Thursday 21 January 2021

Black Magic Tree - Through the Grapevine (2021)

Country: Germany
Style: Psychedelic Blues Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 22 Jan 2021
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Official Website | Twitter | YouTube

After Sinira, anything was going to seem bare, but it took surprisingly little time for me to adjust to the old school psychedelic blues sound of Berlin's Black Magic Tree. They look a lot further back than the mid-nineties, with the obvious early influences being Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones and maybe some Cult too. I liked the opener, Mandala Lady, but Beethoven is the one that grabbed me, with that Stones swagger, a Georgia Satellites kick and late psychedelic sections just to keep us on the hop. The odd thing is that it sounds contemporary, even though it really shouldn't.

That's an impressive feat, for a band to establish an identity of their own on a debut album that's full of so many influences that a first listen is almost spoiled by trying to figure them all out. They issued a single in 2019 and an EP shortly afterwards, but they only formed in 2018, so they haven't had a long time to figure each other out yet, let alone weave five sets of diverse influences into a new sound. I'm not sure that they're even done with that yet. It wouldn't surprise me to find a second album evolving in whole new directions. After all, I didn't find any Marvin Gaye here, even with that album title.

The band's biography suggests that this was a deliberate homage to the hard rock of the seventies, if with the goal of sidestepping "the pretensions of the era" by keeping the songs short and snappy. I'd suggest that they mostly succeed at this, but I caught more than the seventies here. There are parts I would swear go back to the British blues explosion in the sixties and the San Francisco sound as that decade rolled into the next. There are also others that feel more eighties, albeit by bands not typical for that decade, such as the Black Crowes.

But hey, where do the Doors end and the Cult begin? Long Night mixes up both, along with a pinch of Black Sabbath in the slower and heavier sections and another of Lynyrd Skynyrd in between when this gets jauntier. It's going to take a lot of listens to figure out everything going on here, especially with a song like this effortlessly changing itself into something else on a dime. It's a quick change artist of a song but, with half a minute left, it suddenly feels like Led Zeppelin again and I'm not sure what the change was that time.

Maybe part of it is because the two guitars are neatly separated between speakers, so one of Christian Reuter and Max Milan-Bertgrath is in the left speaker turning out a groove like Jimmy Page while his colleague in the right speaker gets mellow in hippie fashion. Or maybe that left guitar can get jangly while the right guitar veers into stoner rock. The point is that the pair don't always play in the same style and that's as fascinating as it is unusual.

The common factor, of course is that all both of them do stems from the blues via classic hard rock, so the result feels comfortable and familiar even when it's quirky and unusual. I like that. I also like the breadth of what the band is aiming at. Just looking at the Zeppelin influence, they're giving nods to songs as diverse as Going to California and Living Loving Maid. Now extend that diversity to dozens of other bands they're giving nods to.

Not everything here worked for me, with the longest song at the heart of the album being the prime example. That's Domo and it's six minutes of the half an hour that Through the Grapevine runs, which is a good chunk of it. Therefore I wanted more than the seven songs on offer, which is a good thing from a band's perspective. Leave 'em wanting more, right? When it did work, it really worked though. I loved Beethoven, Spider's Web and Flower, the rocker to wrap everything up, all the more on a second listen and a third. Bring on another album, folks. I like.

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