Album Review: K’mono – Return to the ‘E’

Band: K’mono | Album:Return to the ‘E’ | Genre: Progressive rock | Year: 2021

From: Minneapolis, USA | Label: Ephemerol Night Terrors

For fans of: Yes, Camel, Genesis, Uriah Heep


K’mono is a Minneapolis-based trio that are not shy about fully embracing the sounds of the early 1970s. Doing a wholehearted embrace of retro-prog can be a risky move. Most of the acts I’ve run across who take this route end up releasing records which are middling retreads of ideas done better half a century ago. There are certainly strong examples of unashamed retro-prog, though: Ring Van Möbius’s most recent album is fantastic; Chromatic Aberration’s debut (which I covered earlier this year) is a strong reimagining of Rush’s classic sound; and even my favorite punching bag Glass Hammer has a couple good records under their belt.

Return to the ‘E’ is K’mono’s debut record, and even without seeing this album’s tags or reading its description, it’s clear that they’re trying to evoke the imagery of famed album cover artist Roger Dean. A fantastical landscape of mushroom forests is the backdrop to some dark lord facing off against a trio of warriors, with the band’s logo written in a flowing, flourished style.

RttE begins with a short intro, “Highlighter”. Moody organ suddenly explodes into bombast fueled by Mellotron and Steve Hackett-inspired guitar lines. The rhythm section doesn’t do anything too flashy here, but they do a good job of keeping the adrenaline up.

The segue into the first full-length song, “All for the King”, is a bit jarring, though. I feel like there could have been a stronger sense of continuity, as “Highlighter” suddenly stops just before this song begins on a quiet note. Yes is the most obvious influence on this song, with lanky, wiry clean guitar lines and big, flashy synth accents. The restrained atmosphere is complemented by some prominent bass, which occasionally plays as the lead instrument.

“Which Warlock?” opens with rapid, watery electric piano as guitar and bass harmonize a deliberately jazzy riff. The verses on this song are as strong as on the preceding one and the various instrumental passages are engaging. However, the piece overall lacks strong structure or momentum. By the time this song enters its second half, it’s built itself up to an explosive energy. The guitar parts in particular remind me of more modern prog acts, like RX Bandits or The Mars Volta. The overall aesthetic, though, remains rooted in Yes and Uriah Heep.

The kinda-gross-sounding-ly-titled “Feel You Pulsing” opens with lush Mellotron strings and jangly guitar arpeggios, but that doesn’t last. The verses have a modern feel to them, utilizing some mildly electronic influences before the Mellotron is eventually reincorporated. 

RttE closes on its longest song, the absurdly-titled “The Judicious Shall Be Particoated & The Unpregnant O’er Wrought (Movements I-III)”. The opening notes are rich, spacey synth tones, soon joined by the rest of the band to build a potently cosmic atmosphere. As this first movement builds, it’s the most grandiose the band has sounded yet. As the second movement begins, the minimalistic instrumentation and unaffected baritone vocal delivery conjures up post-punk imagery, though there’s soon a return to ‘70s-style prog.

There’s a sudden (but welcome) left turn into a light-hearted, folk-and-jazz-tinged passage rooted around wordless vocals. This brief bit of warmth leads into the darker third movement, which prominently features saxophone. Some of that previously-mentioned post-punk aesthetic comes back in this movement, where it’s juxtaposed against strongly-Yes-inspired instrumentation.

K’mono wound up being a happy discovery. As much as I love Roger Dean’s artwork, I’ve learned to be a bit wary of bands that lean into that style so hard. (It feels like I write passages like this a lot, but that’s because I don’t write about all the crap I wind up listening to.) If you’re looking for a creative, engaging album heavily inspired by–but not derivative of–the early ‘70s prog scene, Return to the ‘E’ would make a strong addition to your library.

Score: 83/100

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