If it’s not some kind of big April Fool’s joke, Jack White is gonna be putting out a new album in June, and he released the first track for our listening pleasure. The track, High Ball Stepper, is an instrumental track that dances between soft and hard with a few weird interludes thrown in for good measure.
The album is supposed to be called Lazaretto, whatever that means, and is due out June 10.
In case you have been in an underground bunker with no contact with the outside world for the past day or so, here’s the tune via YouTube.
Since we’re not really a news site, and if anyone has any clue what kind of site we actually are, we’d love to hear about it, this post isn’t really about Jack White’s new album. It’s about something his new album reminds me of from the past, er present too, I guess.
Some people are abuzz over White’s track being instrumental, and some will undoubtedly evoke the names Pelican, or a number of other instrumental metal bands, when writing/talking about it. I couldn’t sit idly by and let that pass without an ode to Karma to Burn. They probably weren’t the first instrumental metal band, there is probably someone, somewhere, who did it long before they did, I just don’t know who it was, but they were certainly doing it before it ever became a ‘thing.’
So here it is, a little remembrance about Karma to Burn, for no other real reason than self-indulgence on my part. You can also go buy some of their shit at Amazon or iTunes. You can also find them on Spotify.
The story begins…
II think it was August 2, 1997 when I first saw Karma to Burn.
It was a show in Huntington, WV, with Disengage, a band from Cleveland I’d seen before and would follow religiously until they disappeared from the face of the Earth a few years later.
I went to the show not knowing a thing about Karma to Burn other than a friend recommended I check them out when I get the chance. So I had no idea what to expect from the three guys who stepped onto the stage, and began plugging in their gear. They didn’t quite look like a rock band at the time. Meaning they weren’t decked out in black, over-accessorized, and sporting wind-swept hair filled with gel.
If I remember correctly the guitarist and bassist both had baseball-style caps on.
Then they started to play. The groove caught me immediately, and the crunch of the forcefully played guitar (broken guitar strings were a regular occurrence for the band during this period) spoke to me. It was beautiful… for a few minutes anyway.
Then I began wondering, “When the hell are they gonna start singing?”
The question persisted throughout the set.
The answer was never.
Karma to Burn was, and still is, a three-piece, instrumental rock band.
I’ve always described their sound as one that takes the best parts out of the songs you typically hear, and stretch those parts out to anywhere from 3-5 minutes.
I liked it, but it took some getting used to.
By this point the band had already released their debut album on Roadrunner Records, simply called ‘Karma to Burn.’ I bought the CD, yeah, you had to buy CDs back then, and was surprised to hear vocals on it, considering I just witnessed an entirely instrumental show.
Ma Petit Mort – from Karma to Burn – Roadrunner Records (1997) The album Roadrunner made them include vocals on
I would eventually learn, they only employed a singer on the album because the record company insisted on it, and after giving it a shot, and not liking it, they dumped the vocalist, told the record company to fuck off, and did things their way from that point forward.
I’ve seen them play dozens of times since that night. Some shows were amazing, some were so-so, and at least one was so bad, Will Mecum, the guitar player, said, “We hate to admit it, but we’re Karma to Burn,” at the end of the show. The comment, in part, was due to the inability of the band to get it together. At times it seemed like the bassist, Rich Mullins, wasn’t even playing the right songs. He even laid/sat on the floor for a few minutes at one point in the show.
This video is not from that show, but recorded during an early era of the band, is the video for Eight. It should be noted, Karma to Burn began naming songs using only numbers after the first album. Neat idea, but it’s why I can’t ever remember the names of the songs I really like. I suck at numbers. My eyes suck, so I can’t tell who’s playing drums on this.
That was 2002. The band’s first big breakup came not too long after that. Most accounts of the split up allege copious drug use was a contributing factor. I wouldn’t see them again until 2009.
They’ve been steadily busy since reuniting in 2009, however these days, they call Europe home.
The band has also undergone a number of lineup changes over the years, including recently, where the last time I checked, Will Mecum is the only original member left.
The lineup consisting of Will, Rich, and Rob Oswald, the man who sometimes wore a miner’s lamp while he played drums, and often smelled like someone burnt his karma when he walked past prior to the 2002 implode, will always be the definitive lineup to me. It’s not the original lineup, there were two drummers before Rob, but the one that defined the band, and played together the longest.
Haven’t seen the new guys play yet, mostly because I can’t afford to fly to Europe just to see a show.
The current lineup, to the best of my knowledge, is:
Will Mecum – guitar
Rob Halkett – bass
Evan Devine – drums
Karma to Burn – Fifty Three from the album Karma to Burn (2013)
Karma to Burn did just finish recording some material in February 2014, according to their website, so a new chapter should be released soon.
So Jack White’s new instrumental tune is great and all, he is Jack White and by law, you aren’t allowed to dislike anything he does, but it’ll never compare to the instrumental tracks Karma to Burn laid down in the late 1990s, paving the way for the handful of instrumental bands that have emerged in the years since.
(Note: I think my first Karma to Burn show was August 2, 1997, it could have been April 18, 1997. I’m just going to say it was the August show because I know for a fact I was at this one. )