "Ocellated God" is more of the same: furious saxophones, abrasive vocals, and banging blast beats. The title track breaks the cycle of heaviness with a burst of calm. Toby's vocals are gorgeous here, and the piano/guitar interplay is seamless and beautiful.

Gamma Knife is a very good album, but it's a major disappoint after the phenomenal output that preceded it. Toby Driver is no stranger to harshness and density, but his music is usually much more finely-crafted than this. The entire middle of the album drones on with very little variety; the movements blend together with indiscernible structure and blurry noise. The bookending tracks save the album, however. "Lethe" alone is enough to demonstrate the diversity and beauty that Kayo Dot can deliver. I'm glad that the band continues to explore new ground, but this result underwhelms me. Kayo Dot is one of my favorite bands, but this latest release is unable to move past the "good" category in my book.

Anthony H. | 3/5 |

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