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

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x24dij7xcgo&w=560&h=315]

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

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