Kayo Dot - Hubardo | Album Review | By Volume

Understand that I am only as he made me: a faithful servant to all of the noise, all of the lights, all of the flashing in my head. Laura Stevenson - Wheel

Kayo Dot


A delirious trip of sound.

Comments (2)
Author: on September 7, 2013
Ice Level Music
August 30, 2013

Hubardo arrived as a shockwave last week, fiercely drawing the attention of every Kayo fan believing that the band would never return to former glory. Their seminal debut Choirs of the Eye has become renowned as a masterpiece of avant-garde metal, as well as a marker of the potential of artistic rebirth. Toby Driver has taken his experimental act to striking places over the ensuing years – “striking” indicating failure, in too many cases. We have not received a brilliant release since 2006’s Dowsing Anemone with Copper Tongue, so when news of Hubardo emerged – a sprawling, triple-LP retrospective of his entire career’s work – the stakes were terrifyingly high: tour-de-force or disaster. The first listen established the result, that not only does the record surpass every expectation but that it actually achieves the unthinkable in rivaling Choirs of the Eye. Hubardo witnesses a visionary restoring his vision to pitch-perfect clarity, and the result is the most astonishing metal album of the young decade.

Kayo Dot initiate this beast with a grueling test of endurance. “The Black Stone” serves as a giant padlocked door to the expansive terrain that makes up Hubardo. Jason Byron of maudlin of the Well stands as the warden of this entrance, delivering a ten-minute sermon of sickening growls to weed out the more weak-hearted listeners. The band lingers out of view with spectral guitar lines and ominous violin, tumbling percussion flaring in threat of what’s to come. It’s a tough experience to bear, tightening the pulse and beckoning a sigh of relief when it’s over, but as an introduction to this magnum opus it is perfect, building suspense and rousing marvel at just how huge the record is – crossing the gates leaves ninety mysterious minutes ahead. And from there it is an eye-widening plummet into the depths of avant-garde, forcefully immersive to a point of disbelief, to a state of temporal loss, where a peek at the track list does nothing to clarify where the hell you are, how you’ve arrived at this terrifying storm of noise, how you’ll even begin to recover in the sweep to calmer shores. In its outsized ambition, Hubardo is a record that truly inspires awe.

Listing all the styles of music explored here is a futile exercise, but here’s an attempt: post-metal, chamber music, black metal, minimalism, experimental rock, lounge jazz, funk, space-prog, samba — you get the picture. Kayo Dot assert their avant-garde credentials through this “anything goes” approach; they propose a masterpiece in the baffling sense they muster out of apparent nonsense. Hubardo is not only fully coherent but also a surprisingly easy listen, remaining dynamic and engaging over its lengthy runtime. Trust is established early on and, from there, it’s effortless travel through the record, despite the variety of genres delved into. A fellow writer dubbed Kayo Dot the “BBQ dad rock of avant-garde metal,” a hilarious remark that also contains deeper truth. Experimental music is rarely this comfortable, making it a joy to submit to whatever inclination the band entertains next.

The most astonishing passage of Choirs of the Eye was quite possibly the descent into madness that concluded “The Manifold Curiosity.” Kayo Dot manifested a scene of serenity only to warp it into a netherworld of grinding metal and hysterical shrieks, building terror with every passing minute of the downward spiral. Driver views the extremes of metal as the most lucid depiction of insanity, in contrast to how other acts frequently test those limits for aggression and violence. But the metal has been absent ever since the band’s debut, only returning in last year’s easily forgotten Gamma Knife. It’s with excitement that Hubardo indulges in deranged metallic excess, even rivaling the collapse of the aforementioned track. “Vision Adjustment to Another Wavelength” arrives early and is immediately overwhelming, a flurry of erratic percussion, skewered saxophones, manic screams and wild horns. It falls into a teasing flute section that compliments the lunacy before stumbling to a semi-conscious resolution. Much later on, “Floodgate” jerks open its barrier and drowns the listener in sonic overflow. A seven-minute deluge of blastbeats, frightened screams, screeching trumpets and whirling synths, or in light of the experience, a hopeless struggle to breach the flood’s surface, to catch a single breath in reprieve from the onslaught. It’s a thrill ride that affirms just how exceptional this band is at imagining chaos, while also raising some resentment at how they’ve suppressed the metal for so long.

It’s easy to lavish praise over what’s missed, but it’s relatively trickier to justify how the calmer moments rival those familiar to Kayo Dot’s discography. Dowsing… moved cautiously through its elusive chambers, amassing dread too sinister to forsake with an uninhibited climax. It was a full-length engagement with doom that succeeded through unwavering intent. Coyote aimed for similar persuasions yet saw Driver “lose the plot,” or rather compose one too esoteric to be enjoyed. Testing the patience with haphazard direction, the music grated consistently and amounted to Driver’s largest misfire. Hubardo exists in light of this history, taking care to avoid repeating past mistakes. The atmospheric passages avert the cliché of valleys to mountains through unpredictable sequencing: “The First Matter” and “The Second Operation” deliver nearly twenty-three minutes of absorbing calm in the midsection of the record. The former circles about itself with a casual bass groove and cosmic guitar leads, Driver intoning faintly as the vessel drifts further into outer space. The latter is an astral projection, opening with a majestic violin solo that diffuses into celestial chamber music, backed by tender singing and supporting chants. These coupled tracks are so transfixing that they form a miniature world within the galaxy that is Hubardo, and getting lost is a lasting experience of the greater journey.

That the record ends in epic form is hardly surprising, yet the brilliance of the finale is something to behold. “Passing the River” is the penultimate stunner and quite possibly the best track on this album. It starts with a blunted beat recalling trip-hop, translucent guitar arcs lingering overhead, setting the mood for Driver’s radiant singing. His narrative is weighted by a curious sense of foreboding, sighting prophecy for the listener rather than himself. And it arrives in a sharp plunge into the water, hulking riffs and pounding drums in strident glory, before a colossal wall of distortion threatens to decimate through sheer intensity. Then there’s a splitting scream and blastbeats kick into overdrive and horns screech wildly and a saxophone loses its shit and I just can’t even anymore. But then “The Walt of the World” gets a samba rhythm going, in full mockery of all the seriousness that’s passed, and all you can do is laugh. It’s a cartoonish moment, a lighthearted wink at the audience, and with that Kayo Dot abandon any remaining inhibitions in a closing track that’s too ridiculous to explain, let alone describe. That’s all unnecessary; the pleasure is in the confusion, the thrill of submitting your mind to these delirious trips of sound. Hubardo is the masterpiece we never could’ve predicted, a full-length journey into the unfathomable – and what a rare, engrossing experience that is.

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