The mountains of West Virginia are the birth place of true Appalachian beauty. West Virginian band Karma To Burn come hailing down the mountain to bring about the contrasting nature of blaring guitar riffs, decibel marking percussion, and rough bass lines that only increase any expectations about the wild and wonderful, West Virginia. Not only is Karma To Burn a low flying plane on the radar of most major labels, often times phoning in and pretending to be another artist claiming that “Karma To Burn” was a hot new act. These phone calls eventually led to Roadrunner Records picking up the band in 1997, the only problem was Karma To Burn was lacking one key aspect, a vocalist.
While Karma To Burn strictly wanted to do an entirely instrumental album, Roadrunner persisted and the band did a short run with John Garcia, but eventually found Jason “J. J.” Jarosz who was willing to work with the band. Karma To Burn eventually dropped J. J. from the band, resulting in them losing the contract with Roadrunner Records but the band persisted on. Karma To Burn finished their first studio debut album, a self-titled release that would destroy not the charts, but the ground around the band. Eventually, leading to more instrumental releases and a large focus on making the best sound that could ever be produced from a single band.
Karma To Burn is a large step in the right direction for Karma To Burn, the self-titled release was a major benefactor in the way that every instrumentalist played a substantial role in creating the sound of the band. From the outstanding guitar work from William Mecum, the incredibly grasping drum work from Nathan Limbaugh, or even the powerful bass produced by Rich “Dickie” Mullins, Karma To Burn from the jump was a dynamite filled locomotive of talent that showed not a single sign of slowing down.
Opening with rough cuts of a guitar being played through what sounds like a strained filter, Karma To Burn launches the mood off in a smashing way with “Ma Petite Mort.” When translated from French, “My Little Death” turns out to be a pounding rock anthem with a substantial focus on the music while the vocalization takes a backseat to the recording. It is evidently clear that Karma To Burn manipulated the rules of Roadrunner as much as they possibly could, trying to weave their own style on the pressing matters displayed from the forced vocalist. While the vocals produced from Jarosz are deeply pushing and have an incredible amount of distinction to them, the true power comes from the constantly assaulting instruments that take sudden turns, leaving the listener begging for more.
Almost as suddenly as “Ma Petite Mort” slides into frame, Karma To Burn quickly segues into “Bobbi, Bobbi, Bobbi – I’m Not God” which, features Octavia Lambertis with backing vocals that add a sudden concept of beauty to the overtly dirty style of rock that Karma To Burn produces. One way that Karma To Burn keeps the flow continuously moving however, is the way they use every instrument as a progressive device into the different tracks. No single track stands alone without a segue going in or out, the floodgates are entirely open and benefits from this style of playing.
The tracks featured on Karma To Burn do not feel overly drawn out or immensely long. The whole record is just under the 50-minute mark, but feels only like a 10-minute EP. Not only is Karma To Burn incredibly well-produced, but it is also incredibly fun to listen to and brings about another depth level of excitement when the first riffs are heard on tracks like “Eight,” “Mt. Penetrator,” and even the opener, “Ma Petite Mort.” The track “Eight” starts with a harsh build and then launches with full force into an adrenaline rush of ripping guitar and percussion that works in harmony to create longer jam sessions where the bass can follow and work in the background to keep everything moving together.
This is also where the track “Mt. Penetrator” can become a shining beacon on Karma To Burn, focusing more on delivering crushing instrumentation, while also substantially preforming on the vocal aspects as well. Even as the only non-instrumental record, Karma To Burn makes the vocals work amazingly and even as the groundwork of a mainly instrumentally driven band is here, Jarosz still performs in stellar fashion.
Focusing on the wide range of how Karma To Burn can be a varied style, the tracks are primarily fast and destructive. There are however, several tracks that still keep the destructive nature but instead slow the action and produce more of a drained, emotionally driven style. This is apparent on tracks like “(Waltz Of The) Playboy Pallbearers” and “Twenty-Four Hours” where there is a sluggish approach, but the builds and the climaxes of the tracks’ balance out any slowed style. “(Waltz Of The) Playboy Pallbearers” is actually one of the more aggressive tracks featured on Karma To Burn, featuring an astounding amount of energy being built into the breakdowns of the percussion and of the shocking nature of the instruments that sound so barbaric and almost war-like.
The track that follows, “Twin Sisters And Half A Bottle Of Bourbon” keeps the energy moving but channels it into the guitars rather than the percussion. The percussion and bass still keep a strong influence on the sound, but the guitar is the true star of the show as it continues to fluctuate quite frequently and begs for an ever-increasing build up that leads into a final rephrase of cymbal crashes and vocal chants before letting the guitar drown out all available noise into a deafening silence. A truly menacing way to end the loud, utterly abrasive, but beautiful journey of the Appalachian trail-blazers.