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Album Review: KAYO DOT Blasphemy

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Kayo Dot has always been among the most enticingly experimental bands of the millennium. Formed from the ashes of mastermind Toby Driver’s prior project, Maudlin of the Well, their avant-garde collages of synth rock, doom metal, post-rock, jazz, and more never fail to elicit hypnotic results. Luckily, their latest endeavor, Blasphemy, is perhaps their most fully realized and thoroughly enjoyable one yet. More varied, focused, and accessible than its immediate predecessors, it essentially houses all of Kayo Dot’s fascinatingly exploratory specialties into easier-to-digest packages. As such, it’s a great record for both newcomers and aficionados alike.

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Officially, Blasphemy is “based on an allegorical story by [former Maudlin of the Well bandmate and current collaborator] Jason Byron. It explores greed, especially politically, and surrounds three characters on their search for a treasure that will eventually destroy them. . . . a sleeping girl with terrible power named Blasphemy.” Producer Randall Dunn returns, and helping Driver and Byron bring the tale to life are guitarist Ron Varod, drummers Leonardo Didkovsky and Phillip Price, and some additional players. From start to finish, they ensure that Blasphemy captivates as often as it surprises, proving once again why Kato Dot is a one-of-a-kind prospect.

Although the whole sequence is essential to the experience, there are some standout selections that rank not only as the best moments on Blasphemy, but as highlights of Kayo Dot’s entire catalog. Starter “Ocean Cumulonimbus” builds with an Alcest-esque sort of blackgaze desperation that makes it both brutal and beautiful at once. Driver alternates between bellowing angst, grating screams, and angelic harmonies with ease as the looping percussion and airy guitar strums cascade around him. It’s masterful. Afterward, “The Something Opal” is more pastoral and unpredictable—almost like The Cure meets The Mars Volta and Agalloch—while “Midnight Mystic Rise and Fall” is epic, tense, and poetic lyrically and musically, with Driver’s electronically manipulated utterance of “Devil doll” digging directly into your soul. It’s a complete journey unto itself.

Easily the peak of the LP, however, is closer “Blasphemy: A Prophecy.” Narratively, it’s a rewarding end to the story, with earlier references to the titular character now culminating in a grand finale, but it’s the sounds that truly seize you in apocalyptic splendor. It kicks off with—and then rests upon—arguably the most affective and mesmeric riff of their career, with tribal drums and wispy yet authoritative proclamations yielding a dreamily apocalyptic aether. Of course, it veers away from this template via more shimmering dissonance, and its subtle return home is exceptional. Overall, it’s a tremendous accomplishment that stays in your head long after it’s done.

In maintaining many of their idiosyncrasies while also delving deeper into a focused narrative and more approachable structures, Kayo Dot has undoubtedly created a new benchmark. Blasphemy radiates memorably multifaceted vocals, elegiac yet devastating lyricism, and sublimely catastrophic instrumentation, all the while permeating with trademark stylistic hodgepodges. It’s an enveloping philosophical experience just as much as it is an entertaining diversion, and anyone looking to get lost in such a world should seek it out ASAP.

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