There’s an ascent and breadth to Perth’s Karnivool that makes rock feel substantive and significant, yet roughed up enough to avoid being pompous. These Australians are just the sort of heavy hitters that fans of Opeth, Dream Theater and other smart, melodic metal should dig, though given a youthful, cocky edge, embodied by their nerd chic lead singer Ian Kenny, who has the fire blast pipes of Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson or Marillion’s Steve Hogarth with some emo spice. The whole thing spins and maneuvers on thick rhythms and spiky, mercurial guitars, bubbling over with volcanic life and beckoning one to surf the hissing flow.
Sound Awake (released in 2009 in Australia and this past February in the U.S.) is only their second album and it exhibits a healthy growth spurt from their 2005 debut Themata. Every track is sharply drawn with little fat on anything. It emerges from a blur of static, gut twisting bass and a falsetto singing about being high above the world and then progresses with tangible gravity. And balls. It surely has those, too. But the xylophone breaks and other colorful inserts in the active, interesting production immediately prick up one’s ears, and their lyrics aren’t the usual Devil baiting or overwrought angst one often encounters at this end of the spectrum. Karnivool is simply modern hard rock of the most promising kind.
Guitarist Drew Goddard gave us a few minutes of his time.
- Why do you think you’re a musician?
- I just sort of rolled into it. I think I do it because I need to do it. Music’s not just in my blood, I think it is my blood. I just do it out of necessity. I’d go crazy if I didn’t.
- It’s gotta be almost a compunction, an itch you never really scratch.
- Definitely. It makes me feel alive, basically. I think music is the coolest thing in the world, so that’s why I play it.
- You guys have been lumped into the world of metal, but there’s more to Karnivool than that. I’ve seen comparisons to Tool and I think you sound a bit like Porcupine Tree at times.
- We get lumped in with those guys a lot. We actually just played a show with [Porcupine Tree] in San Francisco recently. They were really cool guys and their crowd was cool, too. We walked onstage – as with a lot of bands – and their fans are quite protective and initially we got a look like, “Who are these shady characters?” but they warmed to us.
- When you describe your music what do you say it is?
- Rock ‘n’ roll is a tree with many branches on it. So, I guess we are rock ‘n’ roll, but when it comes to labeling our band I leave that up to other people. I don’t really see it as my role. The progressive [label] is the one that’s been thrown at us more than any other, especially since Sound Awake came out and it’s cemented that label a bit more. And I’m cool with progressive. We just played Portland and San Francisco and they’re called progressive, and it’s a cool word.
- There are great implications to it, though I think it doesn’t quite cover the spread with Karnivool. You have a bit more boogie than that description.
- There’s a groove factor to Karnivool, and we definitely like to have fun. There’s a really dark element, too, and that yin-yang element, that sort of balance, is what we strive for.
- And I think you’re combining elements in a way that’s not exactly like any of the reference points cited for you guys. Set Fire To The Hive is an original song that’s unlike Tool, Porcupine Tree, etc. But, the longer rock goes on, the harder it is for bands to make their own statement.
- It’s hard to do but I think the key element is variety in what you listen to. We’re just music lovers in this band. We’ll listen to anything and everything as long as it’s good and it’s got soul.
- So, what’s usually going through your head right before you go onstage?
- Usually, “Where’s my drink?” or “Do I have I have time for a cigarette?” The stage is a good buzz I look forward to every night. It’s a buzz I can’t get anywhere else.