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Karmic Link - "Esoterica" (CD)

Karmic Link - "Esoterica" CD cover image

"Esoterica" track listing:

1. Cold
2. Esoterica
3. Fire
4. Whispers on a Breeze
5. Still
6. The Separate Reality
7. Pleasure is Nothing Without Pain
8. Twisting Patterns
9. This Affliction
10. A Tattered Canvas
11. Vanilla Skies

Reviewed by on September 19, 2010

"By putting together an album with more straightforward themes and elaborating on what really worked on the first album, the band has come up with a more evolved sound."

Sweden’s Karmic Link aims high with its sophomore album, defeating the sophomore slump. By putting together an album with more straightforward themes and elaborating on what really worked on the first album, the band has come up with a more evolved sound. With a lineup shift that saw the entrance of guitarist/bassist Evan Hensley (of Nightfall and System Shock), the band has rounded out its rough edges and brought in a new creative mind. Hensley and Kassios came up with the lyrical theme to “Esoterica,” making it a concept album about a news anchor experiencing various strange events in her line of work, leading to a revelation about modern society.

As with the first album, the keyboards are given a lot of room in the sound and often set up the melodies. Similar to the keyboard-driven melodies of fellow Swedish band Dark Tranquillity, there is a focus on melodies that will be memorable rather than melodies that will be technically showy. “Cold” leads the listener into the world Karmic Link creates for the concept album. “Esoterica,” the title track, has a slew of guest vocals behind returning vocalist Mina G. Mina’s styles, which this time have moved beyond the steady and vibrato-heavy into the passionately aggressive. The guitar work is straight-forward and assists the song without being obtrusive. The guitar solo at the end is downright nasty and bluesy, smacking of Megadeth.

“Fire” opens with another anthemic keyboard introduction, which should interest fans of Lacuna Coil as the rhythm section chimes in, opening up into a soundscape. “Whispers on a Breeze” and “Still” bring more of the same flair, showing the consistency of the songs on the album. The synthesizer anthems on this album just keep coming and coming! In “The Separate Reality,” there is a scathing rant on modern society and the digital prison bars of modern technology. Coupled with haunting instrumentation in the first half of the song, we see two of the concept’s characters interacting through spoken word vocals. For the second part of the song, keyboards and militant riffing pound out an eerie finish. “Pleasure is Nothing Without Pain” is the album’s dramatic instrumental centerpiece, with keyboards again painting most of the soundscape.

“Twisting Patterns” ups the tempo and sees the band launching through several tight coordinated instrument passages. On “This Affliction,” Mina G. really shows the range of feeling in her vocals. The song builds and releases into a triumphant finish. “A Tattered Canvas” opens much like the first few songs, changing the musical themes slightly to keep momentum. The album ends with “Vanilla Skies,” another anthemic keyboard-heavy piece.

The noticeable low point of the album is that the drums are programmed. Though they are well-mixed and the parts are thought-out, the snare drum too often sounds like an exploding firecracker and the cymbals and tom hits lack punch. The dynamics of a real drummer might not be there, but the album certainly sounds good. The production is bright, crisp, and full. An impressive sophomore album, “Esoterica” shows a nice consistency in the band’s songwriting and firmly establishes the band’s sound. What’s more is that it shows that it pays to have a great synth player and to make him the center of the sound.

Highs: The keyboard-driven anthems are many, the soundscapes are full, and there’s no filler tracks to the album.

Lows: The programmed drums lack dynamic in certain parts.

Bottom line: This is a great sophomore effort for synth-lovers and fans of melodic soundscapes.

Rated 4 out of 5 skulls
4 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)