KARMA TO BURN … NO MORE

R.I.P. WILL MECUM, KARMA TO BURN FOUNDER AND RIFFMEISTER

Plenty of musicians pass away and we can’t comment on them all, nor should we even try. But this one? Karma to Burn have featured a few times in this blog so yes, we’re doing it.

Will Mecum died of a head injury after a fall at the end of April. He was 48. Weirdly, four months later, that’s pretty much still all we know.

It feels like small media noise for a band who, if you got them in your life, seemed like a pretty big name. You felt they were known to everyone in the rock-metal-stoner scene, not least because of their pretty unique format and on-off links to John Garcia. But maybe they weren’t. Maybe they really were still cult.

They were definitely a conundrum. Sometimes you’d play their albums and revel in the greatest of no-bullshit rock sounds, that instrumental riff metal thing that took its cues from the AC/DC, Ramones or Motorhead school of Ain’t Broke No Fix and just rocks like a bastard. Sometimes that’s all you need: pure rock, no solos, no art, no words. The subversive power of guitar-bass-drums amplification.

At other times, you’d get a bit bored by the one-trick repetition and lack of adventure (never the debut though – always killer, that one).

Similar thing live, depending on which incarnation you caught. Last time I saw Karma to Burn was 2018 and it was a good gig but didn’t quite fly for a band you want to be totally smoked by. But Audioscope 2011 – man, that was something. Three badass road dogs and plentee amps upstairs in a pub made for a shit-kicking headliner set. Mecum was into it yet anonymous next to his more animated bandmates, the genial Rich Mullins on low-hung bass and the wildman-unkempt Rob Oswald on drums.

Watch a clip from that very gig. This is the Karma to Burn and Will Mecum that lives on.

Wild, Wonderful Purgatory rocking hard while writing this. It sounds better than ever. And now that K2B have joined the departed, it probably always will.

So long, guys. And eternal thanks for the live introduction to Desert Storm.

Karma to Burn – live@Bullingdon Arms, Oxford, July 2013

No-frills power-trio Karma to Burn bring guitar-bass-drums fury to the Bullingdon. Or do they?

As we know, Karma to Burn are all about the expected. End-to-end riffs, no vocals, no experimentation, no frills. They do not deviate, they do not change: certainty is their currency and you pretty much know what’s coming up – an hour or so of shit-kicking, dust-and-gasoline guitar hooks ground out by three grizzled road-dogs bonded by a volatile history of bad drugs, bad attitudes and band break-ups. Seeing the reunited Will Mecum-Rob Oswald-Rich Mullins line-up nail the Audioscope headline slot a couple of years ago was a proper treat, and now they’re back to give us more.

But before West Virginia headlines, Oxford must support. That honour falls to local heroes Desert Storm who charge the Bully with infectious, Clutch-inspired rhythm ‘n groove and supreme confidence. Immense.

Karma to Burn take to the stage almost without anyone noticing. And as the first notes crunch forth tonight, something’s not quite right.

Who’s the drummer?

And where is the bassist?

First question first. By not following Karma’s personnel moves last year, I missed the fact that drummer Rob Oswald left not just the band but music itself, sick of the lies and compromises at the business end of the music business. He got out.

As for the bass space … it remains a void. Rich Mullins never shows. Nothing is mentioned.

So for a band who trade in certainties and absolutes, this is an unsettling start. Does Will Mecum (guitar) plus a drummer (Evan Devine) count as a Karma to Burn experience?

Sonically, yes. As soon as those amps push Mecum’s Karma-sized riffs out, the doubts diminish and grins emerge. This music isn’t sophisticated, it’s as stripped down as you can get – there aren’t even any solos – and yet, live and loud in a small venue, it unleashes a very primal urge to just ROCK OUT. The Bullingdon back room does exactly that, whirling into a mosh as the wordless tracks blast past. Job done. And with job done, Mecum and Devine swiftly depart.

Whether this two-piece format is Karma to Burn’s future is something we don’t know yet. Losing Oswald’s unkempt wildman intensity is one thing but if Mullins’s genial cool is AWOL too … that’s a hefty personality deficit for a band who are pretty minimal to begin with. Tonight they pull it off – I think. Let’s see what happens.