Ka Mmen‘s sound is not quite as strange as their name. Nonetheless, they’re undeniably progressive, and the music is such that doesn’t give itself up easily to the impatient listener. I have heard bands like Ka Mmen before. They’re the type of modern progressive rock group that presumably went into the planning stages with a ‘no holds barred’ mentality, letting their influences run free and inform their sound accordingly. Conceivably, this is the most natural way for a band to come upon a style. In the case of progressive music, however, a lack of overriding direction can make the result seem less than the sum of its parts. Ka Mmen may well fall into this category. They’ve certainly got enough gloom and dreariness to foster a clear identity for themselves. With that in mind, it’s somewhat disappointing that The Sands comes off as a relatively unfocused, if not skilfully crafted effort. Ka Mmen clearly wanted it all with this album; it was inevitable that some of their best ideas would end up slipping between their fingers.
While I’m sure (and even hopeful) others will disagree when I say this, I don’t think it’s possible to achieve true originality when an artist relies on his amalgamated influences as a natural guide. There always needs to be a part of the artistic process that willfully negates the existing influences with something fresh from the aether. Be it complex or simple, there needs to be something of the artist’s own to leave an instant impression. Ka Mmen describe themselves as a mix of ‘1960’s psychedelic rock, 1990-2000’s British melancholic rock, and Norwegian avant-garde metal’, to which I might add post-metal and gothic doom to their descriptive melting pot. As it happens, Ka Mmen cover quite a bit of territory on this debut. Unlike some of the more frantic progressive groups, they don’t fuse these sounds abruptly. Not once does The Sands sound like a rogues gallery of incompatible ideas. It’s very much to Ka Mmen’s credit that they’ve blended these ingredients together. What’s less exciting is that a potentially exciting merge of disciplines ends up sounding like a moderate mix of Tool and mid-career (read: ‘depressive’) Anathema. As dynamic as they are, there aren’t many moments that dare to leap out as something fresh and exciting.
I will say that repeated listens are kind to The Sands. From the brooding style to the liner notes, it’s probable that Ka Mmen take themselves a little too seriously for their own good, but let it not be said that their art is without substance. The Sands did not strike me one way or another until my fourth or fifth listen, where I started paying real attention to the clever details and effective structures amid this mid-paced tapestry. For one, given the album’s dedication to the sorely missed Syd Barrett, it was fitting to have a hazy rendition of Pink Floyd‘s ‘Wish You Were Here’ lost somewhere in the background of the album outro. While the songs on the album rarely build on each other’s atmosphere, I am very impressed with the tracks individually. ‘Cold of the World Above’ is a great gloomy track, and while the atmospheric ‘I’m a Grand Piano’ undoes that song’s tone, it succeeds in its own right. The same happens again with ‘In Chains’, where Ka Mmen switches gears and pushes aside their momentum for a new sound, this time organ-rich and heavy.
If I had to pick a favourite on the The Sands, it would most likely be ‘Sightless Sky’. The influence from a band like Anathema is not lost throughout the album’s length, but it’s given a real chance to shine here. The more compact approach they give to the songwriting here trims some of the fat they often contend with for a more immediate and effective result. Whether you want to see this as a debut for Ka Mmen or a continuation of their work as the now-defunct Seventh Evidence, I think they went part, if not all of the way towards achieving something really good with this album. The skill and tact is all here, and Dm. Balyk has got a pretty strong voice to lead a band with at that. If anything, what Ka Mmen needs is focus. An all-encompassing approach to style never works as well as it’s meant to. Ambition is never a sour thing to behold, and Ka Mmen have all the talent they’ll ever need to succeed with, but it wouldn’t hurt them to give their music greater immediacy.
01) Peacock Butterfly
03) Cold of the World Above
04) I’m a Grand Piano
05) In Chains
06) Orca’s Dream
07) Sightless Sky
08) Steppe Wolf
09) Rise from Ashes