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Kayo Dot


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Kayo Dot Gamma Knife album cover
3.54 | 76 ratings | 9 reviews | 14% 5 stars

Excellent addition to any
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Studio Album, released in 2012

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Lethe (5:05)
2. Rite of Goetic Evocation (6:40)
3. Mirror Water, Lightning Night (5:33)
4. Ocellated God (6:32)
5. Gamma Knife (6:46)

Total time 30:36

Line-up / Musicians

- Toby Driver / bass, guitar, piano, synth, vocals
- Mia Matsumiya / violin
- Tim Byrnes / Mellotron (bells)
- Terran Olson / alto sax
- Daniel Means / alto sax
- Keith Abrams / drums
- David Bodie / percussion

Releases information

Partially recorded live at Littlefield in Brooklyn, New York

ArtWork: Michelle Morinaga (photo)

LP Antithetic Records ‎- ANTI-012LP (2012, US)

CD Antithetic Records ‎- ANTI-012CD (2012, US)

Thanks to Anthony H. for the addition
and to Quinino for the last updates
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KAYO DOT Gamma Knife ratings distribution

(76 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(14%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(42%)
Good, but non-essential (30%)
Collectors/fans only (11%)
Poor. Only for completionists (3%)

KAYO DOT Gamma Knife reviews

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Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Conor Fynes
4 stars 'Gamma Knife' - Kayo Dot (7/10)

Since the days with maudlin of the Well over a decade ago, Toby Driver has been a consistent force in delivering some of the most powerful avant-garde music of the new millennium. With each album, this group of musicians has approached a different angle with their music, as if Toby and co. are browsing through a cosmic buffet, taking the flavours they fancy most, and making albums out of them. Especially in the case of Kayo Dot, I have felt that each album has a binding musical theme behind it. While 'Choirs Of The Eye' may have been defined by it's atmospheric surrealism, and 'Coyote' by is dreary jazz overtones, Kayo Dot's latest album 'Gamma Knife' is a little more difficult to pin down. Not that its sound is any more abstract than what has come before, but the music on this latest release is more diverse than I would have expected. For the sake of a bottom line, however: Kayo Dot has brought the metal back into their sound.

You might not guess that 'Gamma Knife' is a return to heavier times from its opening track 'Lethe'. The album opens on a very dreamy note, with bells chiming and Vangelis-like electronic orchestrations shimmering. This, and the titular closing piece, both show Kayo Dot in a very laid-back, even ambient frame. Even with Toby's signature brittle vocals, the music does more to capture a memorable feeling than to have particular ideas get stuck in the listener's head. When 'Lethe' closes, the more definitive traits of 'Gamma Knife' start to emerge. 'Rites Of Goetic Evocation' sounds like it could be a track from a black metal band, and it may as well be; the three songs that make up the body of 'Gamma Knife' are rife with growls, screams, blastbeats, and dissonance. The opening chords of 'Rites' sound more like late-era Deathspell Omega than anything else, as big a surprise to me as any, considering the band's music was being compared to Sigur Ros not too long ago.

It's not quite metal in the traditional sense, but Kayo Dot have certainly brought back a much heavier sound to their music. For one, the guitars are back, although the most distinguished instrument in the sound is the saxophone. Yes, the saxophone is there to beckon in the heaviest, darkest moments of 'Gamma Knife', and yes, it works. Take the albums defacto climax at the end of 'Ocellated God', for example. Overtop a fury of distorted screams and intense drums, the usually-jazzy sound of what I think is a saxophone layers over itself and repeats to create a very jarring and off-putting lick. Many more traditional metalheads may label this music as many things before metal, but it is undeniable that Kayo Dot has become heavier this time around.

Although Kayo Dot's latest is heavy, doomy, and metal-ly, I have also said that 'Gamma Knife' is more difficult to pin down than Kayo albums in the past. This is in large part due to the fact that there are five tracks here, and two of them are in stark contrast to the other three. There is certainly dynamic in earlier releases, but this time, the melancholic and soft is ostracized from the brutal and dark, as if it were a musical apartheid. It gives the album a cyclical sense to it, but my impression of 'Gamma Knife' is split in two. Be it dark or light, the music here is inventive, challenging, and often very powerful, with particular regards to the darker-edged material on the album. That being said, 'Gamma Knife' does not feel like a full album to me, at least not the way 'Choirs Of The Eye' or 'Coyote' did. For one, the album barely scrapes the half-hour mark, and leaves me wanting more than what the short length offers. I'm left feeling the same way I did about Radiohead's 'The King Of Limbs' from last year; though the musical quality in itself is quite high, there isn't enough meat on the bones to give it a lasting impression. In that sense, it is much like chicken wings. Had it been made at least ten minutes longer and given a little extra polish, 'Gamma Knife' would have almost certainly left me in total awe.

Review by AtomicCrimsonRush
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Start the year off right with a listen to a dissonant avant-metal-jazz explosion.

Kayo Dot's recent album "Gamma Knife" is the first 2012 album I listened to and began the year on a discordant note. It is no secret to those who know me that I am no fan of the darker side of prog and the bleak "Coyote" was more of an endurance test for me. I will admit that I approached this latest Toby Driver offering with a degree of trepidation. The opening track of chamber music had me spellbound immediately. Once the bells begin to toll and the hymnal Gregorian style chanting is over on 'Lethe', a dissonant collage of guitar crashes breaks the serenity. A death metal growl invades the doomy atmosphere surprisingly. The off kilter saxophone is an intriguing embellishment and a cacophony of sound results. This continues for some time generating a darkened soundscape. Then blastbeats and anguished cries follow, almost sounding like Emperor or other Norwegian black metal. This is the 'Rite of Goetic Evocation' and it may surprise many listeners, as it is a very atonal cacophonous sound that is jarring on the ear.

Next is a jazzy piece that sounds like a bunch of saxophones having an affray. The competing instruments are drawn together by Driver's estranged vocals. Interestingly enough this track sounds like Van der Graaf Generator music when they play the inharmonious improvised sections of songs such as on "Pawn Hearts". There is a thankful break in the song and the time sig diverges into unknown territory on 'Mirror Water, Lightning Night'. I am becoming hooked by the saxophone as lead instrument at this point. It becomes quite a noise in places, none of the instruments attempting to stay into any particular time metrical pattern. The result is a sound of intimidating ferocity, perhaps the angriest album I have heard in some time.

It almost transforms into death metal jazz on the unnerving 'Ocellated God'. Growling screechy vocals and insane manic woodwind clash together and at one point the tempo quickens until there is a repeated 3 note motif that once again is very much like VDGG. The growls become intense and the hyper percussion and dissonant woodwind sound as if the band are having a multiple progressive disorder, perhaps a musical breakdown. The music goes all over the place and intensely frenzied as Driver screams unintelligible cries. It is almost humorous such is the vehemence of the instruments. This may be what it sounds like when an orchestra is having a bad day.

Finally it ends with 'Gamma Knife' with very gentle guitar and Driver is at peace on calming vocals having had his tantrum previously. The tessellated fractured keyboard phrases are quite beautiful. There is a sound like a harp flowing up and down the scales and arpeggios. Driver's voice becomes more penetrating with a style similar to that on "Coyote". It is the best track on the album apart from the opening. It is strange how this beauty is bookended with all the rage sandwiched in between.

My conclusion is this will appeal to the Toby Driver and Kayo Dot fanbase, no doubt but the rest of us must tread cautiously as we approach this uncanny music.

Review by m2thek
3 stars Since 2009's Part the Second and 2010's Coyote, Toby Driver's many projects and albums have presented some of the most exciting music this genre has to offer. With the announcement of Gamma Knife at the end of last year and its recent release, my anticipation for a Kayo Dot album has never been higher. While it's held back slightly by its length and audio quality problems, the music of the band's newest album is great, and is a great way to start off 2012.

Gamma Knife is a live album of new material recorded in late 2011 in New York City, with studio overdubs later on, similar to King Crimson's Starless and Bible Black. The audio quality is generally OK, with the vocals taking the biggest hit out of anything. The instrumental mix isn't without flaw, but for the most part, there may as well not be lyrics for how understandable they are. Besides the quality of the mix, the only way you would be able to tell that the music was recorded live is brief clapping at the end of the third song; Gamma Knife certainly has the feel of a studio album.

The album consists of a half hour of material made up of five songs. The opener and closer are mellower, atmosphere kind of tracks, with the middle three being the dense and dissonant affairs that Kayo Dot fans will crave. The music is generally great, and has a heavier feel than Coyote with the inclusion of guitar again, and growling vocals that are reminiscent of early maudlin of the Well albums. In contrast, the first and last songs provide beautiful, softer pieces of music before and after the calamity that is the middle of the album.

Overall, the music contained within the 30 minutes has the regular dissonance, some insane counterpoints, and even more density than the usual Kayo Dot album. The album flows from beginning to end, with smooth transitions and shifts in mood and energy that make perfect sense. However, there is only 30 minutes (and less than 20 minutes, taking out the first and last songs) of this music, and that's hard to ignore. It helps that you can purchase the album for just $5 on bandcamp, but this combined with the quality of the mix unfortunately holds Gamma Knife back from reaching its full potential.

Considering just the music alone, this album is easily worthy of 4 stars, and if you have any interest at all in Kayo Dot is a must buy. For those on the fence, just know that your purchase will get you a great, but short and technically marred album.

Review by VanVanVan
3 stars Another fascinating album from Kayo Dot, but really, when has Kayo Dot not been fascinating? Personally I think Gamma Knife is a bit less interesting than the two releases that preceded it (Coyote and Stained Glass), but it's still a very good release from a great band and one that's certainly worth hearing if you're a fan.

"Lethe" begins the album with a melody played on bells, with a mysterious sounding string part coming in after a short time. This part of the track has a definite post-rock feel to it, a feeling which is cemented by the somewhat subdued and hard-to-make-out vocals that come in midway through the track. Additional vocals are added at about the 3 and a half minute mark, in a chanting style that sounds like it wouldn't be out of place in some secluded monastery. Overall, "Lethe" is a very relaxing, laid back track, and one that sounds totally unlike anything else I've ever heard from Kayo Dot, or any of Toby Driver's projects, for that matter.

"Rite of Goetic Evocation" begins with a riff that one could almost mistake for groove metal, but this doesn't last long before winds are added, along with growled vocals, and the track takes on a more experimental feel. "Rite of Goetic Evocation" is definitely a much heavier, more guitar-led track than was "Lethe," and I can hear aspects of maudlin of the Well, previous Kayo Dot projects and even a couple moments that hearken back to the Tartar Lamb II project "Polyimage of Known Exits." Unfortunately, it doesn't quite grab me the way that those previous projects did. There are moments of brilliance (the last minute of the track is amazing), but there are also moments that feel a bit muddled, as blasphemous as saying that makes me feel.

"Mirror Water, Lightning Night" begins with a flurry of sound, with drums, winds, guitar, and a myriad of other instruments all wailing together to create a sound that I can only describe as death jazz (man, do I love coming up with these descriptions). Vocals are added as well, though they're far from being the primary focus of the tracks. "Mirror Water, Lightning Night" is really a very good track, if a bit frenetic, and definitely proves that even after 9 years and 5 albums Kayo Dot can still turn out some of the most challenging, engaging music out there.

"Ocellated God" begins with a guitar drone, over which drums, winds, and growled vocals are added, and the track dives into an energetic sound that comes off sounding just a little too much like the previous track to me. It distinguishes itself a bit by featuring a section in the middle that's a bit more minimal and features vocals more heavily, but I think it runs into a little bit of the same problem as "Rite" in that it goes on just a little bit too long, and the sonic similarity to "Mirror Water" doesn't help it either. Don't get me wrong, it really is very good, it just suffers a bit from being placed after two rather similar sounding songs.

The title track abruptly switches gears, trading in the growls and howling instruments for a sedate guitar and vocal introductory section. Keyboards and winds add another sonic texture, and overall this track is very calming, though the shades of dissonance give it a slightly sinister feel. Overall, the song is a great closer after the aural assault of the middle three tracks and, along with "Lethe," is a nice bookend for the album.

So Gamma Knife on the whole is a bit of a mixed bag for me. As I mentioned above, there are moments that feel like absolute masterpieces, but there are also sections that simply fail to engage me in the way that most of the rest of Kayo Dot's work does. If you're a hardcore Toby Driver/Kayo Dot fan than this is absolutely worth a listen as it fuses together a lot of different styles in a way that's totally different from the rest of the band's work, but if you're new to the band this is not the place to start. Go listen to Choirs or Coyote first.

3.5/5, rounded down

Review by Negoba
4 stars None More Blue, Er...Lavender

The Beatles have the White Album. Spinal Tap / Metallica have their black albums. Toby Driver couldn't let someone out-pretentious him so we get the blue-out album. A gamma knife is a kind of pinpoint radiation therapy where cancerous tumors are removed from areas often unreachable by conventional surgery. The brain is a common target, and as such Toby once again gives an album mean to slice our minds into pieces. Subtly, or maybe artistically. To that end, Driver's metal roots are back from hiatus. Distorted guitars and guttural vocals return, but with the same avant-jazz noise ethos that reached it's mind- numbing climax on BLUE LAMBENCY and its most depressively evocative on COYOTE.

GAMMA KNIFE certainly has ingredients we've heard before from Driver, but he's cooking something different this time. There's more energy, more tension, and more dangerous pathos than we've had for awhile. Mental illness still seems to be a driving force behind the music, but instead of the massive weight of depression, here we have the frenzied need for escape, the burning anger, acute rather than chronic pain. This isn't a lobotomy, this is a good old fashioned drawing and quartering.

Now I listen to a section of the song "Ocellated God" which reminds me quite a bit of my most hated work of all time (Naked City's LENG TCHE). But there's something strange here. Where LT eventually becomes laughably stupid, on this track there's enough texture, variation, and relative brevity that I actually get it. Maybe I even like it. Driver also has the artistic maturity to immediately contrast this distorted torture scene with the title track's clean piano and floating sad vocal. I once accused Driver of serving only himself and forgetting the listener. Not anymore. Similarly, Driver's brat-teen vocals are finally starting to acquire a bearable timbre and some of the singing on the title track is simultaneously as skilled and haunting as any I've heard from Toby.

The most remarkable thing about this album is the effective broad variation in sound. The title song "Lethe" is comprised of bells, strings, soft vocals in an almost classical feel. The second track is harsh and chaotic, with obvious death metal influence. But it really works, if you're into moody avant art music.

This is a 3.5 album that I'm rounding up as I listen more intently, the best rating I've given a Kayo Dot work yet. I've also been listening to MotW's BATH recently, and it clearly is another notch up entirely, though significantly less demanding.

I want a real new MotW album, Toby. But this will do nicely for now.

Review by TCat
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
4 stars Kayo Dot pretty much stays in the avant garde prog genre, but it is pretty fascinating how many different styles they can explore within that genre. This particular album is a shorter one compared to the others in their discography, clocking in at around only 30 minutes with 5 tracks. But the songs on this one are loaded with so much music consisting mostly of layers piled on top of each other, enough that if the music and the musical ideas were broken down, you would have enough to fill over an hour. That is one of the drawbacks of this album, which was totally funded by the fans. I would have liked to have heard a little more development of some of the musical ideas here, but some of them are sort of buried in the noisier passages on this album.

The first track "Lethe" is not an indication of what most of the album sounds like. It sounds almost like a Gregorian chant with a minimal instrumental background which doesn't change throughout it's 5 minute length. The background fits to the chant strangely enough, even if the harmonies between the vocalist and the instruments have some strange harmonies. Very nice start to the album. Suddenly, that serenity is interrupted by the 2nd track "Rite of Goetic Evocation, which is layers of heavy guitar and black metal vocals. Yes, it's the first time since the "Choirs of the Eye" album since we have heard growling vocals, but they have returned as have the original Maudlin of the Well sound. This sound continues through the entire track, without letting up and no clean vocals. The vocals are somewhat buried in the mix, but they are there. The most surprising thing about this track is, even though this guitar orchestration is very dense and loud, the most dominant instrument in the mix is in the woodwinds and brass instruments, and their dissonance is the most crushing sound in the song. This is really close to black metal, but let's not forget it is actually avant-metal because it is not traditional in it's harmonics....there is a lot of dissonance in the track as there is throughout the album.

Next is the track that falls mostly between the extremes of the first and second track called Mirror Water, Lightening Night. This one is an excellent exploration of dynamics among the layers of instruments and features clean vocals, even though the overall feeling of the track leans towards the heavy side, there is a breakdown of the layers not prevalent in the 2nd track. Individual melodies and ideas are easier to pick out here and a lot more beauty shines through even among the most dissonant parts. This one is my favorite on the album. The 4th track returns more towards the 2nd track, but again not quite as dense even though the vocals are growly and screamed again. Throughout tracks 3 and 4, the woodwinds and brass instruments continue to be featured among the heaviness of the guitar layers. Both of these tracks meld the sound of black metal guitars with avant garde jazz which results in an interesting sound. The heaviness of these tracks probably would turn off a lot of casual listeners, but the avant garde sound of the music would also turn off a lot of metal fans.

The last track which is the title track is a quiet study with clean vocals and flowing yet dissonant instruments. It is, like the first track, a study in minimalism, but this time the song stays away from the Gregorian sound and remains unquestionably avant garde. It utilizes chromatics, as do the other tracks, and this is the reason that you get the atmosphere that you do on this album and also throughout most of Kayo Dot's sound. The vocals are a little wobbly and sung in falsetto, which Driver does on a lot of his quieter works.

Overall, this is another great exploration in sound and harmonics. Better than "Blue Lambency Downward" because of the variety, but a step down from the great "Choirs of the Eye" and "Dowsing Anemone..." this one is still an excellent addition to any avant-garde library, be it classical or modern. I love the way Kayo Dot explores the realms of classical style music utilizing modern instruments, genres and techniques. I only wish some ideas were more fleshed out here, but it is still a great album.

Latest members reviews

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) c ... (read more)

Report this review (#1902993) | Posted by LakeGlade12 | Tuesday, March 13, 2018 | Review Permanlink

4 stars Gamma Knife is a short one, clocking in at barely a half-hour. The long, dense tracks we've come to know Kayo Dot for are gone and replaced with average-length 5-7 minute tracks. The artsy covers we've come to see from Kayo Dot has been replaced with a blank pinkness (although I've heard talk ... (read more)

Report this review (#661628) | Posted by DisgruntledPorcupine | Saturday, March 17, 2012 | Review Permanlink

4 stars The opener, Lethe, named after a mythological river in Hades that erases the memory of those who drink its water, begins with mellotron bells. After a few bars, Mia Matsumiya's kick in. Driver sings his lyrics in pairs of syllables, accompanied by the two saxophones. Towards the end of the song, the ... (read more)

Report this review (#603012) | Posted by The Neck Romancer | Wednesday, January 4, 2012 | Review Permanlink

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