Kayo Dot’s expansive ‘Hubardo’ an episodic blast of meteoric drama and destruction

kayo dotIt’s been nearly a year since people were expecting a great catastrophe or some other happening to end the world in accordance with the expiration of the Mayan calendar, yet, lo and behold, we’re still here. But that doesn’t mean people everywhere have stopped dreaming up Earth-altering events, and they probably won’t until a comet really does slam into the planet.

That leads us to “Hubardo” the latest opus from Kayo Dot, a band that is nearly impossible to describe in words because they do so many things, but they work with a variety of sounds including doom, death, and black metal, jazz, art rock, post-rock, and anything that helps them expand their dreamy canvas. This album, that’s been available digitally and soon will be out on vinyl, imagines a scenario when a meteor comes crashing to Earth, the aftermath of which inspires a poet, who was living a dark, loathing existence. This stacked double album, that clocks in at roughly 1 hour, 40 minutes, tells the tale from beginning of the eye of Leviathan falling to the end, when the poet seemingly expires in a boat, unable to make the best of his life and the opportunities that were in front of him. That’s my interpretation, anyway, though I could totally be misreading that conclusion. Either way, if you spend time with this expansive, imaginative, uncompromising collection along with the lyrics, you’re bound to go on a journey you won’t soon forget with an album you won’t be able to put down. This is Kayo Dot at their best.

Kayo Dot coverLeading the way is visionary Toby Driver (also of Vaura and Asva, and formerly of Maudlin of the Well),who handles vocals, bass, synth, percussion, and organ, among other things, and with him are Ron Varod (guitars), Keith Abrams (drums), Daniel Means (alto sax, tenor sax, clarinet), Terran Olson (flute, alto sax piano, organ, synth), Tim Byrnes (trumpet, horn in F), Mia Matsuyima (violin, synth), Jason Byron (guest vocals on the opener), and Jessika Kenney and BC Campbell (guest backing vocalists). That’s quite a few players and a hell of a lot of instruments, but all play vital parts on this record and certainly help the flood of sounds.

Another aspect of the record that really stands out is the diversity of these 11 songs. No one song sounds even remotely like another one on here, yet it all pulls together so seamlessly that’s it’s a wonder just how well this was executed. Part of that is strong songwriting, and part of that is the inspired, enthralling playing by all members, sometimes going off on tangents that sound like they flowed organically from an extended jam session, keeping the track’s spirit at heart but stretching its boundaries to places maybe they never dreamt they would go. It’s a stunning listen, and you’ll want to set aside the proper amount of time to absorb this at once, for that is the best way to take in “Hubardo.” Don’t be afraid of that commitment.

The record opens with “The Black Stone,” where Byron’s gruff death growls are allowed to take over and give the track a grisly, terrifying tone. “It fell from the night like a wraith in a rage,” it is howled, as the band goes through a slithering, pummeling passage that is thick with doom, but also swirling noises, hypnotic strings, and even a finish with hissed growls that remind of Portal. That takes us to “Crown-in-the-Muck” that opens clean with a heavy jazz influence with horns emerging and eventually guitars boiling behind everything. Whispery vocals slip in, then crazed screams meet doomy riffs, sax goes off and causes a fury, and the final thrashing and mashing bring everything to a head. “Thief” has a traditional rock feel at first, with cleaner vocals, some spastic noise, and rumbling drums, but just when it seems calm will take over, the song bursts apart and madness reigns again. “Vision Adjustment to Another Wavelength” actually starts off the rails, with howls and chaos, loopy carnage musically, and a sense of panic permeating the track. Cool woodwinds shoot breezes into room, but that’s a temporary fix as the song closes in a pit of wild growls. It’s really strange but ultimately satisfying. “Zodelida Caosaji (To Earth the Water)” feels like an early 1980s Rush song at first, with slick progression and sci-fi fun, but that also ignites and is broken apart by crushing fury, synth waves, sweltering melodies, and crazed shouts. “The First Matter (Saturn in the Guise of Sadness)” is the end of the album’s first half, and it’ll get your blood pumping, with spacious space rock, cleaner, deeper vocals that remind of Pink Floyd, and eerie, psychologically warped passages that eventually go dissonant and return damaged and fiery. It’ll get you dreaming of just what lurks in the stars and what they have in mind for us if they get any closer.

“The Second Operation (Lunar Water)” runs 13:19, opening with chilly keyboards, strings rising and adding texture, and low-register singing from Driver mixing perfectly with the backing choral parts from Kenney and Campbell. The song has almost a pastoral or spiritual feel to it, and the tremendous singing from all parties makes this a truly gorgeous song. “Floodgate” destroys any serenity, with its heavy, noisy, wild opening, with shrieks and growls providing ample terror, and the sax cutting a path down the middle, making this feel like a Yakuza song. The drums blister, the keys blend back in, and everything drowns in a thick, relentless doom fury. “And He Built Him a Boat” has serious shoegaze heat, but also is doom-fed and emotionally driven, especially with the storytelling lyrics and vocals that hit pretty hard. The choral harmonies return again, and as the poet pushes his project forward into the water, the band lands on a jazzy pocket that leads to the next chapter. “Passing the River” runs 10:12, and it begins with drum knocks, guitars filling in the spaces, and clean vocals from Driver that reach for a higher register. It feels like the song is going to stay on a straight path, but out of nowhere, the bottom drops out, and a thick haze of drone doom sets in, like they commissioned Sunn 0))) to come in and burn things to the ground. It goes back and forth from there, from light to dark, but it eventually subsides in eerie clean vocals. Closer “The Wait of the World,” a 14:22 epic, feels happy and poppy at the start, almost like a lost Steely Dan song, as Driver’s clean vocals return and things take a nice turn toward art rock. Toward the song’s middle, the band breaks into an extended section that sounds like they just let go and organically put on tape what came to them during a brilliant portion of improv inspiration. Eventually, we return to where we are, as Driver delivers the final moments of our story, crooning, “The ideal outlasts the flesh that is weak/Yes, and the well outlasts the drought that is temporary,” putting what feels like a somber ending to this tale.

“Hubardo” is a stunning, creative show of force and one of the most thoughtful, meaningful albums from a band that has a back catalog full of those. Kayo Dot always will challenge your mind, body, and spirit, as well as what you know to be metal, and they deliver in spades here once again. By all means, before this year is over and you put your stamp on 2013, go and experience this album and give it the attention and concentration it deserves. See what it means to you and your journey through life’s multiple ups and downs. It’s a record very few bands could make at all, and one only Kayo Dot could make this inspiring.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.kayodot.net/

To buy the album, go here: http://kayodot.bandcamp.com/album/hubardo

For more on the label, go here: https://www.facebook.com/icelevelmusic