Kayo Dot “Hubardo” (2013)

There are certain works of art that are delivered complete and immaculate, meticulously crafted – lines sharp, edges trimmed, flush, sanded smooth. Works exact in their presentation and targeted in their impact. From the outset the artist has a goal in mind, perhaps a set of ideas to explore, an emotional province they hope to touch, a physical necessity to address. There exists a mental picture – sometimes evolving, sometimes static, but always enshrined – of the finished piece. Here success can be measured. Of course, to plan and predict the aesthetic and emotional impact of a subjective work is often folly, but so much can be conveyed in the attempt: fossil records of determined striving and the visible history of the artist’s decisions (meticulous brushstrokes, elegant support structures, holistically placed stones, embroidered forms), proud telltales that stand as testaments of expertise and discipline, worthy of admiration, and in many cases, giving rise to sheer awe.

On the other hand there is rambling, exuberant art. Works of expression wildly splashed across canvass, with joyful texture and color bursting prodigiously forth. The work is bounded at the edges by skill, talent and professionalism, but its true animate soul is a naked sense of abandon, of unconsciousness and willful defiance of self-scrutiny or self-doubt. One can look to the paintings of Jackson Pollock or the films of Terrance Malick to see varying degrees of this philosophy in action – a philosophy that deemphasizes control and rigorous method, delighting rather in the ephemeral, the understated, the unexplained, and even the coincidental. Every shot, stroke or drip is a quest for the most blissful accidents, moments and forms that cannot be planned, but rather must be discovered – handshakes with the universe, precipitated through the attentive creation of favorable conditions, and more importantly, a forward-looking spirit of fearlessness and creative bravery.

KAYO DOT’s Hubardo is an exemplary example of the latter style. Hubardo is a sprawling, fluid, overstuffed mess of a record, but within its twists, turns and wild tangents lie some of the most dreamlike, terrifying and sublime musical confluences in recent memory. Hubardo does not sound quite like anything else in recorded music, and this uniqueness deserves praise, not just because of the audacity that birthed it, but also because of the undeniably moving results. Hubardo is the sound of fever dreams and desert sunsets, kids soaring off railroad bridges into rivers below, shapeshifting swarms of migrating birds, lamp-lit ceremonies within ancestral caves, dimly looming behemoths and inimitable cosmic waltzes. KAYO DOT have created a collection of songs that appear vulnerable in the face of convention, yet move with a certain charmed light, cloaked in the fortune that favors the bold.

Album opener “The Black Stone” reveals a KAYO DOT hearkening unashamedly back to their roots – the astrally-inspired, heavy metal dreamscapes of MAUDLIN OF THE WELL. Over unsettling guitar swells, scraping metal and insectoid buzzing, MOTW vocalist Jason Byron growls almost a cappella about “The eye of Leviathan” and “The stone from the sky.” There are multiple impressions to take from this moment. On the one hand, Byron’s barely-clothed growls sound almost painfully silly (just ask David Lee Roth). On the other hand, they are a sort of mission statement – one that says “We, KAYO DOT, are willing to look foolish and dorky at times, because we’re going all the way. We´ve done this before and we’ll do it again, because we know we’re capable of making very special things happen.”

And happen they do. About six minutes into “The Black Stone” a guitar riff emerges, accompanied by an accelerating tom-drum pattern – featuring a foot hi-hat that possesses an essential groove all its own. Byron steps away as the eerie motif swells – adding instruments and volume, whirling faster and faster, picking up dust and leaves – until it erupts into a squall of brass and woodwind. This gives way to a heavy metal sprint featuring blastbeats and bitter snarls, the whole thing clattering, twanging and pinging its way to a woozy conclusion.

The exquisite “Crown-In-The-Muck” follows. After a somewhat formless two-minute introduction, the rambling guitar and bass lines begin to march arpeggiatedly forward, backed by brass and woodwind. After a few stops and starts, they drop into a deliciously seductive melody, luring us further into Hubardo’s strange mythos. Beguiling whispered vocals set up the metallic screaming chorus, with the evocative lyric “the sun shone forth one Sunday morning,” “a beam of light fell on the stone” and (memorably) “there is a black eye sleeping in an open graaaaave.”

There is a wonderful balance between haunting atmosphere and pure excitement, both on “Crown-In-The-Muck” and on the rest of Hubardo. KAYO DOT display a level of unpredictability, texture and immersion that many of the self-professed avant-garde would kill for. There is no shortage of heavy metal bands who use unconventional instrumentation and song structures to push into this kind of territory, but there is something deeply proprietary about the way that Toby Driver and company assemble their compositions – a core sensibility that sets them apart from the pack.

One feeling that will be familiar to longtime listeners of KAYO DOT and MOTW is the sense of finding oneself in a musical moment, only to wonder how the hell one got there. Hubardo’s transitions are often sudden, but somehow subtle, even sneaky. Textures invert and dynamics swing in a sort of compositional sleight-of-hand. Musically, the overall feeling is less like the clean, highly-polished genre-impressionism of Choirs of the Eye and Dowsing Anemone with Copper Tongue, and more reminiscent of the often rollicking, adventurous jumbles of Bath and Leaving Your Body Map.

Is Hubardo perfect? Absolutely not. As on “The Black Stone,” KAYO DOT only make full commitments. As a result, the boring songs and unconvincing parts tend to meander on and on. “The First Matter (Saturn in the Guise of Sadness)” and “The Second Operation (Lunar Water)” are soothing and contain many lovely, delicate moments, but they also run back-to-back for a glacial 23 minutes, representing a big stumbling block in the album’s forward momentum.

But while the gothic ambiance and choral/orchestral stretches may be a drag to some, they are indicative of a larger generosity on KAYO DOT’s part. There was a time when it seemed that Driver, Mia Matsumiya and the rest of the band were over heavy metal. Stained Glass and Coyote were perhaps necessary, but only served to deepen the despair of those who truly loved the extreme juxtapositions brought about by MOTW’s and KAYO DOT’s abrasive explorations. When Gamma Knife quietly appeared in early 2012, metal fans held their breath, wondering if KAYO DOT’s metal side would stay for a while. Their prayers have been answered on Hubardo, as metallic textures are plentiful.

For example, “Floodgate,” which appears almost like a reaction to “First Matter” and “Second Operation,” is at first a strangely groovy, crashing bashing nightmare, with fervid growls and frantic screams stretching out over periodic blastbeats, crunchy riffs and keening brass and woodwind. The latter part of the song swoons into eldritch drift – imagine a grindcore reinterpretation-deconstruction of RADIOHEAD’s “The National Anthem” – trumpets spraying blood from their bells, saxophones melting, blastbeats sounding out to the void, red-eyed demons howling, disembodied voices jabbering and moaning ad infinitum. It is a truly frightening, singular musical experience.

KAYO DOT also kindly allow us to savor their experiments. Experienced Avant-Garde Metal listeners know all too well the pain of an exquisite musical texture being unfurled, only to be pulled quickly and capriciously away, never to resurface (the rip-roaring guitar solo from “Wayfarer,” The grandiose overture from “Gemini Becoming the Tripod,” the lovely early meanderings of “__ On Limpid Form”). Hubardo, thankfully, does not engage in any of these cruel games. The bizarre Eastern turn that comes about halfway through “Vision Adjustment to Another Wavelength” – the Silk Road travelers arriving, dutifully preparing the lanterns even as they still wear the day’s sunbaked dust, the dancers emerging from primordial gloom, shimmering and chiming in their bangles and charms, lamplight on the diaphanous veils, heady incense, exotic rhythms and twisting movements conjuring a spell as intoxicating as opium – is allowed to continue its otherworldly dance all the way to the song’s conclusion. Likewise, the saxophone-driven tsunami that appears toward the beginning of “Zlida Caosgi (To Water the Earth)” – a coursing wall of mud, livestock, vehicles and wrecked homes suspended within, a nighttime at noon, a rare and vulgar display of power from Mother Earth – is allowed to crest, simmer and reform, pulling us along in its churning momentum.

“Wait of the World” closes the album in style. Jazz fusion ranging from bouncy to phantasmagorical slithers and winds, riding a dynamite groove and an improvisational sense of freedom. The final two passages are so goddamned romantic and picturesque in their Rhodes and saxophone reverie that one wishes the song would simply keep going, at least for another few minutes. Alas, “Wait” ends, the lights come up, and Hubardo is silenced, leaving one feeling as though they have come to the bittersweet end of a great and transformative journey.

Hubardo is a whirlwind, and thus there are few truly crystallized moments to hang on to. The songs also transmogrify so much, and so unexpectedly, that it is very difficult to remember just how they go. However, sublime musical snapshots reveal themselves during every listen – splendid, naturalistic alignments that rally in plain revolt against the idea that it is somehow imperative for great artists to rigorously order the things that they touch. KAYO DOT instead extend their trust to the beautiful abundance at the unfathomable heart of music, knowing that intent always has limits, that chaos can be an ally, and that if one approaches their work with the willingness to meet the universe halfway, marvelous results far beyond any mortal plans can manifest their beauty for all to hear.

-David Sano


Release:  August 2013
Label:  Self-released
Avantgenre:  Choral-Astral-Orchestral Dreamscape Metal
Duration:  98:50
Origin:  United States
Official site:  http://kayodot.bandcamp.com/album/hubardo
Review online since:  13.11.2014 / 01:27:04


01 – The Black Stone
02 – Crown-In-The-Muck
03 – Thief
04 – Vision Adjustment To Another Wavelength
05 – Zlida Caosgi (To Water The Earth)
06 – The First Matter (Saturn In The Guise Of Sadness)
07 – The Second Operation (Lunar Water)
08 – Floodgate
09 – And He Built Him A Boat
10 – Passing The River
11 – Wait Of The World

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