Despite their flirtations with nu-metal, Australia’s Karnivool have been as exciting a prospect in modern progressive rock as they come since their 2005 debut, Themata. They nearly over-reached with 2009’s Sound Awake however, a record so ambitious as to set the bar almost too high to be sustainable.
But for this much-anticipated release the band have ditched some of the studio ornamentation and slick edges, shoehorned in some angular chord work and enough drop-tuned riffs to suggest djent without crassly jumping on that well-laden bandwagon. Completed by a mix of electronic accents, effected guitars and dramatic shifts in dynamics, Asymmetry presents a band that sounds more comfortable with their voice than ever before.
The average track length here is substantially shorter than that of the cuts on its over-ambitious predecessor, and the net effect is to create dense, driving songs, made accessible by virtue of their sheer immediacy. Lead single We Are is naturally the most concise and pure of these. Ian Kenny’s vocals are again at the top of their game, melodic and possessed of a startling register. On Nachash he evokes the full-bodied clout of Tool’s Maynard James Keenan, while on ballad Eidolon and thrashy, metallic The Refusal he channels Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s high-register theatrics.
Comparison with two of the modern progressive greats actually serves to underline that his singing voice sounds like almost nobody else. His vocals soar above the atmospheric wall of instruments created by his bandmates; you genuinely get the impression that it’s his contribution as much as anything else that has catalysed the thrilling instrumental interplay that sets this album apart.
Instrumentally, Karnivool are even harder to pin down here, breaking away from previous comparisons to Oceansize and fellow Australians The Butterfly Effect for good. Float could have been on Amplifier’s Echo Street, but apart from that, they take few cues from other bands. A.M. WAR and The Last Few crackle with energy, and the latter boasts a chorus every bit as grand as All I Know from Sound Awake. The guitars are by turns bone-rattlingly heavy or airily ethereal, as the mood demands.
Karnivool’s great triumph on Asymmetry is threefold. They’ve kept true to their progressive roots while penning their most inclusive album yet, and their sound is more clearly defined than ever. More and more rising, young progressive bands are citing Karnivool as an influence, and it’s never been easier to see why.