In 1994 two men formed Karma to Burn in West Virginia with the purpose of producing raw energy from the traditional power trio format. Richard Mullins and William Mecum did just that, and put together an album of unrefined instrumentals, with numbered titles, as their hearts told them was the right thing to do. Roadrunner Records expressed an interest in releasing the album with the proviso that vocals were added and the songs themselves were given traditional titles. Whether through naivety, or any other number of possible reasons, the boys accepted the arrangement and released the album with vocal contributions from Jay Jarosz. In 2012 we now have the opportunity to hear that album as it was originally conceived, with ambiguously numbered titles and, with the exception of one track, without a voice, on “Karma to Burn – Slight Reprise”.
On first hearing the album, one may argue that Roadrunner may have had a point in requesting vocals for the tracks, as some of the instrumentals are difficult to differentiate. With the obvious exception of John Garcia’s voice on ‘Two Times’, which adds another layer to the experience, and another of Roadrunner’s original rejections, each of the numbered tracks, despite being infused with passion and vigour, possibly lack character and individuality. If, on the other hand, you are considering Karma to Burn with the sole intention of hearing some straight forward honest guitar driven rock, then this could very well right up the listeners whisky sodden street. There is no shortage amongst the numbered tracks, of alluring guitar riffs and rolling percussion, and for the timid listener, there is also space within the music to take stock and move on. There are several levels of intensity throughout, with subtlety and fragility sitting alongside muscle and extremity, and the overall experience is one of a group of musicians who are comfortable in letting these textures flow out of them. The production is an appropriate level of clarity and honesty, with opening screeches of feedback reminding the listener of the integrity within.
Following the original release of “Karma to Burn”, the band released two further albums, “Wild Wonderful Purgatory” and “Almost Heathen”, utilising a number of drummers, before ultimately settling upon Rob Oswald. Accolades led to financial success, which ultimately led to a “chemical breakdown” within the band. Differences were ironed out however in 2009, and the band saw a return to touring and recording. As a historical document describing the development of a band, including the mistakes made and the way those mistakes have shaped the sound, this Karma to Burn release should be applauded and placed firmly within the context from which it was released. As an example of how the album cover art form has matured and refined, look elsewhere.