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Choirs of the Eye

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(19 Reviews)

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  • “Marathon” opens with a splatter of cymbals and oddly-tuned guitar being forcefully strummed. Then melancholy French horn wisps over strange tape effects, until heavily distorted electric guitars crash through this brief tranquility with gurgling, incomprehensible vocals and screaming, underlain with bright, pulsing Ligeti-like tone clusters. A long instrumental stretch follows, with Rhodes and echoic guitar spreading like shimmering liquid crystal flowing out of a decanter, colored with quiet jazzy drumming distantly heard in the background. Some quietly spoken vocals appear like a ghost lost amidst the lush tapestry of sound, accompanied by humming electronics. It is a tremendously beautiful series of sound evolutions and, at the 10-minute mark when it ends, you can’t help but feel that you’re being taken somewhere that is musically very different from that which has come before.This is pretty, well, DIFFERENT, even when you consider Kayo Dot’s previous incarnation, maudlin of the Well, was a pretty “out there” band. On the one hand is feels like a natural extension of motW’s progressions, but this is thoroughly more compositional and elaborate. But perhaps we could do with some more explanation. Maudlin of the Well was a startlingly original band that released three albums on the Dark Symphonies label, and even after all this time, I struggle to describe their music. It was rooted in metal, but with an ear for arrangement and complexity that transcended above the rest. Various influences from psychedelic rock, jazz, and classical music could be deciphered but the musical qualities were so well integrated that you wouldn’t call it a “mix” of anything. It was simply maudlin of the Well (Toby Driver adopted the term “astral metal” to describe the band), mostly beyond reference to other groups and styles just because any comparison would be unfair and inaccurate.Now, to Kayo Dot. motW came to feel that their future course in music was no longer suited to Dark Symphonies, and they wound up changing their name and signing to John Zorn’s label, Tzadik (!). Compared to motW, the _Choirs of the Eye_ is different and similar at once. Like motW, it is epic, eclectic, carefully composed and completely unlike anything else. Unlike motW, it is not song-based (except “A Pitcher of Summer”), and it is denser, more complex, and abstract. Kayo Dot is basically a locus between the world of modern composition and rock & metal, although metal itself is a dubious title. The music is not riff-based and lacks much visceral drive. So, I guess, this cannot be described as anything but Kayo Dot. They have created their own little world in the grand scheme of music. There is one important thing to keep in mind: Tzadik’s catalogue is incredibly diverse and one should not take the association with John Zorn to mean anything in particular, other than the fact that this band’s creative freedom is completely unfurled. I think I would quickly go over Amazon’s word limit if I were to describe each piece. Only “A Pitcher of Summer” is under six minutes, while each of the other tracks range from 10 to 15 minutes. Each one is a sprawling epic, full of changes and meticulous compositional attention — the realization of Toby Driver’s musical vision is so successful it saddens me that this is will only appeal to a niche audience (motW fans and… um…). And the diversity is nothing short of remarkable: “A Pitcher of Summer” is a delicate ballad with Toby Driver’s voice sounding curiously like Jeff Buckley, at least until his scream at the end with the blaring horns and booming din of distorted guitars — “The Antique” has a section of roaring doom metal onslaught, with growling vocals that sound a soul trapped in the frigid breath of winter, until the clamor breaks down, replaced by scintillating piano and gritty, sustained guitar wailing over it — there are romantic string and woodwind figures in “Wayfarer” and also a flesh-rending guitar solo — a ravishing clarinet solo soars over the other instruments on “The Manifold Curiosity”, a song that eventually reaches a stunningly powerful climax of metal fury that would leave most metal bands trembling (it’s not necessarily the most heavy music, but it’s incredibly *powerful*).Time and time again, listening to this album since its release back in October 2003 reveals new things — internally and externally — and I believe this is a very special masterpiece from a very special group of musicians. Very very highly recommended.

    Posted on December 25, 2009