Monday 18 March 2019

Superlynx - New Moon (2019)

Country: Norway
Style: Psychedelic Doom Metal
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 15 Mar 2019
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Superlynx grabbed me right away with their second album but I struggled to come to terms with their full approach. Let me explain...

Musically, this is glorious stuff and I knew that from the opening to the first track, Hex. Ole Tiegen's slow beats, Pia Isaksen's fuzzy bass and the exotic guitarwork of Daniel Bakken combine into a heady mixture. Bass and drums clearly say doom metal, but that guitar says hey, I'm not going to be limited by that description; I'm going to pretend to be a sitar for a while and I'm going to introduce a belly dance troupe for a stretch. Put together, this is powerful, psychedelic and playful.

And then there's Isaksen's voice, which isn't. She performs her vocals in a droning monotone and, unless we're immediately and willingly hypnotised, it isn't something easy to get used to. The point, of course, is that this is ritual music and she's very introspective with her voice. This is music as both spellcraft and therapy, I think, and it takes a while to get into her mindset. She's only playful on the last track, The Thickest Night.

I was reminded of Sarah in Black Vulpine, not because the two sound alike but because they don't. Sarah has an ethereal voice that floats over the verses until she takes control with power. It's a logical approach but Isaksen refuses to go to either of these places. The sweetness to her voice is mostly in contrast to what she's doing with her bass because, however melancholic her vocals get and however much the music threatens to take over, we never believe that she's not without the power to deal with whatever she needs to. Perhaps, because she knows that too, she never ramps her voice up to force the point.

I think that how most people respond to her vocals is going to dictate what they think of Superlynx. I honestly wondered what this album would be like without those vocals and, as much as I'm totally sold on the music and would love to hear this as an instrumental album, I think it would be lesser for their omission. I wondered too what this album would be like with more of Ole Teigen's vocals playing the role of counterpoint, as they do at points in The Groove. I decided that, if she adds another element to the music, he adds another element to the vocals. I wonder why they don't do that more.

What fascinates me most is how the music works with these vocals but is so different in approach. It's a lot more varied, for a start, not just because of that wild and playful guitar but because the band clearly likes to travel musically but the vocals don't. Becoming the Sea opens with melancholy solo piano and, in the wildest musical moment on the album, Scarecrow kicks into high gear four minutes in for a fantastic burst of energy that prompted my slightly confused face to break into a huge grin.

After a couple of listens, I'm still not convinced if I like this album or not. Superlynx make a glorious racket for a trio and I love the music that truly fits the description of 'psychedelic doom metal': heady and doomladen but varied. Perhaps the best way to make that point is to say that my favourite tracks are probably the very different pair that kick off the second half.

These Children That Come at Us with Knives is a cautionary tale of folkish doom with stripped down instrumentation, layered vocals and an interesting line in lyrics. Scarecrow is denser and less patient, with a punky edge at the beginning and a looser approach even before the band kick out the jams and race for the finish line in gloriously reckless fashion. The two songs have completely different tones, the former like seventies occult rock and the latter more like a psychedelic Joy Division, but both work very well.

This is Superlynx's second album after 2015's LVX and I'm intrigued as to what that sounds like. I think I like New Moon. I certainly like a lot of what goes on inside it and I'm liking it more with each listen, but I'm fighting with myself as to why. Maybe LVX will help provide answers.

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