Jazz Metal. Two words, that don’t appear to go together – like chips and custard, curry and ice cream, or whatever simile you would use to explain two things that don’t go together. To me, Jazz is a strange beast; either something that is easy listening and soothing, or something completely enigmatic that sounds like the band members are jamming from inside a Sherman tank. Over very rough terrain. Driving over exploding minefields. While on seriously strong narcotics. This said, they work for someone out there as such a genre would have died a death and faded into obscurity.
Kayo Dot are indeed that very band, and have six albums and EP’s which have been released over a several years, this being their most current. For those who have never heard of them, they’re an American band that come from Boston, Massachusetts and come under a variety of descriptions; avant garde metal, post-modern rock, free jazz. A quick Google search brings up a few descriptions, but people don’t appear to entirely agree as to what they are.
Opening track “Lethe” stars with a sequence of tubular bells being played, layered with violin and gospel choir like vocals which to my ears remind me of Vangelis. However, don’t be fooled; as this track lulls the listener into a false sense of security if they have never heard the band before. “Rite of Goetic Evocation” immediately assaults the listener, sounding like Meshuggah until from nowhere a saxophone solo joins the mix and sounds completely and totally alien, and somewhat nightmare-ish. Imagine the product of a particularly disturbing dream that has been fuelled by some weapons grade Stilton, that you’ve found in the back of the fridge and eaten on some toast before you’ve gone to bed. Yes, that sort of strange soundtrack.
“Mirror Water, Lightning Night” continues in a similar manner, but the emphasis of jazz is far more prevalent; at times sounding like it’s two completely different bands jamming in the same room, not entirely agreeing on how to tackle it all with a distant flavour of the more ‘artier bits’ of Cynic thrown in the mix. “Ocellated God” opens with guitar feedback and going into furious drumming, although this time the track sounds much more controlled and makes more sense in the loosest sense of the definition. The track gets to the half way mark and quickly veers off the beaten track along some fields, trees, and whatever else – ending in what sounds like a random black metal band and a jazz band falling down a long spiralling staircase. Closing track “Gamma Knife” enters a dreamlike sense of tranquillity, with clean singing, piano, and acoustic guitar with a distinct sense of melancholy and musical despair – ending as quietly as the album began upon the first spin.
To conclude, Kayo Dot are very much a Marmite band – you either like them or you don’t. To write off the album and the band as a whole; and declare it as complete garbage is far too glib. Clearly, they’re a talented group of musicians that appear to be very good at their particularly esoteric field and have been going for a a long while. As a result, it appears that there’s a significant cluster of people out there that ‘dig’ this kind of thing. If you’re a fan of jazz, and the prospect of a band fusing the two genres together then it may very well be worth trying, and worth checking out. However, to my ears this is a bizarre sounding band, and I can’t work out if they’re trying too hard to be clever, esoteric, inventive or call it what you will.
Opinions vary wildly with many subjects and many people which is a good thing, otherwise it would be a very boring and dull world if everyone liked the same thing. I shall leave an open ended verdict, and let the listener decide for themselves.