support A Word Like Attack
author AP date 14/03/10 venue Joiners, Southampton, UK

Day two of my all-weekender at the Joiners, featuring the enigmatic Karnivool from Down Under. Despite arriving at the venue an hour after doors due to some creative shortcuts, the evening's lone supporting act, Southampton-based A Word Like Attack had yet to begin their blustering show, which was nonetheless something that I had been quite interested to check out, what with stamping themselves with such intriguing labels as experimental and progressive. Whoever booked these boys to support Karnivool, however, should be shot. I have heard some interesting vocalists in my time, but this guy steals the prize. Jesus Christ...

A Word Like Attack

When A Word Like Attack begin, I am convinced that their singer is trying to come across as a drunken sailor type character, as his erratic wailing bears a certain resemblance to Mastodon's vocal antics in some of their songs. Unfortunately as one song follows another, it becomes clear that Dave just flat out cannot sing. Obviously neither he nor his bandmates (who incidentally couldn't sing to save their lives either) know it because somehow his grating bawl has earned membership in a prog-rock band. While funny at first, the vocals soon reach a point where they are absolutely offensive, and I find myself staring in disbelief as Dave grasps at straws oblivious to his own shortcomings, attempting to hit notes far beyond his range and inject some soul into his lyrics. Well, at least the singing looks passionate, and were it somehow possible to turn off the vocals, the band's music would sound nice and complicated, their energetic presence earning at least a few votes from me. I just cannot get past the fact that this band deserves more, and would surely be rewarded appropriately if they replaced Dave and brought in someone with talent to handle vocal duties.



Karnivool are a different matter altogether. Admittedly my familiarity with the band is restricted to knowing of them, so do not expect song references in the words that follow, but know this: it does not take a fan to recognise that Ian Kenny is everything Dave is not. Even though he is visibly tripping balls, his vocals are nothing short of unbelievable, like a mash-up between Maynard James Keenan and Clint Boge - and then some. His ethereal voice enfolds the room into a dream-like setting, the lyrics telling tales that come from a mind enlargened by illicit substances, and I'm thinking, this sounds like a less recluse, more brazen Tool. In fact, if watching Burn the Fleet live is what it must have been like to watch Thrice in their early years, then watching Karnivool is what it must have been like to watch Tool perform in microscopic venues in the early 90's. Ian knows this, wearing a smug, self-satisfied smirk under his oversize geek goggles as he sways from side to side immersed in his own little universe. He is not as buried in detached artistry as Keenan, but he does breathe an air of mystique that makes Karnivool's show a sensual experience rather than just a gig.

Clocking in at almost one and a half hours, this must be the longest set I've ever stood through in this venue, but with a constantly changing, organic sound like Karnivool's, the minutes pass by without commotion. Sometimes plucking at an eight-string electric banjo, sometimes thudding on a xylophone, the guitarists ensure that things stay interesting with a chord-less approach to wielding their axes, preferring abstract melodies and effect-laden ambience instead. Things do get heavy though during Tool-esque crescendos, but this band's finest asset is their impeccable sense of style. The songs are mind-blowingly beautiful, and I have no idea why they've never crossed my speakers in the past. The only negative thing to say about Karnivool's show is that the songs are divided by excessive tuning breaks when the songs demand continuance, but such a cosmetic flaw is not enough to actually grind my gears. Still one of the best shows I've seen this year.


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