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3 stars Bands who don't evolve their sound generally have a short shelf life, especially in prog, where the listener is often craving something new and different and which has the ability to surprise. Karnivool is one band that has taken a step away from previous releases with their new album "Asymmetry".

The echo-laden guitar that was a cornerstone of much of Karnivool's earlier work has now taken a back seat to the rhythm section: percussion and bass are now the driving force behind the music, with many songs on this release a form of beautiful chaos. This seems to be an evolution from "Set Fire to the Hive" from their previous album, which held similar elements to a lesser extent.

I'll admit that this style is not my favourite, as in the past I've favoured songs such as "All I Know", "Cote" and "Themata" with their more melodic approach. The band has not discarded this style entirely, with the second half of the album and songs such as "Aeons" and "Alpha Omega" giving a nod to the melodic side of things, however it has definitely been relegated to a smaller role.

Be that as it may, Steve Judd on drums and Jon Stockman on bass really do shine on this album and give it a throbbing, thumping sense of liveliness. They are both distinctive and unpredictable and imbue this album with what I think is Karnivool's most progressive vibe to date.

This is an album that I really wanted to love, and as such I gave it the best part of ten listens before writing this review. In the end, it does leave me wanting. Most of the reviews I have seen for "Asymmetry" are absolutely glowing so I may be in the minority here.

I can appreciate the skill and musicianship involved, and I'm glad that Karnivool are moving in new directions. Unfortunately to me, it just doesn't come together in a way that's pleasing to the ear. I would definitely suggest checking it out in any case, as it's an album that may appeal to those more suited to the style.

Report this review (#1003513)
Posted Monday, July 22, 2013 | Review Permalink
3 stars Thought this album would be an evolution of Sound Awake or at least an extension and what it ends up being, is another band that let their egos get the best of them. Sound Awake and Themata have something this album seriously lacks, structure. I'm all about any crazy sounds or poly-rhythms you can throw at me but this album is just a mess. I looked forward to this album for so long and it's a major letdown. At least they didn't sell out though! Another band that is releasing their new album soon is Dead Letter Circus(another Aussie prog-rock band). I think their album will hopefully make up for this mess "Asymmetry". I'm a musician and I feel like half this album sounds like they're messing around, I just don't get it.. Sound Awake is such a masterpiece, this album leaves you hanging, every time you think a song is going to crescendo and go all crazy, it ends... It's really frustrating that these guys took 4 years to make this. I just don't get it... Just my opinion but I guess we'll see what Dead Letter Circus is up to and Tool in 2014. Here's hoping for some better albums!
Report this review (#1004249)
Posted Tuesday, July 23, 2013 | Review Permalink
4 stars Karnivool have changed their sound significantly from their previous effort, 2009's stunning 'Sound Awake', and that hasn't gone down well with a lot of fans. Where Sound Awake was fairly centred heavy prog/alt metal that broke into some strange tangents, but largely remained quite riff & melody-driven, Asymmetry is centred around Steve Judd's amazing, complex drum beats and the guitarists' beautiful atmospheres, rather than walls of guitars (mostly). I think the complaints by many that the album is too complex, or is complex for complexity's sake, are going over the top a little- while it's certainly rather less rhythmically predictable or stable than it's predecessor, it's mostly nothing that several listenings can't help you to get a grip on. The first couple of tracks is where this is most evident. The atmospheres created are a major feature to the sound of this album- particularly in the second half, as the music begins to calm down, but also on the single, We Are, which is quite beautiful.

The flaws in the album are certainly there, however- having mostly heavy, uptempo songs in the first half and mostly calm, more straightforward/atmospheric ones in the second half may fit into whatever concept singer Ian Kenny had in mind, but it does leave it feeling unbalanced. There is also a lack of truly great songwriting- great sections, great ideas, but nothing that comes together as well as Deadman, or Change, from Sound Awake. Not the songs are at all bad- We Are, Aeons, and others are excellent tracks.

Still, my favourite album of 2013, not as good as Sound Awake for the previously mentioned reasons, but the atmospheres and sound do make think otherwise sometimes. 4 stars.

Report this review (#1005400)
Posted Thursday, July 25, 2013 | Review Permalink
3 stars I was stoked to see this finally show up on the Amazon MP3 store and after several playthroughs I won't say that I am disappointed by the album, but I will say that I will say that only about half of it is very memorable. I feel there are moments where the music really grabs me but there is a good portion of stuff that sounds like throw- offs from previous albums or short, perplexing experiments and don't really bring much to the listening experience. This album almost feels like they were going for some kind of concept album at times (I dunno...were they?) because there are some shorter more ambient/experimental songs that don't really connect to anything at all. Aum and Om begin and end the album as this type of ambient/experimental songs that are really too short to really go anywhere and to disconnected from the rest of the songs. I almost wanted to give this 4 stars because if you cut out everything but Aeons, Asymmetry, Eidolon, Sky Machine, Float and Alpha then it makes for a great listening experience (to me at least). The rest of the stuff doesn't really appeal to me all that much, although I won't say the other songs are terrible; some are just too jarring and dissonant for my tastes and others are too short and isolated in their ambient/experimental disconnection from the other material.

Of the songs I really liked, being Asymmetry through Sky Machine plus Float and Alpha I think that all of those songs are too short. There are no 10+ minute songs on this album unless you join together some of the songs like Amusia and The Last Few (those two really should be one song as Amusia is just an incredibly short and mostly noisy intro to The Last Few). Asymmetry and Eidolon are faaaar too short to be the epic songs they could have been. Asymmetry almost seems like it should be the lead-in to Eidolon but they don't really flow together all that well and thus each one should have been longer more stand-alone songs.

So ultimately I enjoyed maybe half the album and didn't really care for the other half of the album, but the half I enjoyed I really liked despite that half being too short. Way too many songs on this album clocking in at 3 minutes or less, some of which aren't really songs but strange experiments that should have just been released on a separate 'oddities' EP or something.

Report this review (#1007516)
Posted Sunday, July 28, 2013 | Review Permalink
Second Life Syndrome
2 stars Sometimes, you just shouldn't. Karnivool has never been a band that I really enjoy. "Themata" is an excellent album, for sure. Even "Sound Awake" had a few excellent tracks. With their new release "Asymmetry" , I'm struggling to find anything at all that justifies this album's existence. There isn't any inspiration here at all.

Sometimes, you need someone to tell you "no". That's one of the major problems here. Karnivool definitely leans towards the metal side of the heavy prog genre, and so this album is fairly heavy, guitar-driven, and technical as can be. That's right. This album is one of the most technical albums I've ever heard. I'm not even sure that the band stays in the same time signature for more than a few seconds at a time. It's ridiculous! In my opinion, this is not a good thing. Sometimes, you need to stop showboating. The technical emphasis is so strong that the "songs" almost lose their actual musicality! Yes, sometimes I'm not even sure if much of this album can be called music. No melody. No harmony. No restraint. Just an overload of technical crap. The lyrics are all tacked-on, certainly.

The half-way point of the album changes some of these things. We actually get a few slower songs, "Sky Machine" being an example of this. And you know what? "Sky Machine" might be the best song on this album! The album finishes out with a few good tracks that actually elevate this album as a whole. The first half, however, is pretentious and chaotic. It's a mess, to be frank. Sure, it's impressive to a point, but not something I want to hear again. Sometimes, you just need to check yourself.

Report this review (#1029515)
Posted Thursday, September 5, 2013 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars Warning: This is an album that requires headphones or a very good speaker system in order to fully appreciate! With Karnivool's third release, Asymmetry, I am seeing a lot of growth, a lot of branching out in terms of influences and styles. There is still a lot of TOOL/MAYNARD JAMES KEENAN similarities-especially in the wonderful voice of singer, Ian Kenny--but add to that more THE MARS VOLTA/OMAR LOPEZ-RODRIGUEZ, OPETH/MIKHAEL AKERFELD, and OCEANSIZE as well as an incredibly full palette display of engineering techniques, all the while maintaining clear access to the individual instrumental tracks in what could have been a murky, soupy mess. In my opinion this is an aural and sonic masterpiece; the band has easily surpassed their wonderful 2009 album, Sound Awake. New producer, Nick DiDia, has helped the band achieve new heights.

1. "Aum" (2:22) is a kind of spacey meditative intro. Not much really to like or dislike.

2. "Nachash" (4:50) sees the band move straight into its TOOL-like territory but then they back off into some very delicate, spacey territory. There is an awesome vocal section beginning at 3:25 with "Wait!" and then culminating in a great guitar scream before the return to the original high octane pace and sound. The two guitars battle it out with Judd's drum play for the final 45 seconds. Awesome. (9/10)

3. "A.M. War" (5:18) opens with a catchy metallic guitar arpeggio riff before the bottomed- out bass and rest of the band join in full force, full throttle. The song overall reminds me of OCEANSIZE Frames era. (9/10)

4. "We Are" (5:56) begins with a little bit of techno-funk similar to some of Omar Rodriguez's solo work. I just love Jon Stockman's bass play throughout this song. I also love the impassioned vocal, the background keyboard flourishes and the almost "incidental" electric guitar embellishments. Great engineering/production on this, one of the most impressive songs I've heard all year! (10/10)

5. "The Refusal" (4:54) has a very heavy edge to it, like something I'd hear on OCTANE radio?Skillet or TMV?even in the bare bones section beginning at 2:05 there is a MAYNARD-like edge. Again, awesome engineering and production throughout the last two minutes. (8/10)

6. "Aeons" (7:18) begins with some spacey, echoed tremolo guitar notes before synth and amazing bass and drums join in. Incredible beginning! Delicate singing voice enters at 1:15 to tell us that he doesn't feel so well. Amazing use of heavy, thick instrumental sounds balanced by an empty spaciousness that is simply stunning! Gorgeous floating guitar in the first mid-song interlude before the TMV-like barrage of sound enters again. Another stepped down section fills the sixth minute as the vocalist sings about chemical fires signaling our death. Another favorite. (10/10)

7. "Asymmetry" (2:36) uses an odd sound loop to gradually set up some heavily distorted free form guitar play. The top-notch engineering of this album again comes shining through. (9/10)

8. "Eidolon" (3:45) offers a very catchy MUSE-like song--rather sedate when compared to the previous lineup. Again, I love all of the amazing incidentals running through the spaces and background of the music. (9/10)

9. "Sky Machine" (7:49) opens with some gorgeous multi-layered singing supported by delicate guitar and awesome drumming. A little EDGE/U2 feel to this song though the vocal is like some of MAYNARD JAMES KEENAN's most sensitive. Even the more amped up section beginning at 5:30 is quite extraordinary for its beauty and sensitivity. Awesome song. Love this guitar work. (9/10)

10. "Amusia" (0:54) is another off-kilter sonic interlude which bleeds into/sets up

11. "The Last Few" (5:15) opens up Karnivool's new TOOL/TMV meld style: quite intricately planned, complicated, layered music with a more polished version of the raw freneticism of Omar and co. The vocal and melody is, unfortunately, a little weaker than the previous offerings, giving the song a bit of a flat feel to it. (8/10)

12. "Float" (4:17) carries over a psychedelia feel from the ending of the previous song for its first 30 seconds before emptying out with a spacey treated guitar almost as if KLAUS SCHULZE were manipulating the delicate guitar play of 1974 GENESIS/STEVE HACKETT. Kenny's masterful vocal remains in his highest registers throughout the song. The space- treated instrumentation is quite effective. (9/10)

13. "Alpha Omega" (7:57) put an emotional Maynard James Keenan singing over some acid drawn out Led Zepellin being played by OPETH and I think this is what you might get. (9/10)

14. "Om" (3:52) is another odd, spacey instrumental using dissonance and random piano notes tied together only through their chromatic commonality to bookend. In the second half there is being played a tape recorded interview RE empathy and bliss, the common sound and color beneath it all. (9/10)

Unlike some of my fellow reviewer here on PA, I am finding that this album is haunting me--staying with me and drawing me back for more plays of "We Are" and Aeons" and "Float" and "Alpha Omega" and "Nachash" and even the poppier "Eidolon." Asymmetry is easily one of the most unique and memorable albums I've heard this year. I think special mention must go out to each of the individual musicians involved with this album--including the engineer and producer. Steve Judd's drumming is always solid and idiosyncratic. Jon Stockman's bass stylings are amazingly diverse and always interesting. Guitarists Goddard and Hosking are amazing in their sound palettes, temperaments, and mature ability to hold back, reserve, instead of always flash and flourish. The "risks" taken in these compositions and performances can only be described as mature and virtuosic. The "asymmetry" of heavy mixed with delicate and subtle, virtuosic flash mixed with astoundingly simple is masterful. In my humble opinion, these are some of the finest, freshest proggers on the planet and they have created one of the best albums of 2013.

Report this review (#1100962)
Posted Friday, December 27, 2013 | Review Permalink
Symphonic Team
4 stars Karnivool are an Australian band that I had heard of, being Australian, some years back when there was quite a fuss over their rise to fame in this country. "Themata" released in 2005 seemed to buzz by without raising too much of a stir outside of Perth, but 2009's "Sound Awake" was hailed as an Aussie classic and really made the country aware of how great Karnivool are. This latest release is actually heavier in every department with very strong emphasis on distorted rhythm guitar with a metal sound and pounding percussion and a deep resonating bass. The vocals remind me of Tool or Soundgarden on this latest release "Assymetry". The artists present are Ian Kenny on vocals, Andrew "Drew" Goddard on guitar, Mark "Hoss" Hosking on guitar, Jon Stockman on bass and Steve Judd on drums.

From the outset on the drones of 'Aum' the band have adopted a darker sound with definite influences of Tool, especially in the off kilter rhythms and odd time sigs of 'Nachash'. The deep resonance of the bass synth gives this an industrial metal feel and the guitar riffs are as exploratory as Tool. The guitars are executed with inventive relish and blast with a distorted machine grinding ferocity; check out the intro to 'A.M. War' that is one of their outstanding tracks. The time sig is so fractured it wakes up the ear on every listen and has an unsettling effect with its broken cadence. The drums are incredible on this track reminding me of the intricate work of The Cardiacs. There are many switches of tempo throughout the album but this track takes so many twists and turns it is veritably spellbinding. I was surprised as there was nothing like this on their previous album and it is a change for the better. Listen to 'A.M. War' to hear one of the most chaotic time sigs in years! It is unbelievable and must have really shaken up old Karnivool fans. At one stage when the tempo gets fast it is hard to locate the actual rhythm as it competes so dissonantly with the other instruments. I must admit I loved this battle of the instruments complete with its beautiful chaos.

Following this brilliant track is 'We Are' that is also very riff heavy and features Kenny's exceptional vocals and Goddard and Hosking going ballistic on guitars. This is a more FM alternative sound but the album needed some commercial sounds after the previous tracks, and this became the single deservedly. 'The Refusal' features booming guitar distortion and some screamo vocals over relentless drum crashes and bass runs that are a constant presence, very much like Oceansize or A Perfect Circle.

'Aeons' is a more lengthy track at 7:18 and feels like a Porcupine Tree song in the opening, especially in the vocals. It builds from reverberated tremolo guitar to strong synth lines and the rhythm section of drums and bass. I was reminded of The Mars Volta once the time sig became chaotic and then it settles into spacey passages and lyrics about chemical fires; "will I breathe again, will my lungs fill with fire, when the smoke clears who will still remain here."

'Asymmetry' is a short sharp burst of prog that loops a sequenced keyboard and is joined by distant vocals and distorted improvised guitar as heavy as the sound of Sunn O))). It feels like a transition, a real oddity, and leads to 'Eidolon' with a pleasant bassline and gentle guitar joined by crystalline vocals. The lyrics are reflective "maybe I'm just too proud to stand in your defense, still I feel the pull of hidden wires, I'm never gonna try again to speak my mind." This song is more radio friendly and accessible, certainly a welcome change after the high strangeness previous. The melody is infectious and really stays with you unlike the unusual approach of constantly switching time sigs on other tracks.

'Sky Machine' is a longer track at 7:49, beginning with multi-tracked vocal harmonies and stunning drum tempos. Inevitably the heavy guitars crash through and then a great melody in the verses is heard. I love the sound of the guitars the way they reverb and overlap on this track. It is also wonderful when the music settles down and we hear the warm vocals of Kenny in the mid section.

'Amusia' is a transition that is just odd but delivers nothing to enhance the album at all. I am quite perplexed with the short transitions and really believe they would have been better used as intros to lengthen the rather short songs. They simply don't offer anything and feel like fillers. 'The Last Few' returns to the more intricate layers of musicianship and feels a bit messy though I admire the rather innovative percussion sounds, that are the opposite to any prosaic approach of most alternative bands these days. It is difficult to locate any semblance of melody and this just swishes by with a lot of sound but very little substance in terms of melody or structure. The album has run into a lull at this point after its blistering start so I hoped the next few songs would be outstanding.

'Float' is a psychedelic exploration with reverberations of glissando guitar in the Steve Hackett tradition. The vocals are sung in falsetto and are very emotive on this track. There is genuine beauty here and it literally feels as though it were floating along with chiming reverb attached to distant droning harmonics. The feeling of melancholy is strong and yet it feels as though a ray of hope is shining with the repeated "just enough to get by".

'Alpha Omega' is more like a real song without all the complexities and even features an infectious melody that can easily be recalled. 'Om' concludes on yet another oddity that is an instrumental of piano free form style, and enhanced by eerie atmospherics that sounded like Godspeed You! Black Emperor for a moment. When the recorded interview begins it sounds even moreso like GY!BE and yet I am at a loss as to what the band are trying to achieve with this strange ending; is it after all a concept album? And if so what it is it all about?

At the end of the latest Karnivool album I am once again left pondering what a masterpiece it could have been had it been more structured and made some kind of sense; perhaps even a plausible concept would have helped but it all seems to have been thrown together randomly. This is okay for a commercial album where the listener is not more demanding and just wants to hear a bunch of songs they can sing or dance to, but surely a prog band should deliver more, especially after 4 years hiatus. Karnivool certainly are not commercial or a band you would likely dance to, moreover they are thought provoking and inventive at their best, but the problem is in the short transitions and filler material that mars the rest of the outstanding work; it doesn't seem to serve any purpose. I am still impressed by this album in many ways and believe it deserves recognition for its innovative approach to the medium, especially on songs such as 'A.M. War.' The album has received attacks from the prog community for its chaotic soundscapes and lack of structure and I can see this is justified, but nevertheless the musicianship is outstanding, if a little too clever for its own good. It is excellent music though and a great way to idle the hour away on a lazy evening with the headphones cemented on. Karnivool refuse to sell out to the commercial trappings of so many other alternative bands and maintain intricate musicianship without languishing into dull radio friendly mush. For this very reason and for their innovative approach they deserve better exposure in the prog community and should be given a chance as I believe the offer a great deal and are a very original and talented band.

Report this review (#1105322)
Posted Thursday, January 2, 2014 | Review Permalink
2 stars When I first found this band and listened to their albums Themata and Sound Awake, their trajectory had me pretty excited. Themata is a great alt-rock album with plenty of solid songs. Sound Awake took it up a prog notch and the result is one of my absolute favorite heavy prog albums out there, it is my aim to one day be able to drum along to the track Deadman, love it. Then 4 years later I get Asymmetry?

It's not a terrible album and there are some moments that I really generally enjoy, but those are few and far between. There isn't really a single song on the album that even stands out, the few with the moments I enjoy all have weak parts that are too much to overlook. The choruses typically go for a poppier alt-rock sound reminiscent of Themata and the heavier moments all seem to have the same reverb heavy sound with a rhythm that doesn't ever really go anywhere.

I really hope the next record takes another direction, there is no doubt that these aren't great musicians. Looking forward to the next album with fingers crossed.

Report this review (#1557325)
Posted Saturday, April 30, 2016 | Review Permalink

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