Style: Progressive Rock
Release Date: 5 Jul 2019
This album blew me away on a first listen and it kept on getting better each time through, but I quite grasp it until I researched it. Sacramental Smoke, a telling name, hail from Vaasa on the west coast of Finland, the same town as Rifftera, who impressed me so much back in January, and they play a brand of prog rock that's initially patient, laid back and utterly seventies, but gets more intense as it runs on, until it gets all funky on the title track a couple of minutes before the album ends.
Initially, they felt rather like Pink Floyd if Pink Floyd were a lounge act, but there's a lot more here than that. I got a strong Led Zeppelin vibe too, not in emulation like Kingdom Come or Greta Van Fleet, but in spirit, like a improvised Page and Plant side project done back in 1971 under the influence of mind-altering substances. There's folk here and blues, jazz and rock, all merged in some of the ways that Zep merged them.
There's obviously sixties psychedelia here as well, especially on something like Ride, which has a very San Francisco vocal, half Jim Morrison and half Paul Kantner, but with some country rock hints, jazz fusion drumming and a rather prominent saxophone for good measure. Put together, it wouldn't be a surprising cover in a Grateful Dead set.
There's also the genre-hopping backing I know from early Tom Waits albums like The Heart of Saturday Night. Opener My Girl could easily have been a Tom Waits song from his crooner era but with Vello Suigussaar just singing instead of portraying a persona while doing so. Brainwashed starts out that way too but turns into a psychedelic jam for a while and ends like Robert Plant auditioning for Pink Floyd.
I wondered how this unlikely set of influences came about, especially with almost nothing newer than the mid seventies. Well, the key showed up on the band's Facebook page, where there are two influences listed: Pink Floyd and Kingston Wall. Now, it's perhaps understandable that I'd never heard of the latter, given that they only ever played one gig outside Finland, but they combined a lot of these sounds on a very influential trio of albums in the early nineties. They were apparently prog/psych, with their sound a mix of Floyd, Zep and Jimi Hendrix. I must seek them out now.
Whatever the course of events that led Sacramental Smoke to this sound, I'm totally on board and I'm fascinated to see how they're going to evolve from here. The whole album feels very loose and improvisational, but was clearly planned carefully. There's a point in Leaving Tomorrow where the piano takes over from the vocals, but there's a percussion sound to die for behind them both that never shows back up. The sax/bass combo early in Across the Sea is similarly blissful but unrepeated.
Also, the way that the album starts quietly and inoffensively but gradually speeds up and gets more intense. It's almost two minutes into Across the Sea when the whole band just doubles their speed just like that and, when they slow back down again we realise that the sea is the galaxy and we're a heck of a long way from home. Two thousand light years, perhaps? But hey, we're OK with that. And, once they've sped up once, doing so again isn't remotely the shock it was the first time. Maybe the acid's taking and the trip is an enjoyable one.
The album certainly is. I really didn't want this trip to end.