KAYO DOT — Gamma Knife

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KAYO DOT - Gamma Knife cover
3.79 | 18 ratings | 2 reviews
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Album · 2012


1. Lethe (5:05)
2. Rite of Goetic Evocation (6:40)
3. Mirror Water, Lightning Night (5:33)
4. Ocellated God (6:32)
5. Gamma Knife (6:46)

Total Time 30:36


- Toby Driver / bass guitar, guitar, clarinet, keys, vocals
- Terran Olson / woodwinds and keys
- Daniel Means / woodwinds, guitar, keys, bass guitar
- Keith Abrams / drumset, bass guitar
- Mia Matsumiya / violin, keys, guitar
- David Bodie / drums & percussion
- Tim Byrnes / trumpet, synth, french horn
- Ron Varod / guitar and synth

About this release

January 4, 2012
Ice Level Music (download version, self-released)/Antithetic Records (LP & CD)

Available digitally at kayodot.bandcamp.com. LP and digipak CD editions released by Antithetic Records in May 2012.

Recorded partially live at Littlefield, Brooklyn, NY on October 5, 2011.

Thanks to triceratopsoil for the addition and Pekka for the updates


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He could not remember the dream

"Gamma Knife cuts through his skull as soon as he falls asleep. His vision is dim and blurred at first but it brightens with every second and he feels moved by the blissful, eerie spectacle that unfolds before him. The knife suddenly reaches his mind and the bubble bursts. All becomes vivid as the chaos spreads around and all calmness drowns in its foaming depths. How long did it last? Can time be measured in a place like this? He doesn't know. But as the edge of radiation withdraws, he is in a peaceful place again. Soft light soothes his senses as sounds of music sustain his slumber. And it all ends with silence..." Now that I lost most of you with my failed attempt at artistic writing, let's begin.

As by far the most obscure album by Kayo Dot, Gamma Knife is a negative of itself. An amazing case of an album that contradicts itself and yet, by the power of its overarching idea, works wonderfully as a whole. Now, if I just came down to earth for a moment... Gamma Knife is intentionally made that way to create an impact. The album begins and ends with stunningly beautiful and soothing, choral chamber music recorded in studio, but at its core are three tracks recorded live in concert. Could it go any weirder? Well, yes! In short, the middle part is as eclectic, avant-garde and extreme as it could get in less than twenty minutes. It's basically like a surreal 20s film where avant-chamber music meets jazz, RIO and black metal and have a shot of absinthe. The black metal side is somewhat reminiscent of Deathspell Omega and early maudlin of the Well. Compared to other avant metal acts like Ephel Duath, Gamma Knife sounds much more organic and bold in its exploration of avant jazz and chamber music. Strong psychedelic presence in the vein of Swans is also noticeable. However, what binds all these elements together to give them common identity, is the unmistakable Kayo Dot vibe that, like a totem spirit, animates every single album by this band.

I must admit that at first Gamma Knife didn't work for me as well as it does today, and I did not fully embrace its inner dualism until just a few months ago. Just like any other album by Kayo Dot, it's definitely not an easy one to get into but it's all the more rewarding once you do. Less focused on patient theme evolution of Choirs of the Eye and more on tight, aggressive experimentation known from Hubardo, Gamma Knife is a truly unique avant-garde rock ride. Let it sink in and you'll have one damn peculiar daydream every time you give it a spin.
Conor Fynes
'Gamma Knife' - Kayo Dot (7/10)

Since the days with maudlin of the Well over a decade ago, Toby Driver has been a consistent force in delivering some of the most powerful avant-garde music of the new millennium. With each album, this group of musicians has approached a different angle with their music, as if Toby and co. are browsing through a cosmic buffet, taking the flavours they fancy most, and making albums out of them. Especially in the case of Kayo Dot, I have felt that each album has a binding musical theme behind it. While 'Choirs Of The Eye' may have been defined by it's atmospheric surrealism, and 'Coyote' by is dreary jazz overtones, Kayo Dot's latest album 'Gamma Knife' is a little more difficult to pin down. Not that its sound is any more abstract than what has come before, but the music on this latest release is more diverse than I would have expected. For the sake of a bottom line, however: Kayo Dot has brought the metal back into their sound.

You might not guess that 'Gamma Knife' is a return to heavier times from its opening track 'Lethe'. The album opens on a very dreamy note, with bells chiming and Vangelis-like electronic orchestrations shimmering. This, and the titular closing piece, both show Kayo Dot in a very laid-back, even ambient frame. Even with Toby's signature brittle vocals, the music does more to capture a memorable feeling than to have particular ideas get stuck in the listener's head. When 'Lethe' closes, the more definitive traits of 'Gamma Knife' start to emerge. 'Rites Of Goetic Evocation' sounds like it could be a track from a black metal band, and it may as well be; the three songs that make up the body of 'Gamma Knife' are rife with growls, screams, blastbeats, and dissonance. The opening chords of 'Rites' sound more like late-era Deathspell Omega than anything else, as big a surprise to me as any, considering the band's music was being compared to Sigur Ros not too long ago.

It's not quite metal in the traditional sense, but Kayo Dot have certainly brought back a much heavier sound to their music. For one, the guitars are back, although the most distinguished instrument in the sound is the saxophone. Yes, the saxophone is there to beckon in the heaviest, darkest moments of 'Gamma Knife', and yes, it works. Take the albums defacto climax at the end of 'Ocellated God', for example. Overtop a fury of distorted screams and intense drums, the usually-jazzy sound of what I think is a saxophone layers over itself and repeats to create a very jarring and off-putting lick. Many more traditional metalheads may label this music as many things before metal, but it is undeniable that Kayo Dot has become heavier this time around.

Although Kayo Dot's latest is heavy, doomy, and metal-ly, I have also said that 'Gamma Knife' is more difficult to pin down than Kayo albums in the past. This is in large part due to the fact that there are five tracks here, and two of them are in stark contrast to the other three. There is certainly dynamic in earlier releases, but this time, the melancholic and soft is ostracized from the brutal and dark, as if it were a musical apartheid. It gives the album a cyclical sense to it, but my impression of 'Gamma Knife' is split in two. Be it dark or light, the music here is inventive, challenging, and often very powerful, with particular regards to the darker-edged material on the album. That being said, 'Gamma Knife' does not feel like a full album to me, at least not the way 'Choirs Of The Eye' or 'Coyote' did. For one, the album barely scrapes the half-hour mark, and leaves me wanting more than what the short length offers. I'm left feeling the same way I did about Radiohead's 'The King Of Limbs' from last year; though the musical quality in itself is quite high, there isn't enough meat on the bones to give it a lasting impression. In that sense, it is much like chicken wings. Had it been made at least ten minutes longer and given a little extra polish, 'Gamma Knife' would have almost certainly left me in total awe.

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  • Psydye
  • tempest_77
  • focusedon
  • StargazerSlave
  • Ozark Soundscape
  • Anster
  • Coracin
  • Pekka
  • MetalMirror
  • Zargus
  • DreamInSong
  • snowman1980
  • Earendil
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