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KAYO DOT - Blasphemy / Purity

I've taken my sweet little time with this one. I didn't buy "Blasphemy" immediately  when it came out, but meditated a couple of months about what to order along with it ("Ash And Dust" by Year Of The Cobra it was) and which version to choose.

As exciting as it is that Kayo Dot has been signed by the artist-friendly and known for its high-quality releases label Prophecy Productions, it also means that there are several simpler (CD digipak) and more luxurious (60€ complete box) variations available, including the Prophecy signature product, which I ended up with: the two CD artbook, which in this case includes a bonus EP called Purity".

When I finally got the album I had so much other stuff on my plate, that I voluntarily approached it slowly with only a couple of runs in a week, until my head was clear enough to fully immerse in it.

In order to be able to review it however I also had to read twenty-two book pages of text, which may not sound like a task at all. But with a heavy eyesight irritation, which lasted more than a week following the last concert I had visited, a vision test at the wrong time resulting in a pair of new glasses, which made reading almost impossible... well, you get it; I had some very special circumstances. (Luckily now I'm sitting here after a second test, with my old glasses, and that eye shit is good again.)

But enough about Kayo Dot, let's finally talk about me!

KAYO DOT - Blasphemy / Purity (2CD book) (2019)

Let's start right off the bat with an ultimately useless statement: "Blasphemy" is easily the most metal album Toby Driver has released both solo and with Kayo Dot since "Hubardo" in 2013.

So what's useless about that observation? It doesn't really tell you anything, because even though Driver's writing is recognizable in a heartbeat, neither does the new album sound exactly like anything the band has done before, nor does it mean that "Blasphemy" has any deeper similarity to any particular metal band or metal style out there.

This starts with the instrumentation, in which keyboards and electronic sound design are on equal terms with guitars, while a bass guitar is almost completely missing, and goes on with Driver's categorical refusal to just for once go with the big easy hook or the straight banging beat and rhythm. Instead his formula is bound to long winding melodies and complex pulses, which don't necessarily reveal themselves to the listener on the first or second encounter.

That being said, once this album has taken hold on you, it nestles extremely comfortably in your brain. I'd even file it under Driver's earwormiest works.

But ok, especially you Kayo Dot newbies want something tangible, a firm categorization.
How about post everything art metal? Come on, what the fuck do I know?
Of course there are moments when other artists come to mind (I personally have epiphanies of Solefald, Thought Industry, Björk and Steven Wilson or RPWL prog rock), but none of these stretch wide enough to be useful as a comparison which works for the whole album.

But what I can definitely carve into stone about "Blasphemy" is that it's a one-of-a-kind, highly adventurous, atmospheric, engaging and at times also fun experience with lots of details to discover.

Also: That unconventional trumpet solo in "Turbine, Hook And Haul" rules.

But back to my initial point: What makes "Blasphemy" feel metal may partly be the production by Randall Dunn, but first and foremost it's the joy with which Toby Driver and his carefully selected band endulge in the theatrics of the sci-fi/fantasy story on which the album is based.

This includes Driver and his companion since "Hubardo", Ron Varod, both doing some pretty heroic guitar shredding, as well as Driver going quite crazy with his voice. It's nothing new that he has a wide range from falsetto over "the thoughtful goth" and spoken words to aggressive metal, but on his last handful of releases he mostly stayed consistent in one style.

On "Blasphemy" however he goes back to the days of using a huge chunk of his repertoire, going all over the place with a manifold of fantastic but also some decidedly weird choices like Kanye West in the methanol chamber on "An Eye For A Lie". On the other hand when the lead single "Blasphemy: A Prophecy" came out I wasn't the only one wondering if that was David Tibet on the microphone.

As mentioned "Blasphemy" is a concept story album. It's based on a novel by the same name by long-time collaborator Jason Byron, who during the past twenty years has been providing lyrics (and sometimes also death metal vocals) for Maudlin Of The Well, Kayo Dot and Toby Driver's solo album "Madonnawhore". Unsurprisingly he also wrote the complete lyrics for this album.

Besides the usual lyrics and band photographs the beautiful 2CD/book version of "Blasphemy" also contains the first two full chapters of the novel.

Byron depicts a dystopian civilisation which lives forced back into the highest regions of the world, its continents seperated by the deadly sulfuric fog called the Q'Sh, which can only be crossed under dangerous circumstances by airships.
I won't spoil anything about those two chapters, both from the perspectives of rather unlikeable characters you're not truly supposed to identify with, and the song lyrics, which depict later episodes of the novel, here. Not only because I don't want to, but also because I don't really feel I can. Byron's world-building is quite advanced (Rejoice, no Dream Theater "The Astonishing" half-assery here!) and challenging for a non-native reader - and even though I get most of it I couldn't succesfully retell it. Also the whole story isn't told completely on the album anyway. At least that's my guess.

Without a doubt the unique tone and oddities of both the story and its musical realization compliment each other to great effect and make some excellent concept album nerd food.

The bonus disc "Purity" is a remix EP, which contains six new tracks, formed by Mathew J. Serra aka Wet Math exclusively with sounds from the original album.

While I will never make up my mind about how I feel regarding this whole remix idea, the result in this case is enjoyable and interestingly sounds much more like a straight catchy verse-chorus thing than the source material. Well, the vocal sampling is silly sometimes - as it so often is in these kind of mixes -, but just as with "Blasphemy" you sometimes should probably just relax and have a littel bit of fun with it.

All in all this whole release - arrangements, performances, lyrics, concept, production, the artwork, layout and content of the physical release - is wholesome as fuck, but of course, as always with everything Kayo Dot, only a niche product for aficionados.

It shouldn't be, but hey, look at the world around you and the taste of its inhabitants! You see it, right? Let's be brutally honest: We only deserve mumble rap, Helene Fischer and Sabaton.

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