Hubardo shifts its weight between paying tribute to Kayo Dot‘s expansive stylistic history (this is a 10 year commemoration record) and aggressively advancing the band’s repertoire; it is seamless, exhilarating to witness, and could very easily be a celebration if the band’s knack for creating devastating emotional fallout wasn’t in full swing. I wanted to kick myself after treating the first listen like it was an easter egg hunt – days of maudlin past here, Choirs introspection and Lambency psychedelia there – But maybe that’s an intended part of the fun, at least for a fan relating to the mythology that enfolds Kayo Dot’s past releases and satellite projects. If Hubardo is nostalgic then it is also terrifyingly universal – These songs are so iconic and varied in their design that, even if it didn’t aim to, the record can stand alongside any classic of the rock and roll canon. Again, it’s staggering that Kayo Dot’s complexity and abstraction have expanded wildly, yet more than ever feel accessible and never pointlessly oblique.
But all this praise of Hubardo‘s confident execution and technicality is potentially undercutting me getting across the major gleaming aspect of this 100 minute album – Its moving, stirring energy, able to coax from the listener outright wonder, fear, misery, and a chemical combination of several other impulses. There are times I’m not sure what to process but I’m definitely alive and definitely feeling. This is why we listen to Kayo Dot; for the truly new and spiritually familiar.
On that, though… For thrill seekers that crave extremity, Hubardo is the benchmark for chaos and viciousness in 2013 (and I’m factoring in the new Nails and Gorguts). At times impossibly heavy, these portions of Hubardo fully back up composer and frontman Toby Driver‘s assertion that death/black/grind can be more than it currently seems to be in the wider spectrum of the metal genre. Though the band’s Gamma Knife was the best album of 2012, and worked within a greater metallic range (though it could be argued all of Kayo Dot’s releases are heavy and intense), new songs like “Vision Adjustment to Another Wavelength” more completely embody this goal of the band’s. That track in particular is an unusual masterpiece that feels like “Twins Eating fer de Lance” leaping ahead of Deathspell Omega, all the more deranged because I can bob my head to it. This song channels into “Zodelida Caosaji”, the highlight of the album – A huge, arena-sized epic that I hope the band performs live to a thrashing sea of thousands. Later comes “Floodgate”, a black hole of a song enshrouded by pure disgust and ferocity that should be held up as an enduring example of how to make death metal legitimately shocking. For all of Kayo Dot’s artistry, the fact that they’ve put together one of the most circle pit-friendly releases I’ve heard from any band is another thing to get excited about.
What preoccupies me most is how “Floodgate” comes just after “The Second Operation (Lunar Water)” and the relationship between both tracks is the key to what puts Kayo Dot on the forefront: That “Floodgate” has an awe inspiring, frail beauty and the delicate, dreamlike “Lunar Water” has a destructive power of its own. It’s the same sensation you got when listening to “Stones of October’s Sobbing” by earlier incarnation maudlin of the Well, how gentleness and intensity merged effortlessly into something compelling and outside. Hubardo closes the circle. There isn’t a shred of irony or condescension in the band’s choice of genres, where the bass driven, darkwave “The First Matter (Saturn in the Guise of Sadness)” feels cut of the same cloth as woodwind hardcore rager “Crown-In-The-Muck”.
After all, Kayo Dot is a compositional rock band, and the musicians seem to have more energy and chops than ever. Keith Abrams crafts speedy, gigantic drum patterns (and some I can guarantee you’ve never heard before) that hypnotically amplify each track’s groove and mounting intensity. Daniel Means gets some monumental woodwind solos, Tim Byrnes‘s trumpet grounds the band with that instrument’s classic presence in earlier releases, and stringsmen Driver and Ron Varod riff through bar after bar of tightly constructed, interrelating motifs. Past contributors all have a welcome and well utilized presence on each song. Driver’s vocals continue to astonish and disturb, putting to shame all other screams in light of his going-for-broke ruthlessness – He sounds fucking furious… How often can you say that about metal these days?
There’s so much more to say about Kayo Dot’s seventh major release but not much in the way of providing some kind of balanced criticism… There’s an intention, ability, and passion on display here that I feel is immune to whether or not you or I enjoy it. But I do enjoy it, completely. It’s essential.