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All That Jazz for a Bank of Sperm… - 91%

bayern, February 21st, 2017

Karnak are the second essential death metal outfit to appear out of Italy after Sadist. They started up the bumpy road in the distant 1993 as Subtraction when they managed to record one isolated demo (“Eternal”, 1994). A year later they paraded under the name Obscenity succeeding in assembling two demos (“Pierced Flesh”, 1995; ”Beyond”, 1996). The year is 1997, and the guys hit the scene again, this time with a full-length (“Perverted”) only under a different moniker, Karnak, probably a reflection of their infatuation with ancient Egypt and its unfathomable mysteries.

This “perverted” recording exhibited the band’s admirable skills in a complex, intricately-woven death metal fashion, still rough-around-the-edges, but characteristic enough to separate them from the multi-layered, keyboard-infused sceneries of Sadist. However, it wasn’t the Sadists that the guys only had to worry about; all of a sudden, literally overnight, the scene in their homeland had expanded to voluminous proportions in the late-90’s: Coram Lethe, Gory Blister, Aydra, Infernal Poetry, Algophobia, Cadaveric Crematorium… quite a few strong competitors had emerged, and Karnak had to carefully prepare their next step.

Then these “Melodies of Sperm Composed” appeared in 1999 showing the band more than well equipped to face the competition. The bizarreness already starts with the album-title, but the short instrumental intro “Spermatozombies” is a most outlandish opener being ambient jazzy noises which also continue on the following title-track the guys shredding intensely on a symphonic keyboard-infused background matching the exploits of their archrivals Sadist every bit of the way with similar ways of execution. The band beg to differ with “A Face Disfigured by Thorns” which is a contrasting mixture of aggressive mosh and mellower operatic sweeps. A short eventful cut superseded by the gothic extravaganza “Gorham”, a spastic unnerving deathster jazzing up and down the whole time to a strong psychedelic effect. “Eyes of Larva” increases the keyboard presence which overtakes the guitars except on the cool virtuous lead sections.

“My Enchanting Normality” is a more aggressive “assault” with technical riffs accentuating the hectic nature of this number also marked by several uncontrolled blast-beats. “Angel Hooked” follows a similar busy pattern with more dramatic build-ups slowing down things in the middle, to these ears for the better, the situation also improved in the second half where sweeping progressive rhythms create a lot of jazzy dynamics, but in a more officiant, epic manner. “Pollen of My Penis” reaches black metal-ish hyper-blast parametres very early those motifs appearing irregularly throughout the song amidst more intricate Atheist-like arrangements. “Other Two Days” shreds with bigger semblance of normality the sharp riffage leaving room for a sprawling balladic section. The bonus track at the end “Zeder” is a tribute to one of the greatest Italian horror films, Pupi Avati’s picture of the same title, and is an excellent technical deathster “flirting” with the film soundtrack on top of eccentric jazzy crescendos.

This is a really flamboyant and weird musical “journey” which tries to more fully epitomize jazz into the metal structures, and to these ears the guys largely succeed in this endeavour. The very hectic nature of the rhythm-section may be not to everyone’s taste, neither would be the omnipresent keyboards which would definitely generate a fair amount of diatribe from the purists. The other bone of contention would perhaps be the new delivery resembling the one of Sadist again as though the band didn’t trust themselves that they could pull it off without any tangible references to other acts. On top of that, the guitar player Gabriele Palla started his solo project Goldenseed the same year whose debut “Creatures of the Sea” was another quite good, engaging progressive metal “opera” adding more to the growing competition.

The guys carried on in the same direction, probably encouraged by the flop experienced by Sadist with the controversial “Lego” (2000) which saw the veterans departing too radically from their complex death metal roots. There was no drastic stylistic change on the Karnak schedule as evident from the two EP’s that followed suit in 2002 and 2004 which further perfected their busy jazzy formulas, and also put them more firmly on the ever-expanding metal map of the new millennium. However, the guys disappeared from the social consciousness for no apparent reason except that Palla was getting busier with Goldenseed and other acts. It was in 2010 when their third instalment “Dismemberment” came out; it was another surprise seeing the band abandoning their eccentric jazzy configurations for the sake of more linear, still quite technical approach reminiscent of the debut, but enlarged with drier, more clinical, modernized guitars.

It was also Palla’s last performance with the band as his obligations elsewhere were increasing. The others certainly continued without him, but so far have only managed one EP (“The Cult of Death”, 2015) which delved deeper into the modern metal arena bringing industrial to the fore for the creation of four bleak robotic tracks plus a cover of Celtic Frost’s “Jewel Throne” from the Swiss’ album “To Mega Therion”. A very distant departure from anything the band have produced previously despite Palla having been replaced with none other than Marco Polo; yes, this is the new axeman’s alias (or maybe his real name?). There’s more to be added from the infinite reproduction cycle for sure in a musical context, so who knows what other genetic material the guys’ future melodies would be composed of…