Tuesday 20 September 2022

Motorpsycho - Ancient Astronauts (2022)

Country: Norway
Style: Progressive Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 19 Aug 2022
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Motorpsycho haven't been into the studio in the last five minutes, so it's about time they knocked out another album. While that might sound flippant, and I guess it is, the bizarre truth is that the quality of their albums absolutely does not suffer because of their prolificity. I found them in 2019 and this is the fourth album of theirs that I've reviewed since then, a release rate higher than any band I'm aware of except the inevitable King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. Yet I gave 2020's The All is One a highly recommended 8/10 and Kingdom of Oblivion an Album of the Month 9/10.

This one didn't hold up to those standards initially, with a pair of shorter tracks, especially by their standards, The Ladder and The Flower of Awareness. The latter is only two minutes long, hardly an expected length for Motorpsycho anyway, but those aren't particularly memorable two minutes to my thinking, just a sort of dark ambient interlude between The Ladder and Mona Lisa/Azrael. The Ladder itself runs a more typical near seven minutes, but it grows slowly from almost nothing and doesn't really kick in until the two minute mark. It's decent stuff and it gets better with each time through, but it's hardly the most inspired Motorpsycho track that I've heard.

Mona Lisa/Azrael is where my jaw started to drop in a way that I'm getting used to with this band. I should add that, while it begins at the halfway point as far as the track count goes, it's also merely nine minutes into forty-three, so the album's really just getting started. This one is gorgeous from moment one, the opening patient and pastoral with progressions highly reminiscent of early King Crimson and Bent Sæther's vocals soft but magnetic.

It perks up around the four minute point and then travels through a rollercoaster of emotions, its heavier sections marked by urgent and busy rhythms by Tomas Järmyr but its quieter ones with an almost tantalising peace, one that always feels as if it might explode into life in a heartbeat. For a majority of the time it does, though the piece does fade out rather oddly. If there's a flaw to it, it's that it doesn't reach a definitive conclusion.

It's rather telling that The Flower of Awareness felt long at two minutes but Mona Lisa/Azrael felt short at over twelve. The jagged guitar solo from Hans Magnus Ryan to open the second half is as unlike the opening vocal section as can comfortably be imagined, or indeed from the subtle fade at the end, but that's how far one track can take us. I was utterly absorbed by this piece of music, just as much on my fifth listen as my first.

And, if you think twelve minutes is long, the album wraps up with Chariot of the Sun - To Phaeton on the Occasion of Sunrise (Theme from an Imagined Movie), a stunningly verbose title that does suggest that the entire piece should be told through seventies Tangerine Dream synthwork. That doesn't happen, of course, even if it hints at it early on, but what we do get does something very similar because it's almost entirely instrumental (and what vocals we get do not deliver words).

I can't say that I did much visualisation of the movie that the band imagined but it does feel a lot like a sunrise in the way that it builds slowly and patiently into something transformational. It's a good piece, a very pleasant way to spend twenty-two minutes, but it's not as vibrant and essential a piece as its predecessor. And so this has to be a 7/10, my lowest rating for a Motorpsycho album since my first, The Crucible, in 2019. It's what I'd give Chariot of the Sun and The Ladder, while The Flower of Awareness is much lower but Mona Liza/Azrael easily an 8/10 highlight.

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