Something Else! sneak peek: Karmakanic – In a Perfect World (2011)

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by Fred Phillips

Karmakanic had me from the name of the band. I was the go-to guy for prog metal and rock at another site for many years, and I really got burned out on the genre as a whole. These days, it takes a proven history or something that piques my interest for me to check out proggers, and for this Swedish outfit led by bassist Jonas Reingold, it was the name that did the trick.

The band’s latest effort on InsideOut Records, In a Perfect World, is its fourth, but my introduction. It wasn’t at all what I expected. For the most part, it’s a very subdued and restrained effort. There aren’t any of the musical histrionics that you expect from the genre these days, and while there are quite a few somber, reflective moments, there are others that let you know Reingold and Co. don’t take themselves quite as seriously as some of their contemporaries.

One of the conventions they don’t throw out is song length. The record opens with the 14-minute monster “1969,” and there are several more songs approaching the 10-minute mark. The first track is likely the most conventional prog tune with a fade in of synths, and then some guitar work reminiscent of Dream Theater. There’s also some exotic synths, a little bit of psychedelia, a little dose of ‘70s pop and a heaping helping of ‘70s prog flavors. The varied atmosphere continues on “Turn It Up,” which opens with some elevator music-esque easy listening. There’s a definite U2 influence on the verse vocals, and eventually, the song ends up where most of the tunes on this record do, in a blend of 1970s prog and commercial arena rock. So, throughout, there’s a little bit of Yes, and a little bit of Styx . A little bit of Rush and a little bit of Journey. It’s an interesting mixture, which, for the most part, works.

There are some very somber, quiet and dramatic piano moments on “The World is Caving In” and “There’s Nothing Wrong with the World” that remind me of one of my favorite progressive metal acts, Savatage, or its sister act Trans-Siberian Orchestra. But those songs also end up back in that more upbeat and uplifting mode.

“Can’t Take It with You” is easily the strangest beast on the record, sampling “Girl from Ipanema,” then putting a metallic beat behind it before moving into a rap vocal. They even have some fun on the keyboard solo, morphing the “Girl from Ipanema” rhythm into a riff from the “Super Mario Brothers” video game. It’s strange and fun. I’m not sure how often I’ll return to it, but I definitely won’t forget it soon.

My personal favorite track on the record is “Bite the Grit.” The song opens as a poppy 1970s tune that has just a little hint of Queen. Then it blows up into this nasty hard rock groove that’s the single best thing on In a Perfect World. It’s the biggest hook on the record, serving as the song’s chorus without a vocal.

Album closer “When Fear Came to Town” comes in a close second, though. It opens as a blues-folk acoustic piece, which lasts for about five minutes. Then it fades out into some spacey, ethereal synth work for a few minutes. The long synth interlude isn’t really my thing, but hang with it because the song closes with some really tasty David Gilmour-style lead guitar licks that are worth waiting on.

There are no “look what I can do” instrumental freak-outs to be found, rather everything works to the benefit of the song. It’s truly about mixing and melding styles – sometimes successfully, sometimes not. Karmakanic doesn’t really push any boundaries or break any new ground in the prog rock genre, but this record is refreshing in its lack of pretentiousness.

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