Karmakanic - Wheel of Life
Regain Records
Progressive/symphonic rock
8 songs (65'36")
Release year: 2004
Regain Records
Reviewed by Alex

The last thing in the world I want people to think is that we at MetalReviews have a thing with Jonas Reingold produced albums. I think we can wake up Ben in the middle of the night and he would still remember II=I Andromeda fiasco. The truth is, I also did not like that album as much as I liked Extension of the Wish debut. So, when Karmakanic Wheel of Life showed up as a label promo I gave myself a word not to write a review until my 7th listen. I have had the CD close to a month now and spun it probably a dozen times, loud at home, in my car, in my headphones while at work. In the end, it is, as always, just one man’s opinion, so I would like to explain where I am coming from.

Karmakanic is Mr. Reingold’s baby, he writes all the music, plays bass and some keyboards. If you don’t know who Jonas Reingold is I can bet my house you are not a “progger”. In fact, progressive music is not a frequent guest in my player, but Andromeda and some The Flower Kings stuff I like a lot. Jonas Reingold, however, is one of the leading progressive rock/metal musicians in Sweden and, perhaps, the world. He is joined on Wheel of Life by Goran Edman (Malmsteen) on vocals, Zoltan Csorsz (Space Odyssey, Time Requiem) on drums and Krister Jonson on guitars. Many other famous Swedish progressive metal musicians (Roine Stolt, The Flower Kings) make appearance on the album.

Wheel of Life is everything but a straightforward piece of art and it should not come as a great surprise. Complex, spiraling, multilevel compositions take long time to develop, so some songs reach 13 and 15 min. Just like it is the case with many progressive rock/metal albums, musicians’ ability with their instruments is at the center stage. In case of Karmakanic it is more than superb. Every band player (regular or guest) is a virtuoso at what he does. Reingold’s bass, throughout the album, is more than just a rhythm maintaining tool. It is the pulse, heartbeat and tiniest nerve signals of the whole music body. It is rarely said that bass is as important to the sound as it is on Wheel of Life. Jonas interplays with Richard Anderson’s keyboard solo in Masterplan Pt.1M, organ in Alex in Paradise and piano in Where the Earth Meets the Sky. Csorsz is like a fish in percussive waters going for hand twisting fills or cymbal/xylophone acoustics (Masterplan Pt.1). Guitar is not given that much room to wander on its own, although almost every composition has a room for a protracted solo, the closer Masterplan Pt.2 being one long searing guitar run. Goran Edman is a bright spot on the album, his voice absolutely not what it was on high notes Malmsteen albums demanded of him. Instead, he sings serenely and comfortably, his velvety voice adding so much to At the Speed of Light making the whole song cruise by. Piano on Where the Earth Meets the Sky is spot on, the whole sound of it atop the constantly rumbling bass so fresh and organic.

So why in the world with all this unbelievable musicianship the quote is not skyrocketing? Because even after the umpteenth listen I still can’t get into the album and I don’t think the lyrics and message necessarily coincide with the music. The whole thing is not cohesive and never jelled for me. Some songs definitely hit the nerve. Alex in Paradise (dedicated to Jonas’ son) is melodically bright and lighthearted, just like a dedication to one’s child is supposed to be. Familiar melody in the first part of the title track brings hope and positive expectations. However, the darker message of the opening track (SOS for mankind) is washed out in the long overthought futuristic jazz fusion that follows the excellent acoustic section. The great piano-bass ensemble in Where the Earth Meets the Sky is followed by another jazz jam which even further dissolves into an ambient new age/female mid-Eastern voice modulations section which makes the listener lose interest. Title track, so uplifting in the beginning, starts to meander and stagnate towards the end, I forgot how much I liked the flute lines. Honestly, if those were missing, would the message suffer? Or would it be clearer? Hindby is a decent guitar blues instrumental, but Do U Tango? could have been so much more than a mixture of keyboard loops and drum fills. Just reading the word tango on the booklet made it interesting, but a few acoustic guitar rumba lines in the middle of the song just don’t cut it. I’d recommend Gypsy Kings for Latino inspired music.

Progressive music lovers will certainly crucify me to pieces and point out how I “didn’t get the feeling”. I would have gotten it much better if this album didn’t carry so much extra peripheral weight. This music is written for the author, and maybe for his closest group of friends, certainly not for me, a below average fan, to enjoy. Elitism and egotistical nature, perhaps? The fans of the genre will love it, and certainly should buy the album when it comes out. However, just like I do not think the fastest playing and the lowest growling death metal band is the best death metal, I do not think the most virtuosic musicianship equates to the best progressive music.

Feel free to disagree and explain to the others what I missed.

Killing Songs :
Alex in Paradise, At the Speed of Light
Alex quoted 58 / 100
Other albums by Karmakanic that we have reviewed:
Karmakanic - In A Perfect World reviewed by Aleksie and quoted 87 / 100
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