(Napalm Records, 2010)
By Noel Oxford
Gonna get this out of the way: I absolutely ruddy love Karma to Burn. I’ve probably already written about them way more than I should have here, but I just don’t want to stop. Ever since they got back together last year and made noises about recording, I’ve been giddily awaiting a new album. 2001’s Almost Heathen has come to resemble the state of the art for me, as far as stoner rock is concerned, and if nothing else, it would be nice to have something to compare it to. Nine years is a long time to wait, and while there’s been a lot of decent stuff to get down to over that span, if you ask me, there has never been another band anywhere in rock quite like Karma to Burn.
On that silly metal documentary the BBC showed a few weeks back, someone said that the riff is essentially the basic component of every rock song. I am not really a fan of re-stating the obvious, but the quote springs to mind because if Karma to Burn do any one thing in particular, it’s erecting a giant phallic shrine to the very notion of the riff and worshipping it around the clock, besmeared in virgins’ entrails and the lot. Drunk, too, I shouldn’t wonder, the scamps.
By far, they are not the only band to shove vocals under the bus as soon as contractual obligations allow. Nor are they the only band to make it their sole business to deliver thick southern hooks with a twist of jelly jar hooch; there are literally dozens of bands trying to do exactly that. But few ever manage it with consistent aplomb, and that’s what sets these young fellows apart.
Appalachian Incantation is a logical progression from previous outings, a solid log cabin of interlocking riffs, hooks that just stick and stay stuck, and grooves wider than Francis Rossi’s gusset. Opener Forty-Four and follow-up Forty-Two are a cross-country muscle car race between two distinct down-tuned atmospheres, one forceful and up-tempo, the other sludgy and thick. And the latter contains a cowbell hook that is destined to be hammered into steering wheels worldwide.
Later, Forty-Three dishes up the bounciest of all licks, such that it would probably sound silly in the hands of anyone else. It’s married to an unpredictable stop-start, on-off dynamic, and the spaces in between are mortared with ringing chords, scads of reverb and agile drum fills. Meanwhile, album closer Twenty-Four is pretty much a stoner cover of the Dragnet theme, at least at first. In the end, though, it turns out Joe Friday is a secret Benzedrine-addicted drag queen and likes to cruise for casual pick-ups at illegal street races.
In fact, the only tune that seems to seriously misfire here is, coincidentally or otherwise, the only one that deviates from the template. Waiting on the Western World features sacrilegious vocals by Daniel Davies of Year Long Disaster. It’s alright, I suppose, nothing innately terrible about it. But it’s a distraction from the rest of the album, and it really doesn’t fit. It’s not just about the presence of vocals, either. Davies’ earnest, trembling, up-register rock god delivery is also a problem, not to mention the actual tunelessness of the chorus melody. This sort of thing works better with a John Garcia snarl, or the Valium-addled preacher’s grumble of their last vocalist but one, Jay Jarosz.
Let’s hope the rumours of Davies joining the band full-time on vocals turn out to be balls, eh? On the strength of this record, this is a band in absolutely no need of any extra assistance.