With the heightened drama of a Bowie-esque space opera, the interstellar terrain of prog rock and the fault lines of metal, Blasphemy, the latest concept album from New York-based Kayo Dot, rejects escapism to instead confront reality on its own terms.
“Given the state of the world, I felt that we needed to make something that was very immediate and direct,” Kayo Dot leader and only consistent member Toby Driver tells me via email.
“Having spent so much time in my life making experimental music, but not too much straightforward music, the experimental nature of Blasphemy was in seeing if I could make what I would consider relatively straightforward rock music but in a way that was still interesting to me,” Driver says.
Active since 2003, Kayo Dot are a “crazy avantgarde-goth prog rock sort of metal synthy band,” as Driver describes it. Many musicians hope to amass a cult following just once. Driver’s done it twice.
“From 1996 to 2001 I had a band called Maudlin of the Well, which no one cared about at the time but seems to be kind of legendary now,” Driver says, calling this historical revisionism about his career “weird.”
Throughout Blasphemy, gauzy synthesizers and adrenaline-fueled guitars mix over tribal-inspired drumming. The song structures are loose and flowing — melodic, but without much trace of verse or chorus. Music inspired at points by bands like Neurosis, Current 93 and Carnage Visors, Driver says. There are also tones of Bauhaus, The Cure and Japan in the album’s quieter moments.
The net effect is more like the score of a heavy metal stage show than a rock album, a show in which Driver seems to play the role of astronaut. His voice at times is an operatic tenor, at others a sizzling bark.
But instead of an alien world, this astronaut has come from some other plane to explore our own, holding up the mundane to his own eyes as if for the very first time.
Driver doesn’t write his own lyrics, partnering instead with Jason Byron. The pair have worked together for 25 years.
Lyrically the album tells a story of political greed, but greed, really, in all forms. In it, three characters search for a treasure that will eventually lead to their destruction — treasure in the form a sleeping girl, with terrible power, named Blasphemy.
“This time around, Jason and I worked closely together for the music and lyrics to go very well together in terms of the album’s narrative, changing and revising more than we normally have done in the past. The story element of this music is at the forefront, and it’s less abstract,” Driver says.
Like a Hollywood movie, the last track on the album, “Blasphemy: A Prophecy,” sets us up for a sequel. “It’s the closing chapter of the story,” Driver says, but it also “reveals the next phase of this whole thing.”
Kayo Dot plays 9 pm Thursday, Oct. 3, at Old Nick’s Pub; $10, 21-plus.