Album Reviews

Issue 2016-037

Karmakanic - Dot - Round Table Review

Karmakanic - Dot
Country of Origin: Sweden
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 50:17
Track List:
Dot (1:04), God the universe and everything else no one really cares about – Part I (23:45). Higher Ground (10:10), Steer by the Stars (4:22), Traveling Minds (4:59), God the universe and everything else no one really cares about – Part II (5:57)
Patrick McAfee's Review
Durimg the last decade or two, there are a few bands that, to me, represent the best of the modern progressive rock scene. Karmakanic is one of those bands. Starting out as what seemed like a side-project for The Flower Kings bassist Jonas Reingold, it has blossomed into a band of notable significance.

Albums like Who"s the boss in the factory and In a Perfect World, set a lofty musical standard, and expectations were high for Dot. Karmakanic is a very talented group of musicians, but even the most gifted artists mis-step from time to time. I am happy to report that that isn't the case here. In fact, there are many moments on Dot that are truly inspired.

As they have done in the past, the album starts in grand fashion with the 25-minute epic, God, the universe and everything else no one really cares about, Part 1. This track is layered with creative and compelling musical moments. Inspired by the works of Carl Sagan, and using the idea of just how small a part of this vast universe we are, this opening song takes the listener on a exciting musical journey. From jazz, to hard rock, to children's chiors, there is an extreme amount of lyrical and instrumental wonder to be found here. Strong from beginning to end, this epic is to be cherished. It is truly a magnificent work of musical art.

There is a risk to opening an album with a piece this strong, and Dot doesn't escape completely unscathed in that area. It's not that the rest of the album is lacking by any stretch. Quite the opposite in fact. Regardless, the album does take a slight step down after the powerful first track. In my opinion, the album may play a bit better, had the track listing been shuffled a bit. Perhaps that is just me, but it is probably an irelevant critique when the music, overall, is this strong.

Higher Ground, another great song, is inspired by Jonas' upbringing in a small Swedish town. This track is an indication of how Karmakanic can pay homage to prog artists of the past, while also sounding freah and new. One of the areas in which the band really excels, is with the vocals and the associated arrangements. The production is pristine, and Goran Edman and Nils Erikson both perform strongly throughout the album.

Steer by the Stars is an effective and acessable rock song. Co-written by Andy Tillison, in a just musical world, this song should see some radio airplay. With a fantastic chrous and vocal that sticks with you, this is a pleasant break from the more adventurous material that it is sandwiched between. Traveling Minds is another quality track and takes the album into a more atmospheric territory. It also transitions ideally into the album closer, which is the six-minute, part 2 of the epic operner. Along with some fine instrumental work, the solo piano that ends the album is perfection.

Considering my consistent praise above, it probably goes without saying that Karmakanic have hit a home run with Dot. There is no doubt that this album will find a place on many 2016 best of the year lists, including mine. This is quality music, written and performed with extreme care and obvious passion. The musical performances throughout are impecible, and the end result is quite stunning. The band's reputation remains intact and there is absolutely no doubt at this point, that Karmakanic is one of the top progressive rock bands in existance today.
Dario Albrecht's Review
Since 2002, The Flower Kings' bass virtuoso Jonas Reingold has brought us four albums of stunning fusion prog rock with his own band Karmakanic. Enlisting talents from the likes of keyboard wizard Lalle Larsson (Agents of Mercy, Jon Anderson, Weaveworld), world class singer Göran Edman (ex-Yngwie Malmsteen) and as of late drummer extraordinaire Morgan Ågren (Mats/Morgan Band, Kaipa, Frank Zappa, Steve Vai etc...), the quality of both the instrumental prowess and songwriting mastership has been of the highest calibre throughout their entire discography.

Five years after their last studio record, In A Perfect World, comes the fifth Karmakanic album, simply entitled Dot. This time, Jonas Reingold drew his main inspiration from a text by the famous American author and astronomer Carl Sagan about the earth, who described 'our' planet as nothing but a mere 'pale blue dot suspended in a sunbeam'. It is a topic which seems to sit incredibly well within the Karmakanic world, despite sounding a tad clichéd by now on its own. Knowing the lyrical themes of the previous Karmakanic albums though, it makes perfect sense.

The album's centerpiece is a genuine 30-minute epic in two parts. With the huge but fitting title of God the universe and everything else no one really cares about, it bookends the album as first and last songs. Clocking in at just under 25 minutes, the first part is certainly an epic that deserves that title. Equipped with everything that makes a Karmakanic epic awesome (or any prog rock epic for that matter), it shows Jonas at the height of his songwriting skills.

Complete with recurring musical themes and melodies, it spans different emotional moods such as gritty and bombastic, and playful and calm. This rollercoaster ride takes us on a cosmic journey through space and time. It is both entertaining and thoughtful, the listener can decide if one just wants to sit back and enjoy the beautiful music or immerse one's brain cells in the deep philosophical thoughts touched by the lyrics. Starting out as a heavy Hammond rocker (courtesy of guest organist Andy Tillison from The Tangent), we encounter beautiful Göran Edman melodies, a children's choir, a typical Lalle Larsson piano solo over a deep bass groove, goosebumps-inducing twin guitar leads and much, much more. Jonas Reingold's melodic approach with both fretted and fretless basses makes it stand out even more. Simply put; 'God, the universe and everything else no one really cares about' shows Karmakanic at the top of their game.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the remaining tracks. The following Higher Ground, co-written by the aforementioned Andy Tillison, features a very cool extended solo section, but the vocal parts and melodies seem to lack that sense of urgency I always loved about Karmakanic.

Steer by the Stars sounds even more like a filler. I just can't find anything memorable about it. But luckily Traveling Minds picks up the quality again with a beautiful fretless bass intro. Slowly, the inspirational curve seems to point upwards again. Closing the album is the second part of God the universe and everything else no one really cares about; a beautiful coda, towering big melodies on top of each other, saving the album in the end from a lower rating.

I will definitely come back to the big epic (and Traveling Minds) on this album, but I'm not so sure about the two middle tracks. If I could rate the songs individually, I would give a perfect 9 for God, the universe..., an 8 for Traveling Minds, a 7 for Higher Ground and a mere 5 for Steer by the Stars.

But despite all the criticism of the middle part of the album, I would recommend it nonetheless to all Karmakanic fans and prog rockers in general, as the big epic centerpiece with that awfully long title, is worth the admission fee alone.
Geoff Feakes' Review
When Jonas Reingold formed his own band in 2002, the debut release Entering The Spectra proved that this was going to be more than a showcase for his bass playing talents. After four well-received albums, the name Karmakanic has become a byword for superb ensemble performances and memorable songs. The latest release, Dot, is no exception.

With just five tracks (excluding the short intro), it's obvious there's going to be a long song in there somewhere, and it unfolds at the very start, all 25 minutes of it. The subject of God the universe – Part I is nothing new, expanding on author and astronomer Carl Sagan's theory that the earth is a small and insignificant dot in the vast universe. Musically however, it provides fresh avenues for Karmakanic to explore.

The band's nucleus of Reingold (bass), Lalle Larsson (keyboards), Morgan Ågren (drums) and Krister Jonsson (guitars) indulge in some glorious instrumental interplay including bombastic organ fills from guest Andy Tillison. The same care and attention has been put into the vocals and harmonies, with regular singer Göran Edman joined by Nils Erikson and some particularly effective female voices. Even Jonas' children get in on the act. Although this 25-minute epic contains numerous highlights, I'll single out the pastoral acoustic guitar and flute (courtesy of guest Ray Aichinger) interlude, the ascending instrumental theme around the midway point, and a rousing choral finale.

The semi-autobiographical Higher Ground (not to be confused with the Stevie Wonder tune) is a song of two halves, and relates to Jonas' upbringing in a small Swedish town. The first part revolves around the infectious chorus, whilst the mostly instrumental second part includes some blistering guitar and synth exchanges.

Surprisingly, Steer by the Stars with its radio-friendly AOR sensibilities was co-written by Andy Tillison, and if the memorable choral hook doesn't win you over, the inspired a cappella ending will. Easily the album's most instant and accessible song.

In contrast, the slow burning Traveling Minds builds from a moody fretless bass intro, into a stately guitar and vocal anthem that reveals new and hidden depths each time it's played.

The concluding God the universe - Part II is based on a melody from Part I, but here it's given a more lush, symphonic treatment before dissolving into the reflective piano motif that opened Part I, effectively bringing the album full circle.

Despite the occasional self-plagiarism (the heavy riff in the latter part of God the universe – Part I is remarkably similar to Masterplan Part 1 from Wheel Of Life) this is another exceptional release from Karmakanic. It certainly ranks alongside (if not bettering) anything The Flower Kings, Kaipa or The Tangent have put out in recent years, and given that Jonas Reingold is involved with all three of those bands, he should be justifiably proud of this album, which is arguably Karmakanic's finest to date.
Patrick McAfee: 9 out of 10
Dario Albrecht: 7 out of 10
Geoff Feakes: 9 out of 10
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