[19th July 2013]
03. A.M. War
04. We Are
05. The Refusal
09. Sky Machine
11. The Last Few
13. Alpha Omega
Australian group Karnivool have made a habit of advancement, sidestepping pigeonholes while simultaneously refining their signature sound. Initially touted as a slightly heavier Tool, the band have managed to settle into their very own amalgam of progressive rock, metal, and pop elements. Three albums and one EP into a deceptively long career (the band have taken exactly four years between each release after forming in 1997) Karnivool have now released their most diverse, most challenging work yet.
Asymmetry is a staggeringly virtuosic release shrouded in accessibility. The musicianship and compositions are world-class, but there are no overindulgent solos or masturbatory flights of hey-look-what-i-can-do (ok, there is one song that is actually almost completely an indulgent drum solo, but it’s rad, so shut up). Everything serves the song, every piece clicks right into place, every note highly-scrutinized. Drummer Steve Judd and vocalist Ian Kenny are standouts, but guitarist Andrew Goddard has a reputation as key songwriter/mastermind, so his contributions are definitely to be praised as well.
On their first album, Themata, the band had a more abrasive, superficial style. They had not yet fully polished their sound, gilding it with the delicate touches that they would eventually be known for. Sound Awake was light years ahead in terms of the unification of progressive and pop elements that set the band apart. Asymmetry develops that particular blend even further; simultaneously gentler and more far-reaching, this album is able to confound and tantalize in the same breath.
That said, when compared side by side to the first-rate Sound Awake, some almost intangible lacking is revealed. Whether it’s that Asymmetry is somehow too far gone into the saccharine side of pop sensibility, or just that it is missing the excitement of the prior album is hard to say. There is definitely some forgotten element, though. The most impressive aspect of Sound Awake was that it was so crystalline. Every facet was this novel combination of styles that fell on the ears a little differently every listen. Asymmetry is a bit easier to decipher, a bit rounded at the edges, a bit…duller. Also, the pacing is a noticeably lopsided as the third quarter of the album seems to contain an inordinate amount of slower, quieter pieces. They’re all good songs, just not laid out in the most impactful order.
Perhaps it is simply the result of a band setting a bar too high to reach again right away. Asymmetry is a perfectly serviceable addition to the catalog, but likely one that will leave listeners pining for the former. It’s like the sophomore album jinx, only transposed down a position. This band hit its stride on album two and came up a tiny bit short on number three. In a bubble, however, there really isn’t a whole lot to criticize about Asymmetry. Separate it from the rest of the band’s catalog and it shines right up, stepping out of the shadow of its overachieving older brother .