Karcius is a young Canadian band whose music straddles the wide chasm between two misunderstood and marginal sub-genres: progressive rock and fusion. Despite their superficial similarities - a shared penchant for pomp, mysticism, exotic flourishes, odd harmonies, asymmetric time signatures, and lengthy improvisational explorations - I have never found fusion and prog to be compatible. At its best, fusion is a visceral music that has strong roots in African-American culture. Progressive rock, on the other hand, is a necessarily cerebral and refined superimposition of rock and various stripes of Euro-classicism in which blues and jazz roots are not valued. So, combining the two styles is perhaps as daunting as it is unnecessary.
Kaleidoscope is the band’s second recording. The group’s single biggest influence seems to be the Belgian band Univers Zero. Several of Karcius’ pieces contain passages that reach for - but don’t quite grasp - the same sort of Gothic quirkiness favored by Daniel Denis and his crew of musical misfits. On the other hand, there are more than a few 35-year-old progressive rock clichés afoot on Kaleidoscope. Keyboardist Mingan Sauriol revels in the sort of neo-classical dramatic flourishes mastered to perfection by guys like Patrick Moraz, Rick Wakeman and Tony Banks. A trio of compositions ("Hypothese A", "Hypothese B", and "Hypothese C") stretch one very slight compositional idea well past its breaking point, just like Emerson, Lake, and Palmer would have done back in the 70s.
Yet, there are flashes of promise here - the musicianship throughout Kaleidoscope is always competent and occasionally inspired. Drummer Thomas Brodeur and bassist Dominique Blouin set up strong, slippery grooves in any number of odd time signatures. Some of the compositions take a few interesting turns that, unfortunately, get lost amongst all the overwrought ornamentation and needless complexity. Despite their stated intentions, both guitarist Simon L’Esperance and keyboardist Sauriol come across as super-competent rockers rather than convincing jazz improvisors. L’Esperance takes on the lion’s share of the improvising, and successfully maintains interest and tension during his solos.
Kaleidoscope is most successful when the band takes one good concept and really runs with it, as on the flamenco-inspired "Epilogue". I’d like to hear more from Karcius once they’ve outgrown their influences, and decided whether to play fusion, progressive rock, or something else entirely.