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Published: 2002/01/23
by Ray Hogan

New Dark Age – Djam Karet

Cuneiform Records 149

Progressive rock – or prog-rock – gets a bad rap. Often times, it's
justifiably so. After all, it's difficult to imagine many things worse than
self-inflated bombast, prolonged synthesizer solos that say absolutely
nothing and a toilet philosopher's sense of art/intelligence.

Djam Karet, an instrumental quartet from southern California that named
itself after an Indonesian phrase meaning "elastic time – the hour that
stretches", isn't the type of progressive band that will give you bad
flashbacks of the 1970s. Think the musicality and intelligence of King
Crimson rather than the self-indulgence and corniness of Emerson, Lake and

Put together in 1984 to perform music that was completely improvisational,
Djam Karet traverse some serious terrain. With this four-piece, the focus is
on establishing a variety of deep moods and soundscapes instead of wowing
listeners with their formidable chops.

Take the opening "No Man's Land," which compliments its crunching guitar riffs with a feel that is more Eastern drone than hard rock. Guitarists Gayle Ellett and Mike Henderson both a have a heavy-metal sensibility to their riffing and soloing, which somehow fits well with the overall band sound. Several of the titles hint at the dream sequences the band – Ellett (guitar, synths, field recordings), Henderson (same), Henry J. Osborne (bass, percussion), and Chuck Oken Jr. (drums, percussion, synths) – creates.

There's "Web of Medea," a slow trance-inducer, and "Raising Orpheus," a
serious mind-melter. Djam Karet keeps the guitars as the focal point of just
about all 10 tracks. They even get a little funky on the up-tempo "All
but that's not surprising for a band that clearly is unhappy staying in a
particular time signature, tempo or format for too long.

On the flip side, the three cuts that under three minutes sound like filler
while the four songs that last longer than seven minutes sometimes go on too
long. The shorter cuts are mostly culled from field recordings would
seemingly only serve New Dark Age if it were a concept album.

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