West Virginia’s Karma to Burn may have been lurking in the hazy underground of stoner rock in several different forms since the 90s, but they’ve never seemed to make the same impact on listeners than some of the other projects they’ve been associated with (most notably Kyuss). Though their tenacious aggression and uncompromising instrumental sound may serve as a decent background to a beer-soaked evening with some good friends, the band’s latest EP Mountain Czar simply doesn’t take enough risks to really stand out from the now overcrowded world of sludgy hard rock. The song titles, ironically enough, blend together about as much as the band’s barrage of Wino-infused and heavily-pentatonic riffs. It’s certainly not the first time the band has decided to name their songs like, but it just seems way more detrimental to the release this time around.
While there really isn’t anything inherently wrong with Mountain Czar and the album does boast a truly well-rounded mix, the album simply feels way too safe. The record almost never strays from its mid-tempo path, save for the album’s saving grace in the final track “Sixty-Three.” The recurring motif of including samples from The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly really help give the song a much needed boost of context and atmosphere, but it’s almost too little too late. The first fifteen minutes of Mountain Czar mostly feel like incomplete Clutch tracks. The song structuring is very immediate and won’t take a lot of time to latch onto, but really lacks that extra boost of innovation and soul that the album so desperately needs. To be frank, it’s hard to justify listening to an album like this nowadays with the huge resurgence of stoner rock bands pushing things to much more extreme territory.
Karma to Burn – Mountain Czar gets…
Although the idea of reducing a genre like atmospheric black metal to such a concise package in the way that Ghost Horizon has is certainly laudable, it’s not an experiment that’s produced particularly great results. This isn’t a type of music that’s easily contained in such bite-sized pieces; it becomes all too easy to lose the emotional weight and feeling of a journey that’s crucial to this genre’s sound. Groups like Wolves In The Throne Room and Agalloch do not typically write songs which lie under the 5-minute mark (as all three of the songs here do). Although it’s certainly not impossible or unthinkable that such a short EP could contain all of the qualities necessary to make this genre work, Astral Possession just… doesn’t. Put bluntly, these songs just are not fully fleshed out enough to have any sort of decent effect on the listener.
The production is another issue here: everything sounds altogether too sharp and aggressive for such a meditative sound. The cymbals in particular are grating on the ears, and the crunchy guitar tone immediately dashes any hopes of inward serenity or catharsis being achieved through this release. The vocals, while not bad on their own, are definitely far too present and, again ruin any sort of effect the EP could have had.
Bottom line, this isn’t a very well-thought-out release. Ghost Horizon doesn’t seem like a bad artist, and Astral Possession is not a disaster, but this EP is rough, badly planned, and badly produced. There’s very little substance to it and the redeeming qualities are mostly either ruined or hidden by the severely flawed production. Trying to fit a long-form, raw genre like atmospheric black metal into bite-sized chunks is very much a “square peg/round hole” task, and Ghost Horizon suffers for it.
Ghost Horizon – Astral Possession…