Band: Kayo Dot | Album: Blasphemy | Genre: Experimental rock, Gothic rock | Year: 2019
From: Brooklyn, USA | Label: Prophecy Productions
For fans of: maudlin of the Well, Leprous, Type O Negative
Kayo Dot have long been one of the more amorphous acts in the progressive rock and metal scene. There’s often a great deal of variation between their individual albums, with their last couple releases being relatively soft and synth-heavy. Compare that to their vaunted debut, Choirs of the Eye, where the band started off as an avant-garde metal act. Of late, though, they’ve been incorporating more and more influences from the 1980s, particularly post-punk and gothic rock.
This fusion continues on Blasphemy, the band’s ninth studio album. This release also sees Kayo Dot reviving a bit of their metal roots. I would not call this a metal album, but it’s their most aggressive record in a while. Those heavier tones complement the coldness of the goth influences, and bandleader Toby Driver has managed to write another distinct album.
“Ocean Cumulonimbus” opens the album in a way that sets the tone for the entire album. After a quiet, ominous opening, the song explodes into slightly-dissonant chords under impassioned vocals. Synthesizers swell and buzz, adding a sense of urgency of it all. The sequenced synthesizers of “The Something Opal” provide strong forward momentum and allow this track to immediately engage the listener. The whispered vocals which briefly appear were probably meant to sound sinister, but in they wound up coming off as somewhat silly and campy. It’s a rare stumble.
“Vanishing Act in Blinding Gray” is another strong point. It’s a sprawling, slow-building piece that begins as a gentle bit of melancholia. As it progresses, the synthesizers become more dominant, and the drumming becomes more aggressive. Atonal arpeggios are artfully applied to transition the song to a more menacing movement. Cascading keys and palm-muted guitar riffs bring this song to a crushing, majestic climax.
Unfortunately, much of the album’s second half isn’t as enthralling as its first. The music is still good and enjoyable, but aside from the closing track, I don’t feel there’s much I can really say about it. Avant-garde influences mesh with goth flavors, but the tempo of the songs does not vary much. Combined with their similar timbre, this can make the second half feel tedious.
Blasphemy closes on a high note, though. The title track begins with sounds I’d almost expect from Peter Gabriel. Springy bass, warm synths, and cymbal-less percussion imbue some good kinetic energy into the music as jagged guitar cuts through the mix to generate contrast.
On this album, Toby Driver continues to put more stock into the gothic rock sounds of the 1980s while adding a touch more heaviness than the band’s last couple releases. It’s mostly successful, but there are moments where it sounds like they’re wallowing a bit. Some of the second half could have used a bit of tightening up, but strong ideas are present throughout Blasphemy’s full runtime. I’d definitely call this a good album, but I think their 2014 album, Coffins on Io, did a better job of pulling off the same general sound.