On October 14th, Kayo Dot released their seventh full-length album, Coffins On Io, on Flenser Records. At this point in their career, the group has become an institution in avant-garde metal circles. Masterminded by the prolific Toby Driver (vocals, bass, synth, electronic percussion and guitars), the lineup also currently consists of Ron Varod (guitars), Daniel Means (saxophone,synths and electronic percussion), and Keith Abrams (drums,electronic percussion), with some additional contributions on Fender Rhodes and organ from Tim Byrnes on two tracks.
Coffins On Io is billed as a radical stylistic departure for Kayo Dot, but their style has always been hard to pin down. Certainly, postpunk and New Wave impose a heavy stylistic influence on the album’s sound, yet they maintain the same sense of dislocation and otherness that’s always seemed a hallmark of the group. Driver’s vocals do take on a much more dominant role, hinting at a more traditional song structure approach, but no riff or hook is as simple as it might initially appear.
Album opener “The Mortality of Doves” creates a nice template for the rest of the songs to work from. The Goth/New Wave/postpunk elements are present in spades, but stretched out over an 11-plus minute length with a long instrumental section in the middle. One may immediately take note of the vocals, which are much more prominent than in the past. Track two, “Offramp Cycle, Pattern 22,” picks up the pace a bit and also finds itself engaged in a long instrumental second half, this time bringing to mind early Kraftwerk.
“Longtime Disturbance On the Miracle Mile” might be the most traditional song on the release. Yet the complex vocal melody and accompanying harmonies sound transcribed from the serpentine instrumental lines of previous albums, continuing to provide continuity in Kayo Dot‘s identity. “Library Subterranean” fully embraces the move towards the group’s previous avant-garde tendencies. Once again, the postpunk sounds soon give way to a screwed and chopped motorik beat, the drums rolling over bars, sometimes mulching the time signature in their wake. Before it’s all over, an Eighties-style saxophone begins to solo over the top, tying the whole thing together.
The descent continues with “The Assassination of Adam.” The song starts with a post-punk riff stretched over so many bars it could hardly be considered conventional. The whole song quickly falls apart in a chasm of noise and echo and saxophone. Things then take a turn toward the psychedelic, almost invoking later Pink Floyd.
Coffins On Io has a flow and a narrative arc. The album begins with its most accessible material and moves gradually toward more avant-garde compositions. But at the same time, the early songs sound the least like Kayo Dot; the band’s signature sound returns more prominently later on. The album comes full circle with the final track, “Spirit Photography.” The spiritual successor to “The Mortality of Doves,” the song is gothic and serene and—like others on the album—features a long instrumental section, allowing the mood to once again assert itself.
A band runs a risk when claiming to radically change their direction. Kayo Dot fans expect a certain complexity from the band, and adapting new influences could hamper those expectations. But they successfully walk the tightrope. They choose to apply their sound to the style instead of changing their style to fit a preexisting template. The only question is to see where they choose to go next.