The first time my ears were lucky enough to hear the song “Hot Karate,” I got knocked out of reality. At first, I thought it was an early Tenacious D or a Judas Priest hit I missed in my early Rock and Roll education, but it was too smart for the former and too much fun for the latter. This was a prime steak in the middle.
The band responsible is called Hot Karate, and I was hungry for more. The song contains lyrics such as “empty mind and empty conscience / unprepared to cross the line / you are getting old planning your own funeral” sung with metal operatics screams over a killer riff and rapturing drums. It’s the kind of moment I desire so infinitely, and it’s so seldom delivered in contemporary music.
So when I heard Hot Karate had a new album out, I quickly found myself immersed in epicness, metal gumption, and gorgeous extended tracks. It’s the kind of stuff music fans say is dead.
I talked to Cyrus Ghahremani (bass and vocals) about the new album and understood why I connect with this trio of undefinable boundaries. The band, which started in 2010 as a casual jam, has progressed into a “serious effort to write progressive catchy and instrumental complex rock.”
The band’s previous two records Hot Karate and Moonlight Horchata were well received without being really adopted by a particular fanbase. Cyrus explains, “We’ve been told we’re too brainy for the L.A. rock scene, too artsy for the metal scene, too heavy for the indie scene. Originality and incomparability have both favored us and burdened us.”
Other bands may try to fit a mold to cater a fanbase; Hot Karate is not one of them, and they are the better for it. While their third album, Finger Food, is more cohesive, the sounds span from 8-minute blues epics like “Supermoon” to jazzy solos like “Baby Police” to the Metallica-influenced “Beefy Boof.” And that’s only the first half of the album. In the words of the lead singer, “Each song presents something tonally or rhythmically challenging and irregular, yet it always grooves, and never feels mathematic.”
The rest of the band is made up of Rob Krauss (guitar), a master of classic rock dense riffs, and Adam Subhas (drums) who brings everything together through jazz and blues rhythms. For those audiophiles out there, you may be happy to know the album Finger Food was mostly recorded and mixed with analog equipment. On tracks like “Diluwar” you can hear that off-beat, atmospheric conversation between instruments that makes Hot Karate so interesting, and addicting.
Finger Food, like the previous albums, is layered, dirty and unpredictable, but it shows a deeper commitment to creating master work in uncharted territories. The album cover, which shows a green face eating an unappetizing meal, is a perfect example of that undertaking. “I don’t know how we committed to being a gross band, but I suppose I wanted the cover to be something people could not really un-see,” Cyrus explains, “There is nothing more genuine than ugliness. If anything, it makes the occasional flash of beauty mean much more.”
Finger Food does that for my ears. It’s the ugliness and beauty one can’t really un-hear.