The country of Sweden is home to 9.9 million people. Judging from the number of bands that come out of that land, 10 million of those individuals are musicians. And good ones, too. In this latest version of his band, Karmakanic founder and bassist Jonas Reingold (also of The Flower Kings) attempts to use as many of them as possible. No less than twelve artists get credited on Karmakanic’s fifth full-length release, DOT. Based loosely on a Carl Sagan quote that referred to the Earth as merely a dot, the record’s themes center on insignificance, the purpose of existence, and other similar philosophical meanderings.
DOT opens with the title song, a short, brooding electronic introduction that could be interpreted as the birth of the universe. It doesn’t really set the tone for the album, though, as the rest of DOT is 70s prog in the vein of Yes and old Genesis, with a bit of a more modern flair a la Steven Wilson and Spock’s Beard to bring the sound into this millennium – no industrial prog to speak of, thus rendering “Dot” an anomaly. Rather, much like the Yes albums of yore, second song and headlining track “God – the universe and everything else no one really cares about, Part I” sprawls for a good 25 minutes, incorporating every instrument at the band’s disposal, a number of vocalists, and enough movements and dynamics to make one dizzy.
That’s really been Karmakanic’s calling card over the years. Reingold specializes in songs with a lot of dynamics, a lot of stops and starts, tempo and time changes, quiet passages followed by crashing climaxes, and anything else he can fit in the shopping cart. When the muse strikes, he pulls it off with aplomb, as he does on both “God…Part I” and the next track, “Higher Ground,” a shorter but no less satisfying prog exploration. Musicianship and vocals are both flawless – Hammond organ reels off churning riffs, guitar and bass solos alike are tasteful and well arranged, and harmony vocals hit all the right notes.
The production and mix match the performances on DOT, although the mid-range frequencies may be a bit harsh in places, with so many instruments fighting for space. These moments are rare enough not to prove worrisome, and overall the sonic palette suits the music – warm, balanced, with just enough reverb and other effects utilized so as not to come off as too clinically 70s. While the songwriting influences from the 70s dominate, the production is more in line with newer prog rock efforts, which is a relief, and the DR10 rating makes the album a pleasure to play loud.
It’s too bad the songwriting isn’t as consistent as the musicianship and production, though. This isn’t the first time Reingold has released an album without enough good ideas to keep it afloat: generally regarded as Karmakanic’s strongest effort, 2008’s Who’s the Boss in the Factory? fizzles out on two-part album closer “Eternally,” and the same thing happens on DOT. After the epic “God…Part I,” “Higher Ground” provides us with a shorter (ten minutes this time) prog gem, similar in structure to the sprawling “God…Part I” but within a tighter time-frame. After that, things go downhill in a hurry. “Steer by the Stars” and “Traveling Minds” are short, straightforward poppy numbers that won’t catch anyone’s attention, and the five minutes of “God – the universe and everything else no one really cares about, Part II” seems to exist merely to fill up side 2 of a possible vinyl release – and to give Reingold one more shot at a fretless bass solo.
Thirty-five of the fifty minutes on DOT offer quality prog rock. “God…Part I” and “Higher Ground” will please all prog rock fans, and while I’m sure the remainder of DOT will be loved by devoted fans of Karmakanic, the final three songs are not strong enough to bring the band to new heights. Reingold should wait an extra year between releases to gather up enough great songs to make a great album.
DR: 10 | Format Reviewed: 192kbps MP3
Releases Worldwide: July 22nd, 2016