Some bands blow you away with their high-powered (and often destructive) stage antics; others, with their face-melting riffs; and others still with gruesome corpse paint or elaborate costumes.
Karnivool are none of the above.
They do not climb scaffolding, nor spit fake blood, nor flail around in the mosh, and speed certainly isn’t their primary goal. Karnivool are not trying to impress you, yet they are inherently impressive. On stage, they have all the markings of a well-seasoned act with a swathe of international tours under their belt, though they appear simultaneously humble and this translates into a live show so enthralling and aurally satisfying you almost want to use the ‘P’ word to describe their performance.
Whether or not perfection is attainable, ‘Vool fans have an indelible respect for the band and their live show is a testament as to why. With the glitchy, instrumental title track pouring down from the speakers, Karnivool took to the stage.
The hardest part about a sing-your-lungs-out kind of band like Karnivool touring so soon after the release of a new album is that you haven’t had time to digest the music and learn all the lyrics so you can sing along – this definitely showed in the crowd as the first swirling, unhinged notes of A.M. War filled the room. Slightly unsure of what to do during the Asymmetry track, the crowd simply watched as vocalist Ian Kenny, leering forward like a conductor with his characteristic swagger, sang the opening lines with a smile playing about his face.
Obviously aware of the crowd’s baby-faced curiosity at hearing the new tracks for the first time, Karnivool’s decision to launch into the legendary title track of Themata for their next song was well-timed. Inspiring cheers, the excitement built rapidly in the intro before giving way to the familiar, churning riff of Themata and the mass of bodies on the floor began to pulse with the music, suggesting that fans are still favoring the rawer, heavier material of the earlier years.
In this way, the night was well structured; half of the setlist was from Asymmetry, backing up new songs with old classics like C.O.T.E and Shutterspeed to maintain the energy, and overall there was a good mix of tracks from all three of their albums.
With the complex guitar work of the new album being showcased in the carefully crafted acoustics of the Melbourne Town Hall, the whole band sounded just as grand as the venue in which they were playing. The production mirrored that of their recording, with the guitars thick and powerful and the drums cutting through at just the right level. Kenny’s voice was, obviously, foremost in the mix and while they executed each song with the same precision as on their albums, the live quality was only amplified as Kenny put his voice on full display.
From the ‘Vool archives, All I Know was certainly a stand out – there’s a section about halfway into the song where Kenny’s crooning was so smooth it simply melded into the instruments and physically vibrated the space between your ears. From their latest opus, The Refusal – being one of the heavier tracks – was probably the best received by the crowd.
While possibly not the rowdiest Karnivool concert I’ve ever attended and in spite of the unfamiliar material, with the overwhelming cohesion of the entire show and the spectacular light display, I highly doubt anyone left dissatisfied.
– Photography by Matt Allan