Karmakanic – Dot – Album Review

Karmakanic_Dot_Cover_2016

Artist: Karmakanic

Album Title: Dot

Label: InsideOut Music

Date Of Release: 22 July 2016

Karmakanic have been around for a good few years now, formed in 2002 by Jonas Reingold, the bassist for the arguably more familiar band The Flower Kings. Also involved with Kaipa and The Tangent, Karmakanic was conceived to be the vehicle by which Reingold, also an accomplished keyboardist, could stretch his own personal musical wings. I am familiar with some of the material that makes up the four disc Karmakanic discography to date but I’d have never really referred to myself as a fan of the band. There are some excellent moments that boast the name Karmakanic, especially on my personal favourite, the band’s debut, ‘Entering The Spectra’. However, for some reason, I never warmed to them to the same level as other bands within the progressive rock genre and have subsequently lost touch a little with them and their more recent output.

Nevertheless, I somehow felt compelled to give ‘Dot’, the Swede’s fifth studio release, a listen when I heard that it was imminent. When Karmakanic circa 2016 can boast such an impressively strong cast of musicians, my first thought was that I must have dropped a bit of a clanger by losing touch with them over the years. And do you know what? I think I have. Thanks to ‘Dot’, I do now refer to myself as a fan.

On ‘Dot’ Reingold handles the bass duties as well as the guitars and some of the keys and vocals. However, Reingold is joined by a veritable smorgasbord of talent for this release including vocalists Göran Edman (ex-Yngwie Malmsteen, Eclipse), Nils Erikson, Kristine Lenk and further members of the Reingold family, Alex and Norah. In addition, the record features keyboardist Lalle Larsson (Agents Of Mercy, Jon Anderson, Lalle Larsson’s Weaveworld), drummer Morgan Ågren (Frank Zappa, Tony Iommi, Kaipa), guitarists Krister Jonsson and Andy Bartosh , Hammond Organist Andy Tillison (The Tangent) and saxophonist and flautist Ray Aichinger.

Equally as interesting as the line-up is the concept that weaves its way between the six tracks and which binds the album together. ‘Dot’ was apparently inspired by a text written by Carl Sagan, an American writer and astronomer. He wrote, quite beautifully, commenting on a photograph of the Earth taken by Voyager 1 in 1990:

“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every ‘superstar,’ every ‘supreme leader,’ every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there–on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”

Some might argue that this is a somewhat clichéd concept, one that has been explored many times before by musicians. However, as the last notes fade on the closing track to ‘Dot’ entitled ‘God The Universe and Everything Else No One Really Cares About Part II’, I find myself reading this text and I’m moved tremendously, to the point of tears. Some bands I expect to have this effect on me. But Karmakanic? Nope, I wasn’t expecting to be typing through blurred eyes.

Karmakanic photo

The reason, aside from my own occasionally fragile psyche, is the irresistible and forceful combination of powerful lyrics and beautifully constructed music.

As you’d expect, these professional musicians all bring something to the table to enjoy throughout the album but crucially, also do it in a way to ensure that the listener returns for repeated listens. There’s no clutter, no mess, nothing is here on ‘Dot’ that shouldn’t be. Of course, this being prog rock, there are plenty of extended instrumental passages and musicianship that demonstrates the prowess of the individuals. However, it all serves a purpose and allows the listener to be taken on a rich, multi-layered and multi-faceted journey, full of interesting twists and turns, drama and bold textures.

At the heart of ‘Dot’, sits the two part epic concept piece entitled ‘God The Universe and Everything Else No One Really Cares About Part I’ and ‘Part II’. Touching 30 minutes in total, they come together to book-end the album brilliantly. The last notes that I referred to earlier also usher in ‘Part I’, the larger of the two sections that on its own weighs in at over 24 minutes in length. The melody is magnificent and truly beautiful, more than strong enough to open and close the compositions, not to mention touch me emotionally.

In between, it is almost impossible to describe everything that goes on. Undeniably taking their lead from the major 70s prog protagonists as well as more recent exponents of the genre, Karmakanic deliver memorable vocals, elegant sweeping vistas and more modern-sounding segments that verge on metal territory thanks to heavy, menacing guitar tones. These elements are then expertly juxtaposed by soothing flute melodies, layers of both subtle and bombastic synths, solo flourishes and almost enough tempo changes and intriguing dynamics to fill the universe, including a show-stopping crescendo at the end of ‘Part I’. ‘Part II’ then builds on those sublime melodies in the manner of a reprise of sorts that builds before slowing things down to a quiet and poignant close, thereby offers a fitting and moving finale to the concept piece and the album as a whole.

Standalone epic ‘Higher Ground’ is almost as ambitious in its scope but again, thanks to stellar musicianship and smooth transitions from idea to idea, it works wonderfully well, creating a ten-minute tour-de-force of prog rock. It’s a bit of a theme with songs on this record but the closing moments in particular are exquisitely memorable.

At this point, Karmakanic take a step back from the full-on symphonic and epic prog trappings and instead deliver an up-tempo and highly catchy song in the form of ‘Steer By The Stars’. Co-written by The Tangent’s Andy Tillison, it is, in my opinion, exactly what the album needed to break things up a little and offer a dose of hook-laden light relief.

‘Travelling Minds’ is ushered in on some brilliant bass work and gorgeous lead guitar strains. Personally, I love the laid back vibe and its depth of emotion not to mention the huge synth-led orchestration that gives everything such a lovely glow. As with the entire record, the production sparkles and the whole thing has a really nice, warm and organic feel to it, like the embrace of an old friend.

There’s not much more to say about ‘Dot’ really; if you’re a fan of progressive rock that takes its cue from the best within the genre both old and new, you’re going to love this. If you like technical and challenging music that remains digestible and rewarding, you’re going to love this. If you like sophisticated melodies, you’re going to love this. If you simply like excellently crafted and carefully executed music, you’re going to love this. Trust me, you’re just going to love ‘Dot’, full stop.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.0

If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others via my reviews pages or by clicking the links right here:

Novena – Secondary Genesis
Witherscape – The Northern Sanctuary
Eric Gillette – The Great Unknown
Tilt – Hinterland
Cosmograf – The Unreasonable Silence
Fates Warning – Theories Of Flight
Wolverine – Machina Viva
Be’lakor – Vessels
Lacuna Coil – Delirium
Big Big Train – Folklore
Airbag – Disconnected
Katatonia – The Fall Of Hearts
Frost* – Falling Satellites
Glorior Belli – Sundown (The Flock That Welcomes)
Habu – Infinite
Grand Magus ‘Sword Songs’
Messenger – Threnodies
Svoid – Storming Voices Of Inner Devotion
Fallujah – Dreamless
In Mourning – Afterglow
Haken – Affinity
Long Distance Calling – Trips
October Tide – Winged Waltz
Odd Logic – Penny For Your Thoughts
Iron Mountain – Unum
Knifeworld – Bottled Out Of Eden
Novembre – Ursa
Beholder – Reflections
Neverworld – Dreamsnatcher
Universal Mind Project – The Jaguar Priest
Thunderstone – Apocalypse Again
InnerWish – Innerwish
Mob Rules – Tales From Beyond
Ghost Bath – Moonlover
Spiritual Beggars – Sunrise To Sundown
Oceans Of Slumber – Winter
Rikard Zander – I Can Do Without Love
Redemption – The Art Of Loss
Headspace – All That You Fear Is Gone
Chris Quirarte – Mending Broken Bridges
Sunburst – Fragments Of Creation
Inglorious – Inglorious
Omnium Gatherum – Grey Heavens
Structural Disorder – Distance
Votum – Ktonik
Fleshgod Apocalypse – King
Rikard Sjoblom – The Unbendable Sleep
Textures – Phenotype
Serenity – Codex Atlanticus
Borknagar – Winter Thrice
The Mute Gods – Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me
Brainstorm – Scary Creatures
Arcade Messiah – II
Phantasma – The Deviant Hearts
Rendezvous Point – Solar Storm
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II
Antimatter – The Judas Table
Bauda – Sporelights
Waken Eyes – Exodus
Earthside – A Dream In Static
Caligula’s Horse – Bloom
Teramaze – Her Halo
Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud
Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle
Agent Fresco – Destrier
Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction
Between The Buried And Me – Coma Ecliptic
Cradle Of Filth – Hammer Of The Witches
Disarmonia Mundi – Cold Inferno
District 97 – In Vaults
Progoctopus – Transcendence
Big Big Train – Wassail
NightMare World – In The Fullness Of Time
Helloween – My God-Given Right
Triaxis – Zero Hour
Isurus – Logocharya
Arcturus – Arcturian
Kamelot – Haven
Native Construct – Quiet World
Sigh – Graveward
Pantommind – Searching For Eternity
Subterranean Masquerade – The Great Bazaar
Klone – Here Comes The Sun
The Gentle Storm – The Diary
Melechesh – Enki
Enslaved – In Times
Keep Of Kalessin – Epistemology
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Zero Stroke – As The Colours Seep
AudioPlastik – In The Head Of A Maniac
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints
Mors Principium Est – Dawn of The 5th Era
Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah
Triosphere – The Heart Of The Matter
Neonfly – Strangers In Paradise
Knight Area – Hyperdrive
Haken – Restoration
James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance
Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days
A.C.T. – Circus Pandemonium
Xerath – III
Big Big Train – English Electric (Part 1)
Thought Chamber – Psykerion
Marcus Jidell – Pictures From A Time Traveller
H.E.A.T – Tearing Down The Walls
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld

Maschine – An Interview with the UK Prog Rockers

Courtesy of prog-sphere.com
Courtesy of prog-sphere.com

Maschine is the chosen moniker for the latest UK-based band to catch the attention of the progressive rock community. I didn’t hesitate when I was offered the opportunity to chat with band mastermind and founder Luke Machin.

It is not the greatest of starts to the interview if I’m being entirely honest. I’m playing Maschine’s debut album “Rubidium” so loudly that I don’t hear the phone ringing in the adjacent room. I like to refer to it as research, although on this occasion, the research almost proved to be my downfall. Fortunately for me though, Luke Machin is not one to give up immediately and so he rings again. This time I answer. After exchanging the usual pleasantries, I get down to business by asking the founding member, chief songwriter, guitarist and lead vocalist why he chose a career in prog rock.

“Basically”, Luke offers in a quiet voice with a discernible northern twang, “I have been into progressive music for many years. My parents brought me up on bands like It Bites, Genesis, Yes and King Crimson, all those older progressive rock bands. That older prog style has always been in my life whilst I was growing up. I came down to the Brighton Institute of Modern Music and that’s how I met up with all the other guys. It took a lot of time to form the band that we have now and there were a few incarnations prior to Maschine.”

“I knew that I wanted a five-piece band where I could be the lead vocalist and lead guitarist”, Luke continues enthusiastically. “But when I write, I’m not just influenced by prog rock. Prog is a subgenre of many other genres and is influenced by many other types of music. I’m therefore influenced by what I hear and what I love to listen to. And from one day to the next, that could be jazz, rock, metal, Latin, all sorts. That’s why this album is so varied as I’m sure you’ve heard. We’re still trying to find our own sound which is quite interesting and is keeping it fresh for us. This particular album is made up of some tracks that have been with me for four or five years. Obviously I was in to other different genre back then when they were first written. So for that reason alone, the result is much more widespread and varied I think.”

Courtesy of Bravewords.com
Courtesy of Bravewords.com

“Rubidium” is indeed a very varied beast. Encompassing everything from pop to metal, jazz to Latin, it is a progressive rock album in the truest sense of the word. It is also an ambitious debut album, made all the more exciting by the fact that Maschine are clearly overflowing with ideas and are not afraid to experiment. Of course it helps if each member of the band is proficient with their chosen instrument. However, as Luke quickly explains, instrumental talent was not the only factor when recruiting band mates.

“I chose the other guys mainly because of their attitudes towards music and their professionalism”, he explains earnestly, referring to bassist Daniel Mash, keyboardist and vocalist Georgia Lewis, drummer James Stewart and guitarist Elliott Fuller. “I mean, their musicianship goes without saying and they’re all great musicians. I have been in bands previously and we’ve all had the drive but when it came down to crunch time and doing all the nitty-gritty stuff like promoting and arranging gigs, all they want to do is play. You can’t play if you haven’t done the leg work before. All the guys in Maschine know this and that’s one of the most important things. We all share the passion, drive and enthusiasm.”

When it comes to the song writing, Luke is firmly in charge. He wrote all the music for “Rubidium” but, as he is keen to point out, he’s not blinkered when it comes to taking ideas and inspiration from the others within Maschine.

“I compose all the stuff”, Luke states relatively matter-of-factly, as if it’s the most natural thing in the world. “However I am massively inspired by the music that the other members are influenced by. For example, Dan the bass player, he likes funky soul grooves and he’s kind of a Motown bass player. He influences me by telling me to check things out and I incorporate some of this into the music. To fuse all this together is really cool because there might be a really neat groove going on via the bass with metal guitars alongside and some jazz phrases as well. But I want to keep it true to the Maschine sound. That’s one of the hardest things to do though, to be influenced by things but keep the finished music in line with the band’s sound and identity.”

“Songs start off in limitless ways to be honest”, Luke continues without any prompt from yours truly. “I get influenced by literally anything. Late at night I may be drifting off to sleep and I’ll hear a riff or a melody and I’ll jump up and record it as quickly as I can. I have had it before where I have heard the whole song in my head, but have woken up in the morning and forgotten everything. So I have to get things down immediately whenever possible. There are two main ways that I write. One way is that I get together a whole collection of riffs from different projects and eventually put them all together. An example of this is with “The Fallen” and you can hear that it changes direction quite a lot. The other way I write is to create a song from start to finish. The example for that is the song “Rubidium”.

Courtesy of progrockmag.com
Courtesy of progrockmag.com

“I always had it in my head of how I wanted the album to sound like”, Luke offers by way of a conclusion to this particular topic area. “And I’m really happy with the way that it has turned out. You hear people say that they could always make something better but I wouldn’t. If I tried to improve it, I think that it could lose the essence of what it is supposed to be. As an artist, an album is the documentation of a point in your life. We’ve now got that on record, so it would be a bit weird to change it.”

With every other prog album these days exploring some kind of epic lyrical concept, it is refreshing in a way to hear that, as far as Maschine are concerned, the lyrics do not try to overshadow the musical content. Luke explains.

“For me, the music always comes first if I’m honest. Lyrics are important though and I genuinely try to make them important. On this album, the lyrics are about some things that have happened to me in the past, whether that be relating to health issues or relationships with friends an leaving my friends up north to go to Brighton. But I take ideas from other people’s lives. One example is with the song “Invincible”. It is about a guy who went to the Falklands War. He was on the ship HMS Invincible but his best friend was on HMS Sheffield and he got shot down by a torpedo. I read the memoirs online and I found it very moving and emotional. When you write the music, you then get to think about the story that you want to talk about with it.”

Lyrics aside, as you might very well expect, the guitar arguably plays the most important role in the progressive rock of Maschine. In fact, some of the things that Luke does with just six strings will have your jaw hitting the floor. I try not to let my jealousy as a failed guitarist get the better of me as I enquire about Luke’s apparent love for the coolest of all the instruments.

“I am mostly self-taught”, Luke responds with a shy chuckle as I gradually turn greener and greener with envy. “I have been told that I have played the guitar since I was about three years old. There was always a guitar around the house and I would watch old VHS tapes of bands like It Bites and pick things up off them. I had a few grade lessons and passed my Grade 8 when I was 14 or something. Then obviously the music college has taught me some aspects of technical playing but it hasn’t been full-on solid teaching or anything. If you love what you’re doing and it is working, you start to enjoy it more and can begin to play around with different ideas. But I have always loved playing the guitar and I’d rather play the guitar than go out and do other things. I never get bored of it because there is infinite knowledge that you can learn from it.”

It would be a futile exercise to try to identify all the individual influences that crop up within “Rubidium”. That said, one influence is more evident than the rest, both in the rhythm guitar work and vocally. I’m relieved when Luke agrees without flinching or taking offence, not that this was my aim of course.

“Pain of Salvation have definitely been a massive influence on me, particularly in the latter stages of my musical journey. I strive for my own sound but although I have played the guitar most of my life, I have only been singing for a few years. The melodic phrasing of Francis Dunnery is an influence but I’ve been inspired for this album by Daniel Gildenlow’s aggressive vocals and even his lighter stuff. But I could never aspire to be as good as him because for me, he is one of the greatest guys out there vocally.”

After an in-depth discussion about the pros and cons of Pain Of Salvation and their particular music journey, we agree that an ever-changing and evolving sound is almost certainly the very definition of ‘progressive’. With this in mind, will Maschine be unrecognisable come album number two?

“I think”, Luke pauses thoughtfully, “that we will try different things from album to album. But with regard to the next album, it is nearly all written already. It is definitely starting to hone in on what our Maschine sound really is. “Rubiduim” is very diverse and there are several elements within the sound that we want to retain and strengthen. On the second album, we hope that many ideas from the debut will start to fit into place a lot more.”
Maschine must be doing something right because they have managed to get signed to Inside Out Music, the label that I personally consider to be the best when it comes to progressive rock and metal music. Luke agrees before explaining how Maschine and Inside Out joined forces.

“Inside Out is one of those labels that is really doing it for progressive rock at the moment. To be amongst the likes of The Flower Kings, Pain Of Salvation and those guys, you wonder how it all happened. It came about though because I was in The Tangent with Andy Tillison. Thomas (Waber) from Inside Out asked Andy a few years ago to go out and find a young English progressive rock band. I introduced Andy to my band at the time, called Concrete Lake. Andy put us in touch with Thomas and he really liked what he heard. He suggested that we’d need to lose that Pain Of Salvation connection and change the name. We did, changing it to Maschine. We used the German spelling and it’s also a play on mine and Dan’s name as well. We’ve been I contact with Thomas ever since, sending him demos and such. He’s a great guy and the whole team have been really supportive.”

Courtesy of progrockmag.com
Courtesy of progrockmag.com

In conclusion to a very interesting and enjoyable conversation, I enquire about live touring plans for Maschine in the coming months, suggesting cheekily that perhaps Maschine and Haken could organise a show in my home town of Ipswich. To his credit and my delight, Luke didn’t decline. Mind you, I think my offer of a guaranteed crowd of three men and a dog made all the difference!

“We’re going to do a few shows later in the year”, Luke replied with a laugh. “We’d like to go out on tour with some young bands and some of the older prog bands as well. But any good gigs that we can create or be a part of would be great. There are definitely going to be some live shows to put in your diary soon though.”
So there you have it. If you have yet to hear the teasers for “Rubidium, head to the band’s official website, www.maschineuk.com. If you like what you hear, the good news is that the album will be out on Inside Out Music on 29th July, so not much longer to wait.

My Top 20 of 2012 – Number 11

Despite it now being 2013, we have reached the halfway stage in my top 20 rock & metal albums of 2012. How exciting!

If you’ve missed any of my previous posts in this countdown, links can be found at the bottom of this post.

Dockers Guild 1Docker’s Guild
‘The Mystic Technocracy (Season 1: The Age Of Ignorance)’
Lion Music

There is no explaining some things; they just happen. Like this, an unknown act finding it’s way into my top 20 at position 11. The work of one man, Douglas R. Docker, ‘The Mystic Technocracy’ is an ambitious prog rock opera that features a wealth of guests from the world of rock/metal including Goran Edman (ex-Yngwie Malmsteen), Amanda Somerville, Guthrie Govan (Asia) and Tony Mills (TNT).

Dockers Guild 2

With a keyboard-heavy core, this album draws influences from the likes of Yes, early Genesis and, more currently, Arjen Lucassen, blending them with inspiration from West End musicals, 70s pop and AOR, pulling it all together into a 15 track delight. The concept is classic prog, exploring the effect of blind faith within three of the main human religions against the science-fiction-inspired backdrop of a silicon-based life form which created religion as a way of controlling, manipulating and ultimately destroying humanity.

It may sound bonkers and a little over-the-top and I certainly had my doubts before giving it a proper listen. And then, it all began to make sense and now, every time I listen, I smile, I chuckle and I sing. Very badly.

If you’ve missed any of my previous posts, they can be found here:

Day 9 (modern extreme metal)
Day 8 (UK thrash metal/NWOBHM)
Day 7 (Norwegian progressive black metal)
Day 6 (Prog Rock/Metal)
Day 5 (Melodic Hard Rock)
Day 4 (Symphonic Folk black metal)
Day 3 (Modern Death/Thrash Metal)
Day 2 (Melodic Prog Metal)
Day 1 (Dark/Doom Metal)

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