Sent over from the so strange it must be true department, Nepal Death (no, not Napalm Death) are a psychedelic rock band from Malmö in Sweden who felt the need in 2019 to celebrate the life and work of a Danish singer by the name of Eik Skaløe, who died over half a century earlier while following the Hippie Trail, by drug-induced suicide just inside the Indian border with Pakistan. Skaløe sang with the Danish rock band Steppeulvene, which means the Steppenwolves, and they were formed the same year as Steppenwolf, who, of course, are far more famous in the English speaking world, courtesy of those two magic words that they introduced into the world of rock lyrics: "heavy metal".
Steppeulvene only released one album, 1967's Hip, before splitting up, because the loss of a frontman as iconic as Skaløe was too much to get past. However, they've become a huge influence on Danish rock music, in part because Hip was the first album to feature Danish lyrics. Now, Nepal Death are Swedes, I believe, not Danes, and they sing neither in Danish nor Swedish; their lyrics are in English, when they aren't chants in what I presume is Hindi. While there's a lot of American acid rock in the band's sound, there's even more eastern spiritual music. Sometimes this sounds like a Hare Krishna group picked up instruments and decided to rock out.
And that all kind of makes sense, once we grasp what the band are doing, but that's not the boundary of their style. After all, it isn't remotely surprising to find that Sadhu Satan (The Durukti Mantra), Om Kali Ma and Shadow Empress of Kathmandu are psychedelic rock songs with eastern flavours. What is surprising is how much Wytches sounds like it could have been written by Siouxsie and the Banshees, even with a lead guitar with a fuzzy tone. The sitars only show up as the song ends and we're back in a sampled ethnographical documentary.
I like some of this a lot because it's played seriously, even though the gimmick is transparent and the most ridiculously titled material (such as She Smelled of Hash, which they claim may be a cover of a song they found on a home recorded cassette in a Kathmandu fleamarket; clearly it isn't), still sounds excellent. As serious music, it finds some fantastic grooves. There's some of that on Sadhu Satan but it really kicks in with Shadow Empress of Kathmandu, even if the ethnic touches extend to something as western as a Celtic lilt to the vocals that reminds of Dolores O'Riordan. It's more overt still on Om Kali Ma and Sita Ram.
The feel is important here or the whole thing would collapse under the weight of its concept. It's all phrased as if this was a journey down the Hippie Trail that Eik Skaløe took, but actually making it to Nepal and returning home afterwards with field recordings to sample. I didn't buy into it at all, with the narrative documentarian somewhat distracting, but I did like what they did with the concept as it does feel immersive at points and the ritual chants are well integrated. Everything builds to Dead in Nepal, surely the band's oldest song, written about Skaløe, that's clearly the root of everything else.
Nepal Death cite bands like Hawkwind, Blue Öyster Cult and Amon Düül II as influences. Hawkwind are probably the most obvious, not because this sounds like space rock (though Ana Merga is credited on theremin), but because it's a multi-layered performance, with songs that unfold like trips and include credits for poetry and occult recitations. It wouldn't surprise to find interpretive dancers on stage in only body paint, like Stacia, especially during the more ritual sections. It has to be a theatrical stage show and it's the chants that make it truly special.
So, I'll buy into this concept. It's certainly an interesting album that plays unlike anything else that I can name. My question has to be where they'll go from here. Is this just a one off or will Nepal Death be an ongoing concern? The quality is certainly there, as these six musicians, who all come from other established bands, are very good at what they do, and there are a number of guest appearances too. I just wonder if the gimmick will end up owning them. It hasn't yet. And, dude. That cover. Why is it not on my wall yet?