Napalm Flesh: Burning up with Karma to Burn

Posted August 17, 2011 in
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The closing months of Summer wearing on you? There’s a great deal of rocking to be had this week at Burt’s Tiki Lounge. If it’s your heart’s desire to soak in some great guitar riffing, bass pummeling and groovy rhythms, this is the week to do so. West Virginia’s long standing instrumental (and at times not-so-instrumental) band Karma to Burn are hitting Burt’s in Salt Lake City on Aug. 23 in support of their newest opus V. I had the chance to chat with bassist Rich Mullins for your reading pleasure. Also on tap for the blog are exclusive CD reviews of Moab, Powerwolf, Revocation and Squash Bowels.

Also worth noting to get your weekend rocking on, stoner rockers Lo-Pan are also headlining at Burt’s with locals Top Dead Celebrity and Muckraker this Saturday, Aug. 20, tickets for said show are $8.

On Monday August 22, Raunch Records will be hosting hardcore crusters Trap Them with support from locals Burn Your World and INVDRS. This will actually be INVDRS first all ages show, and their first (and possibly only) show with vocalist Travis Nelson. $5 donations for Trap Them are highly encouraged, and the show starts at 7:00.

Karma to Burn plays Burt’s Tiki Lounge on Tuesday August 23 with local support from Old Timer and White Hot Ferrari, tickets are $7. Check out our interview with bassist Rich Mullins below.

Karma to Burn interview
SLUG: Not to make you feel old, but I recall years ago Roadrunner Records promoting the hell out of your debut. Rumor has it K2B wanted to be an instrumental band, but the label pressured the band to add a vocalist for the debut album. Is there any truth to that?

Rich Mullins: Indeed! Back in the last millennium we were on Roadrunner Records. They did indeed ask us to put vocals on our debut record. We were way too young and naïve to be dealing with a label in this situation. We really had no idea of what the music business was about and what our career was facing. We just loved our band and felt like it was a complete work on stage. In meeting rooms, and in promotion and artist development terms, we had no idea what our band was. It was our fault for letting ourselves be put in that position, that's how I look at it now. Had we just paid attention and fought a little more intelligently by offering up alternative solutions, for instance, asking RR to allow us to write new songs with a singer after they released our debut with a full promotional and tour push, who knows what would have happened.

SLUG: Did that debut turn out how you wanted it too in the end?

Mullins: Absolutely not. We envisioned two songs with vocals, one of the songs a Joy Division cover, the other a song with John Garcia [Kyuss] on vocals.

SLUG: For the folks that have never heard Karma to Burn, how would you describe what the band does?

Mullins: The band rocks like no other band out there. It’s instrumental but the songs have strong melodic and rhythmic hooks, I would say like Dick Dale or the Ventures for the hard rock genre.

SLUG: I’m sure you’ve been asked this more times than you care to answer, but is there a specific reason most of your songs titles are just numbers? There doesn’t seem to be a chronological order to them (although I have not explored your splits and EPs too much).

Mullins: There is. It’s the chronological order we write them in. We place them in a different order on the records. It’s really that simple. Some songs we don't use for years, then bring them back and record them, like “5” is on our third record but it is still the 5th song we ever wrote.

SLUG: Would you describe Karma to Burn as an instrumental band with guest vocalists?

Mullins: Definitely. Only I would use the adjective “occasional” in front of guest vocalists.

SLUG: From what I understand, the touring version of K2B is a trio and fully instrumental. Is that correct?

Mullins: You are correct. Its what we will be doing. 

SLUG: Just my two cents, I have enjoyed both records since the reunion. I was actually quite pleased to see V on LP format for sale at a local music shop. How has V been received nationally and internationally so far?

Mullins: It seems to be very well received. The last album as well. We effing love vinyl. It really is the medium of choice as well at our shows now.

SLUG: Stoner rock/metal encompasses such a broad territory. Do you think of yourselves as that label or something else?

Mullins: That genre is huge in its span. It’s hard to not feel that you fall under it when 80 percent of your fans think you do.

SLUG: How did the band come to hook up with Dave Davies to do some vocals for the new record V? 

Mullins: He was living with us at the time. Pretty easy to accomplish when you just walk over and tap on someone’s door to work on a song. 

SLUG: Any future collaborations with him or his band Year Long Disaster?

Mullins: Hard to say. I am the guy who wrote the music for Year Long so it seems like we could do that whenever we felt like it. Personally I think we have explored that as far as it could be.

SLUG: Karma to Burn is labeled as desert rock at times, though the band originates from West Virginia, which I really don’t think of as a desert. How did this concept come into play for the band? Your last album Appalachian Incantation makes the most sense out of everything as far as location wise for K2B.

Mullins: Right. We still wonder about that ourselves. It’s really hard to pinpoint at what point people decided bands descending from Black Sabbath that don't play speed metal or bullshit new metal must be from the desert. The bands we know from there don't inspire us in anyway creatively, and they don't really appeal to us an artistic level either. We see them mostly as frauds playing the same riffs over and over milking the European popularity of one record. But whatever, people like to romanticize their heroes. And record companies spend lots of money to make certain some people appear in enough press to take on hero status. I guess it all feeds that beast. West Virginia is fantastic. Lots of history and lots of great music. Far beyond the desert in all ways. 

SLUG: I would imagine you traverse and travel through quite a few desert areas while on tour; do you have a favorite desert area in the US? I had to ask because being a native of Utah I’ve explored our desert areas throughout my life,  and being in Salt Lake City, there’s always a little bug inside me that yells at me to get to the desert whenever I can.

Mullins: Actually, the desert is devoid of life for me. Mankind often views it from the standpoint of Christ's mystical fast in the desert where he is tempted by Satan. If you read Dosteovsky's Brothers Karamazov you have touched on what I find is the most important aspect of the desert and that is as a literary element signifying the solitude of death. I don't see any beauty in Palm Desert. When I have been there its unrealistically hot. Nothing grows. The soil looks like death. A disturbing percentage of people there have speed habits. Most men we meet from there seem to have a natural affinity for the lower pleasures of life. Its ugly to me. I prefer the mountains and valleys of Appalachia. The forests, the life, the greenery. The spirit there is beautiful and truly mystical. It hasn't been created by the imaginations of the unimaginative. Of course, I sound completely nuts at this point. And let me reiterate, that point is, the desert sucks, ok, I am jiving again. I do like the desert, at night, in my rear view mirror. It never ends does it?
I never considered SLC part of the desert, I guess because of the snow, and skiing and the giant lake and such. Now that I think about though...nope...still not seeing the desert. 

SLUG: I’m looking at some of the questions I’ve asked and I feel like I’ve come off as a bit cynical toward K2B which is completely not the case—between the bass and guitar there are great riffs from both instruments that stick in my brain long after I’ve spun the albums. Is your songwriting pretty much a collective or do the individuals come up with their own parts and then mush stuff together?

Mullins: Not at all my man. Hope I didn't come off as cynical towards the desert. Hehe. Anywho, we write together at practice, usually with Will ripping out a killer guitar riff.

SLUG: What is the core feeling or essence you’d like people checking the band out live to walk away from at K2B concert with?

Mullins: That they remember what rock and roll is truly about, and that that spirit is alive within us.

SLUG: Thanks again for your time. I’ll see you guys on the 23rd of Aug. I don’t even know the complete line-up for the show; you’re not touring with any other artists are you? We have some fantastic stoner and doom bands in Salt Lake City that pretty much call Burt’s home, I hope they appease!

Mullins: Man, I am not sure either as I am stuck in London right now with some rioting as a back drop, but when I get out of here I will check that line up. We know some killer rockers from there, hope they are on the bill. Cheers!

Blog exclusive CD reviews

Ab Ovo
Street: 08.16
Moab = Kyuss + Black Sabbath + Pentagram
Ab Ovo hits hard and doesn’t lack in the groove and rhythm department. There’s some definite Sabbath worship going on here, but it isn’t blatant. The riffs in “Staring at the Wall, pt. 1 & 2” are gargantuan—hell, they’re huge throughout the album—but Ab Ovo isn’t all about delivering a pounding. There’s magnificently executed soloing and other guitar-tinkering, and the vocalist sounds like he’s singing at the top of his lungs then going almost to a lullaby. Moab doesn’t deliver doom; most of their songs are going to result in glorious smiles or fits that may resemble seizures—but it’s all just rocking out. Just try and put this in your pipe and smoke it; every foreseeable outcome sees you being knocked on your ass. –Bryer Wharton

Blood of the Saints
Metal Blade
Street: 08.02
Powerwolf = Grave Digger + Falconer + Iron Maiden
Though not a strict concept album, Blood of the Saints may as well just rename itself to 11 Mediocre Power Metal Songs about Blood and Church. Wise and rounded metal fans know not to take power metal too seriously (and per usual, this slab is chock fulla goofball cornballery), and Powerwolf don’t shy away from “entertaining”…but even after suspending my disbelief, huffing some keyboard duster and eating a banana split, the prospect of sitting through this entire album of symphoni-metal twaddle was pretty onerous. Musicianship is top-notch (classical background, European power metal, blah blah blah) and cuts like “Sanctified with Dynamite,” “Murder at Midnight” and “Night of the Werewolf,” with their blazing guitar leads, chalk up to pretty decent (albeit by-the-numbers) heavy metal. Lamentably, whatever shining moments they manage to incur via regurgitated Maiden riffs are outnumbered ten to one by dopey theatrics and the album groans beneath studio tampering, overused organ diddling, cheesy religious samples and laughable lyrical fare (“Die Die Crucify” or “Dead Boys Don’t Cry” will have you rolling your eyes…or sawing logs.) Those able to stifle their snickering and ignore all its droll posturing can admit that these corpse-painted boys can play…but guitar wizardry only goes so far until it all just gets so damn tedious that you actually feel like you’re at a Sunday mass.

Power metallers are a weird bunch, and will probably still argue the merits of the album…and really, it could be Powerwolf’s best offering to date. With the Metal Blade machine behind them and a handful of records beneath their black bullet belts, who knows what could happen with a little touring? In the meantime, however competent Blood of the Saints may be musically, it’s resoundingly stale on all other fronts, and left this listener wanting a little more grit, a little less of that choral tomfoolery and a nap. –Dylan Chadwick

Chaos of Forms
Street: 08.16
Revocation = Atheist + Death + Necrophagist
There is something delightfully fresh but at the same time a bit regurgitated in this death-thrash-tech hybrid album from Boston’s Revocation. The “refreshing” part comes from Revocation steering clear from the breakdowns that most bands on the tech/proggy side of death metal add to their songs for some stupid reason. Revocation’s style bears a strong semblance to the crossover of Atheist and Death with hints of brutality and some lower tuned guitars popping in to make things a bit more heavy. There is quite a bit of shredding displayed here that will get your brain juices all peppy and percolated, but some songs, while technically proficient, tend to fall flat and wind up as album filler or boring fodder. Then there are the vocals, which are befitting for a metal band in the modern era, but feel extremely out of place for the music that Revocation play. They’re not full on hardcore, but they have a hefty influence of said style more than anything in classic metallic realms. Chaos of Forms has the ability to appease old schoolers and new fans alike, but it’s worth researching before jumping to a purchase. –Bryer Wharton

Squash Bowels
Tnyribal (re-issue)
Street: 08.16
Squash Bowels = Circle of Dead Children + Fuck… I’m Dead + Insect Warfare
It makes full sense that a Polish label is giving Polish goregrind crew Squash Bowel’s first full-length album the re-issue treatment, and appropriate thanks are in order. I had not heard of Squash Bowels prior to blasting this release, but now I want to go lurking through their massive discography. Tnyribal isn’t quite a genre masterpiece, but it works at toying with the listener’s sanity by being completely manic. When Squash Bowels get to the straight up goregrind, it’s quite magnificent and full of everything you want: meaty production, bass guitar just as important as the guitar, concise but seemingly inhuman drumming, and just as inhuman vocals. Tnyribal is more than just flat out grinding however. While the 26-minute insanity fest is technically given six tracks, there are tracks within each of the six tracks, making every song feel like its own entity. And damn does this trio like to mess with pure, chaotic, harsh noise—it’s interspersed so much throughout that it’s almost refreshing when you get to what goregrind typically is. The re-issue comes with new artwork in an appropriate six-panel digipack. The biggest success with this re-issue for me is showing me a band I hadn’t heard of that I want to track down as much more material as my grubby paws can get a hold of. –Bryer Wharton