Djam Karet - New Dark Age

Year of Release: 2001
Label: Cuneiform Records
Catalog Number: Rune 149
Format: CD
Total Time: 55:26:00

The latest release from Djam Karet, New Dark Age, find the band in a mode somewhere between 1991's Suspension And Displacement and 1997's The Devouring. This is mostly rather moody music, though not necessarily dark. The opening track, "No Man's Land" contains all of the elements that we know Djam Karet for - the intense guitar leads from Gayle Ellett and Mike Henderson, thumping drums and crashing cymbals from Chuck Oken, and solid bass work from Henry J Osbourne. But this is followed up my the atmospheric "Eclipse Of Faith" which is mainly slowly evolving synth washes and a looped vocal snippet, which I can't, even after repeated listenings, quite figure out what is being said (could be the track's title). But then, Djam Karet are a band of mystery -- even on stage, especially Henderson who spent most of their NEARFest 2001 set perpendicular to the audience (that is, facing stage left), and sometimes nearly with this back to the audience.

"Web Of Medea" harks back to material on The Devouring, though there comes a point where the plunking keys seem more than a little at odds with the rest of the instrumentation. Some swirly wind effects and taut drumming from Oken about halfway through this 7-minute plus track create tension, that is only intensified when the tempo changes, even with blurbing keyboard effects added. The mix is so rich, Osborne's bass is clearly heard, and practically felt, but if you shift your attention it's the drums that come the fore, or the keys, etc. This ends with some more abstract vocals, like at train station...which blends right into "Demon Train." Vocal effects, or vocal like effects here, have a decidedly demonic feel about them - harsh and rough, and yet there is a certain element of distance as you can't quite make out the words. Percussion takes the lead here and wouldn't sound out of place on a Steve Roach disc - but for the demonic voice that still swirls about. Like "Eclipse Of Faith" before it, this track lasts only about three minutes (2:56 to be exact, "Eclipse" clocks in at 2:43), which seems too short somehow, especially as the other tracks (but for two others also under the 3-minute mark) are well over 5 minutes. Track length, of course, isn't important so much, but there are moments during the shorter pieces where you'd like to see them developed more, expanded.

"All Clear," one of three tracks that Djam Karet played at NEARfest 2001, is very jazzy. Organ takes the lead (Ellett), and yet there is no mistaking the fact this is Djam Karet. Something about the arrangement. This is a jamming, driving number on par with "Lights Over Roswell" (which in some ways has a similar arrangement). Henderson plays the guitar lead here - his style a bit more metallic-edged that Ellett's. In fact, I think the band have a track like this on every album - the balls out jam, a composition ripe for improvisation and tangents live. It has a bluesy break that made me think of Hendrix' "Hey Joe." Osborne gets to play a particular tasty bass line, rich and thick. while searing guitar leads leave scorch marks. Not to be too cutesy, but it should be "all clear" that I really, really dig Djam Karet. And this track is why - instrumental rock that keeps the interest level throughout - it lasts 8:13, but it seems like a short 8 minutes.

Quick impressions of the rest of the album - "Raising Orpheus" is Pink Floyd-esque for the most part, various different elements at different points. I thought of Dark Side Of The Moon but also parts of Wish You Were Here. "Kali's Indifference" is another swirling-synths piece with minimal percussion. "Alone With The River Man" begins as a southwestern acoustic piece - clomping drums, acoustic guitar arpeggios, both playing a gently loping tune, but this gives way to a sinewy electric guitar lead. When percussion joins again, it is almost like something you'd expect from Paul Simon. This then shifts gears again, to something that made me think of the band America, if a little brassier. What you might think of, as I did, was a modern take on "Horse With No Name." It isn't exactly the same rhythm, but there are some similarities. Because of the southwestern feel - of Arizona and New Mexico along with California's high desert - there a little dryness here. Not a bad thing, but certainly you can almost see the bright sun blazing down onto dusty, dry, and cracked earth. "Going Home" is liquid; there's a sense at any moment that a smooth voiced vocalist will soon join in -- the guy who sang that 70s hit "Captain Of Her Heart" comes to mind, or maybe someone like Gino Vanelli. Not that it needs vocals, mind you. There are parts here to that hark back to The Devouring. Again we get searing guitar leads, driving percussion and bass, etc. Typical high quality Djam Karet stuff. "Eulogy" is another piece that is heavy on the vocal effects, here fuzzed and slightly phased. It is the voice of technology taking over, heard through hundreds of cheap speakers. There is a brief musical passage that, again, ends all too soon, but is quite edgy.

Well, Djam Karet have done it again - released an interesting album that I can't help but keep playing over and over and over again. I'll admit that I like the longer pieces better than the shorter ones, as the vocal effects leave me a little cold (as their intended to do, I suppose), but I make no hesitations about recommending this.

No Man's Land (4:43) / Eclipse of Faith (2:43) / Web Of Medea (7:04) / Demon Train (2:56) / All Clear (8:31) / Raising Orpheus (6:56) / Kali's Indifference (2:28) / Alone With The River Man (8:03) / Going Home (9:55) / Eulogy (2:13)

Gayle Ellett - electric guitar, mellotron, organ, synths, field recordings, effects
Mike Henderson - acoustic and electric 6 & 12 string guitars, slide guitar, acoustic & electronic percussion, synths, field recordings, effects
Chuck Oken, Jr. - drums, percussion, and synths
Henry J Osbourne - bass, percussion

No Commercial Potential (1985) (Out-of-print)
Kafka's Breakfast (1987) (Out-of-print)
The Ritual Continues (1989)
Reflections In The Firepool (1989)
Burning The Hard City (1991/2000)
Suspension and Displacement (1991/2000)
Collaborator (1994)
The Devouring (1997)
Still No Commerical Potential (1998)
Live at Orion (1999)
New Dark Age (2001)
Ascension (2001)
#1 (2001) (via band only)
#2 (2001) (via band only)
Afghan: Live At The Knitting Factory (2001) (via band only)
A Night For Baku (2003)
Live At NEARfest 2001 (2004)
No Commercial Potential (expanded) (2004)
Recollection Harvest (2005)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin US

Added: July 11th 2001
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 1000
Language: english


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