Originally written by Jordan Campbell
It’s been nearly nine years since the release of Karma to Burn‘s don’t-call-it-a-swansong Almost Heathen, a ten-ton stoner rock monument to the unadulterated glory of the riff. Since that album–and their subsequent breakup–Karma to Burn‘s status as instrumental icons has become almost mythic. Thus, news of Appalachian Incantation‘s arrival was met with rabid enthusiasm, which we all know can lead to dangerous expectations.
When a band returns from an extended layoff, the chatter gets out of control, and flippant comments such as, “Well, after seven years between albums, this new one better be good,” get taken to heart, as if these bands (Immortal, anyone?) have spent the better part of a decade honing their skills and stockpiling riffs. Truth is, bands usually take these vacations due to a combination of burnout and stress, so expecting any band–especially Karma to Burn–to come crashing back through the gates with the Album to End All Motherfucking Albums is downright foolish. So cut the returning KTB some slack, ’cause Appalachian Incantation doesn’t hit the spot as sweetly as nostalgic pangs desire.
Gotta give the crew some credit, though…they’ve picked up right where they left off. Opener “44” is a gnarly cruiser, reminding us all that KTB have always been more about top-down HST hellrides than fast-food wrappers and bong hits. Producer Scott Reeder takes care not to blow too much smoke in the band’s engine, ensuring that Rich Mullins’ bass is as audible and sextastic as William Mecum’s six-string work. (Don’t underestimate this distinction. For an instrumental three-piece, finding a balance of dueling tones is crucial. Both crush appropriately.) “44” is one of the album’s more inspired tracks; follow-up “42” is a bit more leisurely, cruising at just a tick under the speed limit. Third track “41” is burly as hell, practically forcing your hand to crank the volume to maximum…
…okay, as you can see, a track-by-track breakdown of a Karma to Burn album isn’t going to be the most coherent thing ever published. All of their “song titles” have been reduced to numbers, and their “songs” are little more than explorations of cool riffs and grooves. And once the rush of nostalgia wears off, it’s apparent that Appalachian Incantation burns through its best riffage early on. “46” and “24” fail to fully engage–the latter track, in particular, is built around an embarrassingly simple blues stomp that lacks significant swagger. The album’s centerpiece, “Waiting on the Western World,” is a terribly standard rock track, featuring vocals from a dude that tries his damnedest to sound like John Garcia. (The swinging, satisfying bonus track, “Two Times,” features the real John Garcia, and blows “Waiting” out of the water.)
That makes Appalachian Incantation is a bit of a mixed bag. One hand, it’s great to have KTB back in the game, banging out signature boilers like “45” like they never left. At the same time, it’s far from the world-beating stoner juggernaut that many expected. The moral of this story? Sometimes it’s best to throw caution to the wind and let the power of these riffs take hold. Not all of ’em are winners, but they’ll all satisfy at top volume and high temperatures. Karma to Burn‘s music isn’t built for academic dissection. It’s an exercise in freedom. Let it roll.