By now the news has probably filtered through of the dreadful events of last week when it was confirmed that Will Mecum, founding guitarist of West Virginia stoner instrumentalists Karma To Burn, had sadly passed away following a tragic accident. At the time Shaman Lee asked me if I would pen a few words in tribute as someone who had covered K2B a lot over my time writing for The Shaman.
Immediately I said yes such is my passion for the band, but it was also with an air of trepidation and a week later I have ripped up three drafts already and decided to just speak from the heart.
I’m not going to give a potted history of the band as at this point I’m probably preaching more to the converted rather than trying to bring new members to the fold; there’s the whole internet at your finger tips to discover the enduring spirit, often against the odds such is the nature of their existence and the dogged refusal to play the game in any way but theirs.
my personal view of Karma To Burn has been shaped entirely from a far, shrouded in mystery, like the frustrating and yet intriguingly numerically titled songs…
Whilst I’m a huge fan of the band, I have never met Will and I have no personal relationship with Karma To Burn. My most meaningful stories surrounding the band involve repeated failed attempts to see them at Exeter Cavern Club during university as myself and my friend ‘Gothic’ John travelled the journey of 8 miles several times to be met with postponed or cancelled gigs as a series of mishaps (both external and self-inflicted), which meant that K2B never quite seemed to get the momentum they deserved. Or the second stage appearance at Download where journalist Andy Van Campenhout stood on a beehive and sent the front of the stage scattering, and lastly actually seeing them in Plymouth in 2014 with a fledgling British band called Desert Storm supporting, who seemed tipped for ones to watch.
When they finally did get to play Exeter Cavern club a few years back, typically I was unable to make it due to becoming a father and dutiful sent my friend along to get me the K2B shirt I still proudly rock today. So my personal view of Karma To Burn has been shaped entirely from a far, shrouded in mystery, like the frustrating and yet intriguingly numerically titled songs that have come to mean so much to so many.
I first heard their Self-Titled Roadrunner debut in the late nineties and was blown away by the huge groovy riffs the band commanded and most fans of them throughout their existence will admit the vocals on that album, whilst sparse and functional, do grab the attention.
By the time I became a big fan, they’d embraced their original vision of being an instrumental act and released the incredible Wild, Wonderful… Purgatory album which set out the blueprint for all future releases and rendered all song names irrelevant with twelve tracks named solely by the numerical order in which they were written.
the music they were creating was good enough to stand alone without hiding behind a chorus…
As someone who had previously obsessed about song titles, lyrics and meaning to songs, getting used to K2B wilfully disregarding this was an education in listening to just the music. Shorn of any narrative direction, and repetitive song refrains, Mecum and company asked you to listen to the riffs and the interplay between the band. For me it was a new approach and the beginnings of a new found respect in the way that a band could use dynamics to create compelling, stirring compositions.
Musically K2B had nowhere to hide. In order to suck people in and keep their attention they had to be seriously confident that the music they were creating was good enough to stand alone without hiding behind a chorus, clear lyrical twist or dramatic vocal performance.
As such listening to a Karma To Burn album is a masterclass in delivering riffs, grooves and hooks in a way that is challenging. Listen to any one of their albums, from the first to the last, Mountain Czar, and you’ll hear Mecum turn out more amazing guitar sequences in one song than some bands manage on a whole album.
The tracks all interplay with each other, building on refrains that tell their own wordless story, loop back on each other and are insanely catchy in an unconventional way that ask you to sit back and open your mind, disregard the stayed notion that music has to follow the same pop formula that needs to go Verse – Chorus – Verse to write a ‘proper’ song. I feel like I can’t do the legacy of this band justice at times, but listen to Arch Stanton, an album I reviewed for this site to hear the band at the height of their craft, or listen to Live In London And Chasing The Dragon to understand how they could connect to their audience using no words.
Pick any track from Karma To Burn and you’ll find a tune with a unique groove, a story and a purpose…
It could be argued that by choosing the path they did, firing singer Jay Jarosz, choosing to remain an instrumental band and getting fired from Roadrunner after the release of their first record, that Karma To Burn sabotaged their own career and sure, if you measure record sales as the only metric for success then they absolutely did. However the music they made, that they forced themselves to make as a result, is beyond special.
If you listen to Suicide & Redemption by Metallica from their Death Magnetic album, you’ll hear a ten minute instrumental that is a jumble of riffs that seems thrown together and goes almost nowhere in my opinion. Pick any track from Karma To Burn and you’ll find a tune with a unique groove, a story and a purpose which meant that when they chose to add the likes of John Garcia or Year Long Disaster’s Daniel Davies on vocals, it was like a surprise filling enhancing your favourite treat.
Will was the only original member of the band when he passed and leaves behind an incredible catalogue of music, with Karma To Burn, Treasure Cat and his collaborations with British Instrumental stalwarts Sons of Alpha Centauri. To me, the music world is a sadder place for his loss.
Karma To Burn should have been a bigger band, who always seemed to nearly touch ‘the next level’ but through bad luck, personal issues or their own stubbornness they were denied, but that is what made them so unique. They were the underdog and as a huge fan of ProWrestling, you root for the plucky underdog because they’re overlooked, held down and deserve more. In addition to this, the passion and influence Will has had on people through being the guy he was is apparent.
Will’s guitar has spoken through many tracks to me in ways that I, and others, will be forever grateful for…
Karma To Burn opened my ears to listening to musical differently, and Will’s guitar has spoken through many tracks to me in ways that I, and others, will be forever grateful for. If that is his legacy it is not one that should be taken lightly.
They may not have made ‘the big time’, but I remember speaking to original Will Haven bassist Mike Martin during his second stint in the band and he said he wasn’t that bothered about being big because they had become a ‘cult band’ and that to him was the coolest thing in the world.
To me Karma To Burn embodied that spirit and for that I am extremely grateful for their existence.
Rest in Power Will and thank you for the music that means so much.
Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden