Kayo Dot Unites Past and Future on “Moss Grew on the Swords and Plowshares Alike” (Full Album Stream)
Sometimes, time actually is cyclical, and in history we learn from the past to build the future. In Connecticut-based avant-metal trio Kayo Dot's case, what came before—namely a band called maudlin of the Well (capitalized exactly so)—left an indelible mark on experimental and avant-garde metal, fusing elements of jazz, new age, gothic metal, and death metal together to build something atmospheric and, for its time and beyond, wholly unique. On their three initial albums (My Fruit PsychoBells… A Seed Combustible and sibling albums Bath and Leaving Your Body Map, taking 2009's surprise Part the Second into consideration later on), a young Toby Driver, with bandmates Greg Massi, Jason Byron, and a cast of characters playing a host of roles, challenged metal with an increasingly academic and philosophical approach, marrying the occult with a deeper music knowledge and understanding of metal's reaches in hopes of exceeding them. 2003, however, marked a change, and maudlin of the Well gave birth to Kayo Dot, and with a similar lineup came a more abstract take on the metal to which maudlin of the Well called home on Choirs of the Eye.
Now, twenty years after the dual release of Bath and Leaving Your Body Map, the original core maudlin of the Well lineup returns under the Kayo Dot banner with Moss Grew on the Swords and Plowshares Alike, which is streaming ahead of its Friday release below.
Following a COVID-canceled Blasphemy tour, the band physically separating, and ultimate relocation back to his home state of Connecticut, Kayo Dot mastermind Toby Driver felt it was only natural that he would reconnect with guitarist Greg Massi and continue his lifelong collaboration with lyricist and author Jason Byron.
"I was updating my home studio and figured out a way with my gear that I could make a record mostly at home with what I had and upgrading a bit," Driver says over a video chat. "I wasn't even thinking about a Kayo Dot album at the time, and throughout that summer I gave content to my Bandcamp subscribers. As I was in that process I realized I could do more metal stuff."
A canceled maudlin of the Well reunion fully put the idea for reuniting with his former bandmates in motion. "I didn't want to let the [Bath and Leaving Your Body Map] anniversary pass by," he explains, "so I talked with my friends from high school who were initial members of maudlin of the Well to do some collaborations."
Reconnecting with the music Driver loved as a teenager and in his early twenties certainly played a factor, as well, but he used his former connections with new age and something he refers to as "Euro-goth doom metal" as a springboard for improvement. "I realized that even though I have a fond memory of that music and love it from a history point of view," Driver says, "I realized it doesn't really do much for me as a mature listener and mature musician. I hear a lot of the primitive qualities of that stuff."
It was perfect timing, this mass convergence of coincidences. Driver felt compelled to create something new and unique (which seems to be the case whenever he enters the studio), but with a specific aesthetic in mind. "It's something that happens with all the music I make," he explains, "where I hear an aesthetic I think is cool but I don't think the bands doing it have very good writing or have the level of sophistication I want, being a bit nerdier and with a music education background. It's like 'let me do all the things that are missing' with the bands I've been listening to."
Driver's aesthetic-driven approach comes with a bit of nuance. When listening to music, he sees a vision of what the music could be like in his way, or at least how he would write and perform it, while still paying respect and homage to the style or genre tenets (see: his "new age" project Alora Crucible's latest full-length release), and it is that "Euro-goth doom metal" aesthetic, paired with Driver's own educated approach to music overall, which truly drives Moss Grew on the Swords and Plowshares Alike.
It should be noted that while this is a maudlin of the Well reunion of sorts, Moss Grew on the Swords and Plowshares Alike shouldn't necessarily be taken as a new maudlin of the Well album proper. With Driver handling most of the album performance-wise, seeing Greg Massi performing most of the album's guitar solos and former maudlin of the Well vocalist Jason Byron limiting his role to pen and ink (his performance on Hubardo is particularly stirring), this album is still very much Toby Driver's vision, and through this we hear more a more obscure songwriting style than one would expect from a more collaborative maudlin of the Well session; this is Driver taking what he's learned from his previous project and simply taking it to the next level.
When asked about the separation between maudlin of the Well and Kayo Dot, Driver is reminded of the many times he's been asked this in the past. It was Kayo Dot which came from maudlin of the Well, the band quite literally only being a name change away from its previous iteration on Choirs of the Eye, but things separated over time. Driver moved away from Connecticut, found a new band (and then many others, as Kayo Dot has held a heroic number of members over the past 18 years), and moved on from maudlin of the Well for the most part. Reuniting with his former bandmates (again) brings everything full-circle, and suddenly it's 2001 again, but with the knowledge attained over the past two decades. Though Kayo Dot has proven themselves to be more than just a metal band (lest we forget the art-pop of Plastic House on Base of Sky or Coffins on Io's progressive rock psychedelia), Moss Grew on the Swords and Plowshares Alike shows a triumphant return to a style which is classically Kayo Dot.
Or is it maudlin of the Well?
It's all about evolution, and though parts of Moss Grew on the Swords and Plowshares Alike feel like it's twenty years ago, it's easy to see we're still in the second decade of a new millennium, and Kayo Dot has taken that sound to the here and now.
All facts and otherwise taken from an interview with Toby Driver.
Moss Grew on the Swords and Plowshares Alike releases October 30th via Prophecy Productions.