Cape Town, South Africa: We live in cycles. We perceive the world as chaos and splendour, and perhaps out of fear of the unknown or a longing to conquer it, we build structures. They are solid and unyielding, they keep us secure. A mentor once told me, however, that once one seeks to possess too much security, one soon finds oneself in Maximum Security. The bold among us, those that yearn to run and leap and perhaps risk falling will naturally begin to break down these constructs. We find greater nourishment in the unstructured, the imperfect. Asymmetry.
If there was ever a band that one could not file under a suffocating genre label, it would be Karnivool, and yet their eclectic mix of sublime melodic phrasing, twisting sound-scapes, and remorseless heavy onslaughts is unmistakable. Following two well received visits from their fellow countrymen, Dead Letter Circus (see previous article), Karnivool‘s time has now come to deliver us some excellent Australian Prog. After spending a number of years decoding the mysteries of their back catalogue I was ecstatic to hook up an interview with Mark Hosking, the band’s blonde-bearded riffslinger, and get the lowdown on their upcoming South African tour and the promise of a new album in the near future.
“It’s been one of our dreams for a long time. You make these dream lists of places you want to tour. I did make a note to give Kim [Benzie of Dead Letter Circus] a call. They had raving reviews about the place. We jumped at the opportunity and it’s been a long time coming.” ~ Mark Hosking (rhythm guitarist & backing vocalist, Karnivool)
In the last few years we’ve seen the rise of several new events platforms. Organizers have galvanized to cultivate the interaction between the players and audience and enhance the lush ecosystem that is ‘South African Rock and Metal’. More so than ever before we’re buoyed on a current of ferocious enthusiasm, something Mark could relate to as his voice hurtled across the Indian Ocean at a slight delay:
“I don’t know if it’s a minority thing. There’s definitely similarities in social understanding and the way that relates to music. The thing that I love about Perth – the city we come from – is the fact that we are still isolated and that makes our musical community more protective of its own, more supportive. I can only presume that South African music communities feel the same. Within that minority thinking there’s an element of kinship that also cuts across into the music. You find this belonging and ownership of music, which is awesome.” ~ Mark Hosking
Locally we suffer no shortage of fine musicians. After a long period of pushing the limits of virtuosity it appears the devoted among us have grown a new hunger for something more than machine-gun percussion and scorching-fast guitar leads. There’s a growing trend of infusing the experience with ebb and flow, brief moments of introspection that allow the concert-goer to situate themselves within the sound and relate on a complex emotional level. From the eerie corridors of the song ‘Synops’, through the vast and undulating 12-minutes of ‘Deadman’ and beyond the tempestuous ‘Nachash’ we cover a startling expanse of the emotional spectrum. Karnivool guarantee the shelf-life of their music by making it confronting and bewitching all at once, and we get to enjoy many successive listens as increasing waves of revelation wash over us. When presented with such contrasting levels of light and shade there are many of us with a greater appetite for the latter.
“The two direct interpretations of ‘heavy’ I take are: Is it ‘Meshuggah heavy’? And two, is it ’emotionally heavy’ or a heavy song from that aspect? We have such eclectic albums. We tend to jump around the heavy bracket of music, it’s that constant that draws you back to the song when you hear it, there’s something going on there that’s really powerful. I can get a lot of heavy out of a song like ‘Aeons’, especially when we play it live, and yet it’s not really a heavy song by any means. It feels like we come home when we get back to the heavy.” ~ Mark Hosking
After leaving a distinct mark with their groove-heavy début album Themata, we watched the band unfurl it’s organic sonic diversity with Sound Awake and most recently, we were presented with the audacious mixture of turmoil and transcendence that is Asymmetry. After teasing the world by releasing ‘The Refusal’ free online, it became clear that the album was a stark departure into the unexplored reaches of Karnivool‘s acumen. The haunting music video for ‘We Are’ with its elusive cadence and solemn musings further cemented the idea that this band refuses to let their strength be sapped by expectation and convention.
“We write fairly selfishly and we’re not very forgiving in that aspect. We write for ourselves. It’s always been ‘how far can we push this? How far can we takes this without it snapping?’ From that perspective we’re lucky to be in a bracket called ‘progressive music’. The positive aspect of progressive music is that ability to be free and to have release characteristics built into it. Sometimes you’ve got to get off the page to realize that. Our fan-base is so supportive of that, in many ways it gives us the freedom on future projects to be more experimental. It’s such an exciting style of music for us, even after all these years!” ~ Mark Hosking
Exciting indeed, as avid fans can feel the anticipation swell inside at the mention of a fourth studio album, carried by the uncertainty of where Karnivool will venture next. Mark conceded a brief comment about the recording process underway.
“We know when a song sounds like a Karnivool song. Heavy music creates a sort of spine and then the thing that pulls us apart are our eclectic tastes. We do try to be a bit experimental and sometimes you feel like you’re straying too far from the spine, so to speak. The funny thing is, whenever we finish an album and start going into a new writing process the very first line of our blueprint is, ‘Let’s not do the same thing again.’ What we’ve got in the box so far, and it’s just starting to hit that critical mass point, is some real reflection on older stuff. You can really hear some Themata and Sound Awake in there. Whereas I think Asymmetry was a tangent for us, we’ve come full circle on this one. Critical mass. We’re certainly not frightened to throw away a song that we spent two years on or strip a song right back and start again. It’s pretty common for us. I guess you could say, ‘Some more of the same with a new twist’.” ~ Mark Hosking
The creative demands are high on a group that seeks to constantly challenge and outwit themselves and their international audience. How does one interface with pure inspiration? How does one channel the divine and not impede it or allow it to decay with time? It seems finding a comfortable space is the last thing on the minds of the band members.
“The subconscious is the key. If you’re playing something that you’ve played a long time, you find yourself doing patterns that are common. If you change just one of those strings or drop it down a tone and a half, you get into a place that starts to feel uncomfortable and then you’re forced to re-learn. We’ve found that technique really exciting for song-writing because it helps that philosophy of trying different things. Anything that can allow the final outcome to be modified by the medium is really important to us.” ~ Mark Hosking
Having toured locally and internationally, conquering destinations like the popular Big Day Out and the hallowed stage of Download Festival, Karnivool have had the opportunity to craft a massive, world-class performance that loses none of the lustre of their ethereal studio recordings. With their sights now set on our local Mercury Live (Cape Town) and Bassline (Johannesburg) venues, enthusiasts hoping to get up against the railing can expect a cozy environment where they can get intimate with the band and plug into the raw energy.
“There’s a lot of things to enjoy about smaller venues. Mainly, it’s the emotion that they can grasp that you lose when you get to the big venues. On top of that it’s the sound quality. You know you have to perform better in small venues. You have to put on a better show, play tighter. Just seeing the whites of people’s eyes and feeling that direct emotion that you portray bounced back at you so quickly is amazing. It creates that feeding cycle. You get people singing along and taking over to the point where you almost start to play quieter to hear what they’re doing. You almost feel like you should have paid the money for the ticket, not them. It becomes a real spectacle from our perspective.” ~ Mark Hosking
For the open-minded stargazers among us, this upcoming performance will serve as an essential experience not to be missed. With little doubt we will be given the chance to witness a diverse cross-section of their popular offerings, as well as the possible blessing of yet-to-be-released songs. If you refuse to let yourself be confined to paths already trodden, if you wish to lose yourself in a winding labyrinth of fury and wonder that is Karnivool, be sure to secure your ticket early.
Hosted by Turning Tricks Entertainment, the South African tour dates are as follows:
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