Karma to Burn


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In many ways, Karma to Burn is like a psycho ex-girlfriend: you know she's no good for you, but you still love her anyway. Looking back on the West Virginians' convoluted career, it truly could be analyzed in the guise of a terminally doomed relationship: first we see a "couple" trying to make its eponymous debut album work (they compromised when Roadrunner Records forced a vocalist upon them) despite fighting like cats and dogs throughout; then briefly struck upon a misleadingly stable groove for their desired, all-instrumental sophomore album, 1999's Wild Wonderful Purgatory; only to crash and burn dramatically when their next "offspring," 2001's Almost Heathen, just couldn't save the relationship as they'd hoped it would. The breakup tax, when it finally came due, was crippling to all involved. Bandmembers barely managed to get on with their careers in the ensuing years, and the temptation to indulge in combustible make-up sex via 2010's hit-and-miss Appalachian Incantation ultimately proved impossible to resist, which brings our narrative up to date on 2011's self-explanatory V, which inevitably feels like the morning after's regret-filled, self-loathing walk of shame. All metaphors aside, longtime observers will know the drill by now: Karma to Burn specialize in (mostly) instrumental heavy rock streaked with elements of metal, psychedelia, stoner rock, and just plain evil-sounding undertones. Rather than name their songs, the group numbers them in the order in which they were jammed into shape, except on the rare occasions when guest vocalists are invited into the core trio's typically exclusionary inner sanctum. Problem is, Karma to Burn have seemingly tapped all the surprises from their chosen template. Sure, there are enough creepy vibes and redneck head-banging to go round on new offerings like "Forty-Seven," the foreboding "Fifty," and the bass-driven "Forty-Eight"; but then the more forgettable "Forty-Eight" sounds like a hillbilly soundtrack, and "Fifty-One" like a drunken, Les Paul-guided square dance. There are also three tracks augmented by vocals courtesy of Year Long Disaster frontman Daniel Davies, but even though both band originals -- "The Cynics" and the hectic "Jimmy D." -- have a few good moments -- they simply don't sound like Karma to Burn. This means that V contains, ironically enough, only five bona fide numbered instrumentals in the band's vaunted tradition, thereby demoting it from album to glorified EP in the eyes of many purists, which, come to think it, may comprise Karma to Burn's entire audience. So to revert to the relationship allusions above, don't be surprised if V winds up feeling like a one-night stand: both thrilling and underwhelming at the same time.

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