Iris Divine – Karma Sown – Album Review

IrisCoverIt is rare that the first play of an album from a band has me glued to my speakers, almost speechless in disbelief at what I am hearing, and this would be an even less common with a “local band”, but I am still struggling, several weeks after receiving this CD in the mail, to coherently express my impressions in way that captures how truly excellent this album is. This isn’t just good, great or stunning… It is all of these and way, way more. Let me reset and get my feet back on the floor for a second here and give you the lay of the land first.

Let’s start with the obvious – who the heck are Iris Divine? What we have here is a three-piece outfit, with Navid Rashid handling vocals and guitar, Brian Dobbs on bass and Kris Combs taking care of drums and keys/programming. The band declares their hometown as Centreville, VA, which puts them about 12 miles from the NoVAMetalReview homestead, and I have to declare that I have managed to skillfully miss them playing at various gigs over the past two years – a fact I am kicking myself very hard over right now. Style-wise my immediate go-to would be Dream Theater and Fates Warning, with perhaps a good squeeze of Rush for good measure, but I think you could find quite a diverse set of influences if you wanted to pick at it. Personally, other than to get some sort of stylistic footing, I don’t feel there is any need to compare them, since as soon as you get this album spinning you will immediately have them on level pegging with any band you care to name. Yes, they aren’t just in the same bucket as <name band>, they are equal to any you might pick, including those with millions of album sales… (let that sink in OK?).

Despite missing them live (facepalm again, uhg!) all these times, I have bought tickets for gigs from them (I forget supporting who…), have at least one t-shirt, and also funded their Kickstarter campaign that provided some of the funds behind this album, which is how I came about receiving the CD. That was good move. At least I got that right. So, come December, an innocuous padded envelope arrived in the mail with another CD in it. The cover art was intriguing, so it was clear some effort had gone into the packaging at least – you can see the artwork at the top this article.

Now, this is the second full length CD from the band, but since their debut release, “Convergence” (available from the band’s Bandcamp page: http://irisdivine.bandcamp.com/album/convergence), the line-up has changed, with Navid and Brian remaining at the core, but seemingly greatly benefit from the addition of Kris to the line-up. The newly trimmed line-up seems to provide a tighter and heavier vibe than was evident from the debut. It’s certainly not a great change, but is a positive re-focusing. For those who like to dig deep, the band put up two tracks from Karma Sown as demos in mid-June of 2013 (again on Bandcamp), so it is clear the gestation period for this album has been well over a year, and to be honest, quality will always win over quantity. The demos certainly capture the ‘soul’ of the tracks as they appear on the final album, but the leap in production quality is immense, but now I am ahead of myself!

The album opens with “The Everlasting Sea” and the first thing that hit me was just an amazing production job. It isn’t just “good”, it’s bloody amazing, OK! Now, I don’t have the CD in front of me, but I believe this was self-produced (if I got that wrong… apologies), but whatever/whoever, they did a fantastic job. The sound is modern, tight, and heavy, but avoids what I will call the ProTools sheen, that all too many recent releases seem to drag along for the ride. Basically I can crank this album through my studio monitors, my car stereo, my reference system at home, or slammed on ‘11’ on the old iPhone earbuds and it sound fantastic everywhere. Great start.

“The Everlasting Sea” was one of the two demo tracks from the 2013 teaser, but the updated version here has a vitality and energy that is entirely new. It is immediately apparent that the core track retained its form, but the performance from the players is top-notch and all instruments have a nice “space” in the mix, but perfectly integrate. What set’s the album apart for me are the vocals. They sit so damn well in the musical “picture” that they knit the whole thing together in a way that is entirely “right”. It seems a little unfair now I’ve written that to single out a particular piece of this jigsaw, because the whole here is definitely the sum of the parts and more. The opening track clocks in at 6 minutes 20 seconds, but at no point do I feel any track on the entire album is anything other than well timed.

Up next is “Fire Of The Unknown” which breaks into a pretty crushingly heavy riff from more or less the get go, but even with this, the track is lifted by some very subtle but clever programming/keyboards. The more you listen, the more you get back. Now I don’t know how easy/hard it is to do this, but the attention to these smaller details and the care in getting the mix down right has paid off magnificently. Make sure you pay attention to all that is going on – there is some pretty spectacular bass playing to be had here, the drumming is spot on and the guitar work is stellar. Well done indeed!

I could go on and on, but I think you get the drift here… right? If I have any complaints at all then they are simply a request for more! The first request relates to the fact that there is only eight tracks on the album, which is perfectly OK, since the runtime for the record is around 48 minutes, but I would have happily enjoyed a couple more. Second, I would have been quite happy to hear more solo guitar from Navid. When he does let loose it is a good time, but I suspect there was an element of restraint in place here which can be backed off next time around. Let the man play!

Now there is one final twist in this story. Shortly after releasing the album, the band somewhat mysteriously pulled the recording from their Bandcamp page and all other sources, with a cryptic message that this was good news… Now, as far as I can ascertain (without any further official word from the band or any other source), the situation is that the band has interest from a significant label, which will come as no surprise to anyone that has heard this album. Iris’ certainly deserve to have this album released to the global market, which is something much harder to do on a self-basis. I can only hope this happens sooner rather than later, because this is a record that needs to be “out there”. I am certainly more than grateful to have the physical CD in my collection right now.

Most often I would pick a couple of tracks as favorites, but in this case that is a pointless exercise. All the tracks are standout and I can play them in any order and still walk away with a smile on my face. I do enjoy the instrumental “In Spirals”, but that is probably my inner musician sneaking out and applauding a band with the chops to drop a true instrumental track on a record and pull it off so excellently. All in all there is little else to say other than to hope for great things for these guys – they turned out a cracking good record here and it is a no-brainer to score this a straight 10/10.

– Neil Waterman 1/15/15

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2 Responses to “Iris Divine – Karma Sown – Album Review”

  1. Such a great album, the bar has been set this year for the area’s metal bands.

    • Totally agree Chris. I have played this album nearly every day since receiving it in December and am still infatuated with it. Rarely can the word “masterpiece” be used, but in this case it truly is.

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