The progression of German instrumentalists My Sleeping Karma has been as natural and flowing as the tones they’ve offered across their releases. Moksha is their fifth full-length and second to be released on Napalm Records behind 2012’s Soma (review here), and like that album, it finds the Aschaffenburg four-piece delving into Eastern religious themes — “Prithvi” being the world in which everything is contained, “Moksha” being freedom through self-realization, “Agni” the Hindu god of fire, etc. — and spacing out its graceful longer pieces with progressive interludes. In structure, Moksha could be considered a direct sequel to its predecessor, but much of what My Sleeping Karma accomplishes across its 11 songs/54 minutes finds its roots further back, in 2010’s Tri (review here), 2008’s Satya (review here) or even their 2006 self-titled. Their growth, in other words, has been steady, and the four-piece have proved over the better part of the last decade to be more inclined toward gradual, incremental steps forward than presumptuous leaps of sound. Moksha, then, is the next step for guitarist Seppi, bassist Matte, drummer Steffen and keyboardist Norman, and it proves to be their most entrancing work yet, pulling varied movements together across an immersive singular span that heavy, progressive, and hypnotically psychedelic while continuing to refine their sound as one of the most immediately identifiable in underground rock. The textured feel of the material here, whether it’s the building guitar swirl of “Vayu” or the keyboard and effects wash of the penultimate “Interlude 5,” is what unites it as a whole, and more even than Soma, it’s possible to make your way through the various twists and surprises Moksha has on offer without realizing just how far you’ve gone.
Like the best of heavy psychedelia, the feel is otherworldly, but My Sleeping Karma have never just been about jamming. Even less so over time. Their songs, though instrumental and portraying an open creative process, carry a refined feel, and that’s true from the first echoing guitar notes of “Prithvi,” which courses through keyboard and guitar melodies over a steady rhythmic foundation, leading into the first interlude’s ritualized drone, chanting and percussion coming to a head just as “Vayu” takes over, again led by the guitar and keys. Memorable turns, tonal warmth and easy transitions are nothing new for My Sleeping Karma, but both “Prithvi” and “Vayu” underscore just how much their sound has become their own over the course of the last nine years, and even with the three-year break preceding Moksha as the longest of their career, they have continued to evolve their approach. “Vayu” ends on a dreamy note of fading horns and “Interlude 2″ picks up with a quiet guitar line fleshed out atmospherically over 1:45 before “Akasha” kicks in as one of Moksha‘s most engaging moments, a driving rhythm and airy spaciousness playing back and forth with each other not so much in competition as complement, Steffen‘s drums tying it together as each build starts anew. Moksha is more linear than broken into sides A and B — more like LPs one and two, both for its north-of-50-minutes runtime and companioning of one song into the next into the next — but the acoustic guitars and mellotron sounds of “Interlude 3″ mark a halfway dividing point nonetheless, and keys remain at the fore in the beginning of the subsequent title-track, also the longest inclusion at 9:37. While not as immediately catchy as “Akasha,” the titular cut offers satisfying rumble in its distortion, a fervent swirl, satisfying tempo shifts and a sense of composition that has remained a key factor in My Sleeping Karma‘s style particularly over their last three outings. I won’t take anything away from the faster prog riff that emerges from the grand chugging of “Moksha”‘s largest moments, but what really makes the piece a standout is the post-rock guitar/key interplay that comes forward at about the 5:30 mark, Norman‘s intro line resurfacing and fleshing out for the remainder of the track, not so much in a build, but in a contemplative moment of exploration that hints at what the next step might be for the band.
That step? One can only speculate, but listening to Moksha and in particular listening to the song that shares the album’s name, it seems that where My Sleeping Karma might be headed is in drawing the heavy psychedelic and progressive influences together, taking the adventurous ambience and arrangements of their interludes and the solidified movement of their longer tracks and bringing them into a new cohesion. Whether that comes from expanding the interludes or broadening their songwriting as a whole, I don’t know what shape it might take, but five albums deep, that’s part of what makes My Sleeping Karma an exciting listen. Airy guitars continue amid a poignant surge on “Interlude 4,” while “Jalam” continues the expansive cascade of “Moksha,” careening into and through heavier parts en route to a sprawling, firm-rooted middle ground, the turn in one direction or another sudden but easy enough to follow, and the last of the interludes, the aforementioned “Interlude 5″ has a smokier feel in its guitar and keyboard spread. Almost a bluesy drama, if filtered through the band’s own style. That leaves “Agni” to close out Moksha with a note reinforcing the album’s progressive vibe, which it does via intricate riffing and overarching thrust offset by more open “verse” riffs and a calm midsection that acts as the launch point for the last of the record’s builds, My Sleeping Karma taking one more lead-topped run into weightier distortion amid a comfortable lumber, adding intensity to the push until a final crash lets the ending tones fade away. One way or another, My Sleeping Karma have already made an impact on heavy psychedelia, not notably in Europe, but if listening to Moksha and trying to parse out what they might do next proves anything, it’s how fascinating a project theirs continues to be even a decade after its inception. Whatever direction My Sleeping Karma may or may not go, their output has only become more resonant with time, and as the most recent check-in on their progress, Moksha finds them at their most accomplished yet. But they in no way sound like they’re done, either.