Karnivool - 'Aysmmetry'
It’s been just over four years since Perth metal
outfit Karnivool released “Sound Awake”, their second full length. In that time
the band toured relentlessly and frontman Ian Kenny released three albums
(including a live album) with his other group “Birds of Tokyo”. It is obvious
on listening to new release “Asymmetry” that the rest of Karnivool haven’t
exactly been sitting around picking their noses either though.
Just as “Sound Awake” was a departure from their 2005 debut “Themata”, “Asymmetry” is a step forward from “Sound Awake”; embracing the progressive side of metal even more so than its predecessor. The band has constructed a set of songs of immense sonic depth and diversity. The most striking aspect of the album is the band’s ability to show restraint in their playing, allowing songs to breathe and develop naturally rather than force extra instrumentation on top of a song to push it forward. It’s something that good progressive bands do very well and it’s something that Karnivool have accomplished with aplomb here.
Assisting the wonderful space that the compositions are afforded is nicely used ambient and electronic flourishes and very well balanced production from Nick DiDia (best known for his work with Powderfinger). Under his guidance, Ian Kenny’s voice has become much more of a focus than on previous albums, where the crushing guitars and drums often somewhat drowned out his prodigious and recognizable rock voice. This is not to say that the band doesn’t unleash some metal fury from time to time. They are definitely still the same band that produced “Themata” all those years ago.
Another notable aspect of the album is its decidedly dark feel, both lyrically and musically. Apocalyptic themes flow through the majority of the songs and musically there are parts which are gloomy enough to make you feel slightly uncomfortable. The off-kilter guitar intro to “A.M. War” is a prime example. I wouldn’t go as far to say that it’s a concept album but it’s definitely very cohesive; considerably more so than “Sound Awake”, which is saying something.
Like its predecessor, “Asymmetry” reaches some of its highest points during the longer tracks. “Aeons”, “Sky Machine” and “Alpha” all come in at over seven minutes in length, yet they are 3 of the 5 strongest songs on the 14 track album. The latter is particularly impressive and a closes the album out magnificently as the last proper song. To put the excellence of these tracks in perspective, only the superb “New Day” on “Sound Awake” could hold a candle to their ambition and execution. The two other standouts are the very good first single “We Are” (a grower if ever there was one!) and the huge “Nachash”, which comes thundering in after the ambient opening track. Unlike both their previous albums, not a single song feels out of place and the album is consistent throughout, with the second half just as strong as the first, a possible down-falling of its two predecessors.
In the past, one of the rods for the back of Karnivool is their constant comparison to two other bands, namely Birds of Tokyo and Tool. On the back of their last two albums, Kenny’s other band have well and truly hit the mainstream (they will support Muse on their Australian Tour later this year), unfortunately they have done this by manoeuvring into a more radio-friendly, somewhat watered down version of themselves. However, what this has done has caused Karnivool to be measured constantly against Birds by the general listening public. Many fans of Birds have expressed dislike or indifference towards the progressive, darker and more challenging ‘Vool.
The other great measuring stick for Karnivool (especially since “Sound Awake”) has been progressive kingpins Tool. The American outfit are rightfully seen as one of the finest modern progressive metal bands in the world and Karnivool definitely makes more than a few nods to their sound.
On “Asymmetry” though, Karnivool have gone a long way to throwing off the leashes that have been holding them back. They have proved unequivocally that they are a more accomplished and adventurous band than Birds of Tokyo, have almost completely closed the gap to Tool and most importantly have shown they are one of the most forward thinking, talented and challenging progressive bands in the world. This astounding album is evidence of that.