There are some bands who like to spout off in the press constantly for attention and others who are less quote happy; West Virginia’s hard hitting instrumental Desert Rock stalwarts Karma To Burn are content to quite literally let their music do the talking for them.
Having recruited a singer to get their first record contract and subsequently lost it following his dismissal the band have spent the remainder of their existence proving to everyone that they are quite content focusing on the interplay they conjure between guitar, bass and drums. Sure, they might have recruited John Garcia to collaborate with them and for a time looked like they might merge and integrate with Year Long Disaster as Daniel Davies provided vocals on several great tracks, but ultimately it seems like the core of William Mecum (Guitar), Rob Halkett (Bass) and Evan Devine (Drums) prefer to tread their own path.
It is a move that does make their appeal more selective as a lot of people need or want a singer to latch on to and when you imagine an instrumental band, the vision is one of long meandering movements of musical jams. Karma To Burn however deal in shorter, punchier pieces of music that paint pictures without words, give the listener hooks without choruses and on latest release, Arch Stanton they look to hammer that message home once more.
Comprising of eight entirely instrumental tracks, their sixth album proper is a real treat for fans of the band. All inaccessibly numbered as is now de rigour, they deliver rollicking, high tempo rock ‘n’ roll that is carefully crafted around the dynamics and seemingly psychic bond between the three musicians; they have become so accustomed to each other that each sonic punch rolls out of the speaker like it is the most natural, instinctive thing in the world.
Without the distraction of the vocals to focus on, each song tells a story of its own. 57 (the album opener) is built around clever drum patterns and shifting blues rock. 56 is a more brooding track that lets the changing guitar tones articulate the emotion of the track as the highs and lows of the lead work are expressive in their own right. This pairing is expansive and varied, urgent and laid back and the big repeating refrains give the music that chorus voice a lack of vocalist belies.
54, for example is as great an example of 70’s flavoured boogie rock; underpinned by a whole Sabbath inspired chugging riff and accented notes, this is a bruising delivery that will see even the most baked aficionados of the band get in the pit and that is the skill that Karma To Burn have in spades.
The album flies along without ever letting the foot stray too far from the pedal. 55 may be comparatively downbeat and moody in comparison to the tracks around it (the driving 53 and the more meandering, yet Down like 23 respectively) but there is a palpable focus that comes through the material.
58 is a slice of classic rock and the album closes out with the only human voice in a track laced with samples from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly on 59 that is clearly a nod to or from the title of the record itself. The final track is a furious deep bass rumble that includes the sort of psychedelics that Monster Magnet do so well along with a huge breakout as the band race to the finish line.
Bottom line is that Arch Stanton probably won’t win Karma To Burn many new fans. The chances are that if you dig the appeal of a purely instrumental, 70’s influenced, Desert Rock band then you’ll already be on board. If you prefer your music with vocals then they will only be of passing interest and the best thing they will have ever done is their 1997 Roadrunner Records released debut.
However, that does Karma To Burn a huge disservice as this is one of their strongest collections in recent years and proves that the guys are hardened road warriors who (surprisingly) frequently stop off to capture some of that magic in the studio and when they are on their groove they can match anybody, singer or otherwise.
This is a set of songs that genuinely has a voice of it’s own, is incredibly well crafted and executed and hugely listenable… it could almost be the location of some hidden gold for those willing to try it.
Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden