How many ‘holy fack!’ moments can you fit on one record?! Before I start gushing about the thing, let’s get up to speed on a little bit of the background. Hailing from Halifax, Nova Scotia, the five-piece instrumental act known as Kuato (named, I assume, after Total Recall’s Marshall Bell-borne revolutionary) was founded in 2010. Made up of no fewer than three guitarists (Adam Toth, Mike D’Eon, and Darryl Smith) and one hell of a rhythm section (bassist Stephen MacDonald and drummer Josh Pothier), Kuato delivered this, their debut full-length album, on June 23rd of this year.
Inspired by the Great Expulsion of the Acadian French from Nova Scotia in 1755 (one third of their number lost their lives during the expulsion), Kuato have crafted one damn fine, loose instrumental concept record. The Great Upheaval begins innocently enough with the short and serene “New Home,” which immediately shows off the gorgeous guitar tones that are layered together to create an epically moving tapestry. Using surf-rock tones and just the right amount of reverb, the band manage to convey both sadness and serenity insanely well. The second track, “Groundwork,” picks up right after with a slow and very calming introduction. The melody here is subtly powerful and, although it is wonderful in its own right, is but a small indication of what epic moments this record has in store. Distorted shoegaze guitars are complimented by soothing/haunting ambient guitar hooks and extremely proficient and energetic drumming. “Groundwork,” like so many other tracks on the record, builds to a triumphant climax of oddly beautiful noise.
It is hard to pick standouts on an album where everything sounds so uniformly spectacular. The motif and textures offered up in the next tune, “Red Sand,” are a perfect example of why Kuato is one of the finest instrumentalist acts this writer has ever heard. After building up for half the track’s length, the band shifts dynamically into a brilliantly airy bridge section that feels so damn much it’s frightening. The hooks are deceptively simple and lead right back into yet another thrilling climax.
Perhaps my favourite tune on the album is the artfully crafted “Black Horizon.” Not only is it the longest track on the record, “Black Horizon” is nothing short of a masterpiece. Of note is the simple, pulsing bassline that carries the earlier part of the track. It eventually graduates into a great rolling melody, but the pulse is a unique approach that lends itself insanely well to what the rest of the band have laid down. This tune is so magnificently powerful, one gets the feeling that everyone is pouring their guts out while playing. As if the obvious stuff isn’t amazing enough, just crank this mother and listen to all the little stuff in the background. My goodness.
The next bit sees the band shifting into a darker gear. “Ripped from the Soil” is a twangy, sludgy, and downright eerie piece of music. The best part is at 4:05 when the song loses its business and a tumultuous build-up leads into an Alice In Chains-style jam. This leads into an even quieter, even more haunting twang, with piano totally just selling the epic that oozes from the track. The relatively short by comparison “Battle of Bloody Creek” is a very punky bit of triumph that also gives off a tragic vibe, conveying beautifully both despair and the drive to overcome it.
And that brings us to the album’s coda: the title track. An eargasmic bit of slow-burning awesome, “The Great Upheaval,” includes goosebumps-inducing background effects and an unforgettable synthesizer cameo. The track’s chugging, pulse-pounding, edge-of-your-seat climax features a subtle synth appearance for the ages that leads the album to a sudden, unexpected close, and leaves you wanting more, more, more, m– okay, I’ll listen to it another thirty times.
I’m not going to beat around the bush here, Kuato’s The Great Upheaval is one of those brilliant, visionary works of audio art that is experienced rather than simply heard. There are so many moments on the record that are so intense you just have to sit back and, well, ‘holy fack!’ The Great Upheaval is well-crafted noise that is so stunningly close to perfect, it should most definitely be a benchmark in its genre. Bravo, gentlemen.
RYAN SMITH spends a great deal of his time under troll bridges shaking his fist and hollering obscenities at the mainstream, but occasionally finds himself on the side of a pop act that the underground has disowned. A schizoid fan for the 21st century? Although he has a diverse musical taste that runs the gamut from black metal to country to most forms of jazz, Ryan’s first love will always be progressive music.