There has always been the sense of the eerie and the weird to Kayo Dot‘s music. Perhaps that is in the nature of all the disparate styles we often clumsily bundle up together under the guise of avant-garde or art rock. This eeriness is, naturally, hard to define; it is a certain quality of haunting, of something slightly askew. To define by contrast, the grotesque is full on otherness, something so different that our minds reel in abject horror. But the weird is that which is different and yet just similar enough to the “normal” that it creates a twisted reflection, a twisted version of things that we still associate with reality as we conceive it. In that respect, to be haunted is to be aware of the subtle wrongness of things, aware of a world that lies just beyond the senses. It is in this world that Kayo Dot’s music has always danced, blending genres, themes, approaches, and aesthetics but always flirting with a slightly different take on things, something to the side of what we expect.
But none of their albums has fully embraced this sensation of haunting like Blasphemy. While it certainly offers more distortion, harsh vocals, and an overall metallic edge than both Coffins on Io, and Plastic House on Base of Sky, Blasphemy is much more concerned with turning up the ratchet on the distinct, other-worldly hallucinations and prognostications that Kayo Dot have always dabbled in (and, indeed, almost every Toby Driver related release). Thus, the efforts of those looking to easily categorize Blasphemy are doomed to fail. It can neither be fully associated with “old” Kayo Dot, namely their weirder but still recognizable takes on metal and rock, or with “new” Kayo Dot, namely their most recent explorations of dark-wave and art pop. The result is an intricate and hard to decipher album which presents yet another form for the ever-shifting ensemble.
At the heart of Blasphemy lies a struggle for authority, knowledge, and self-expression. It tells of witches, men of religion, mysticism, and the struggle between different perspectives on the world and its power. It takes place in a world like us but slightly different. The music supports this sensation of haunting; for example, as “An Eye For a Lie” describes the gruesome punishment of one of the characters, augmentation of Driver’s voice, metallic and scintillating, auto-tuned to the extreme, drives the bizarre scene home. The scattered guitars, tinny drums, and echoing vocals which follow continue to paint this nether-realm narrative, pulling the listener deeper and deeper into the story. These elements hark back to larger arrangements in the band’s history, like Choirs of the Eye, but is always in relationship and speckled with vocal performances more reminiscent of Coffins of Io.
But this album is much more than just a re-tread. This new balance between the elements creates an expansive new vibe for the band. “Lost Souls On Lonesome’s Way” is a great example of how this works. Guitars are front and center for the track, playing echoing chords that first grab the listener’s attention. Driver’s voice works beautifully with them, creating a commanding presence in their center even before the choir effects appear. The drums paint the sort of steady, weaving rhythm fans of the band will recognize. But then, heavy, night-drenched synths are introduced. Narration suddenly appears among the vocals, creating a theatrical sense of presentation. The guitars play an off-kilter lead before erupting into a sprawling solo, still backed by those stubborn drums. Everything feels viewed through a fever, weaving in and out of the story at the center of the album. The sheer palette of styles involved is what ends up creating the eerie feeling, always catching us by surprise as we go, offering us a kind of twisted version of what we expected.
Which, you might not be surprised to find out, makes the album a tough listen. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and lost among all the vocals styles utilized (“Vanishing Act in Blinding Gray” for example, opens with the much deeper and sweeter style of Driver’s singing which we heard on Madonnawhore) and the twists and turns the instruments take. But then again, which Kayo Dot release can be deemed easy?
The whole raison d’etre of the band’s existence is to challenge us; to take their music and need for expression to new place. Blasphemy accomplishes this with the usual expertise we have come to expect from the group, dipping their previous sounds into a thick mist of oddness, populating it with ghosts, chilling phrases, and an overall sense of something, just at the corner of your eye, that’s just off. For those looking for their music to challenge them, look no further than Blasphemy; it is uncompromising in its vision and its execution.
Blasphemy releases on September 6th via Prophecy Records. Click through to the Bandcamp page above to pre-order it. You can also head on over to the label to do so.