Band: Kayo Dot | Album:Moss Grew on the Swords and Plowshares Alike | Genre: Progressive metal, Gothic metal | Year: 2021
From: Brooklyn, USA | Label: Prophecy Productions
For fans of: maudlin of the Well, Kekal, Neurosis
Kayo Dot are back with their tenth full-length release two years after the totally-okay Blasphemy. That album continued the band’s recent trend away from metal and toward Gothic rock with some experimental leanings. Kayo Dot has always been difficult to nail down with precise genre descriptors, frequently operating in nebulous grey areas between assorted experimental rock and metal subgenres.
Bandleader Toby Driver has often worked with a rotating crew of musicians for Kayo Dot, but for Moss Grew on the Swords and Plowshares Alike, he recorded with the original lineup of his previous band, the critically-beloved maudlin of the Well. The musicianship is expectedly top-notch, and the fusion of experimental metal with subtler influences is sublime. This might just be my new favorite Kayo Dot record.
Moss Grew opens with “The Knight Errant”. A trilled guitar line soars icily as gothic synth tones pound out an odd beat alongside the rhythm section. The combination of snarled vocals over this minimal instrumental backing is striking and powerfully sinister. A warbling synth line eventually takes the lead for a brief interlude as the song continues its march forward. The second half is focused more on instrumental excursions and features some dark, haunting guitar passages. It all culminates in the final verse, which builds to an apex like one would expect from one of the greats of atmospheric black metal.
“Brethren of the Cross” kicks off with a wonky, goth-y guitar line that staggers forward in a stupor. The verses continue this uneven feeling as they lurch forward toward more stable passages underpinned by black metal and post-punk. This track’s climax is also praiseworthy. The main riff of the last two minutes is a crushing, metallic assault with an inscrutable pulse. The riff here feels drunk, but this metrical theatricality is fascinating.
Next is one of the most accessible songs Kayo Dot have ever written, “Void in Virgo”. The verses are airy, light, and clean. I never thought “sweet” would be a word I could apply to this band’s music, but it works here. It’s not off-putting, though. In fact, it’s quite a nice contrast. Right when it felt as if this song was about to start feeling a little long, a heavier passage comes crashing in to keep things interesting.
“Spectrum of One Colour” is the shortest song on the album, clocking in at a bit under five minutes. This track opens with an energetic, complex riff evocative of math rock. Big walls of bruising distortion are brought in during the song’s slower moments, and Driver’s shrieked vocals add to the overwhelming atmosphere. The song’s second half features lush synthesizers and a mellower pace, though the aggression remains.
“Get Out of the Tower” starts with an echoing bassline and deft drumming, but it’s soon joined by a twisting, flashy guitar solo. This track has an intensity which hasn’t been present on their last few albums, and it’s a much appreciated inclusion. Even during less-distorted instrumental passages, the vocals are impassioned, and that makes the eventual return of the fury that much more satisfying.
A high-energy drumbeat and willowy synth pads introduce “The Necklace”. This moody, anxious piece features distant, strained vocals, as well as claustrophobic synths. This composition stays minimalistic through most of its runtime, but it never feels half-baked or drawn-out.
Moss Grows closes on its longest song, “Epipsychidion”. This piece is more classic Kayo Dot, with a maelstrom of gothic-tinged black metal. The guitars are abstract, and the drumming is masterful and dizzying. The first half is one of the best songs I’ve heard all year, and I really wish Kayo Dot would have stopped at nine or ten minutes. The track closes after about five minutes of drone. Even a minute or two would have been a good ending here, but it just drags on a bit too long.
This final, minor hiccup aside, Moss Grew on the Swords and Plowshares Alike is a fantastic album. It has the raw intensity and experimental spirit of Kayo Dot’s early work while also incorporating gentler influences they’ve picked up along the way.