Tuesday 20 June 2023

Black Rainbows - Superskull (2023)

Country: Italy
Style: Stoner/Hard Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 9 Jun 2023
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If I'm counting properly, this is the eighth studio album by Italian stoner rock band Black Rainbows, who formed in Rome in 2005, but it's the first time I've heard them. I like what I hear, because they play a very bouncy stoner rock that's very engaging. The two openers bounce like Clutch, surely an important influence, but they pale in front of the bounciness of the next track, Children of Fire and Sacrifices, which sounds older. I'm not sure there's a stoner rock band in existence that doesn't feel like Black Sabbath at some point and that's definitely here but they mix it with Clutch and, as we'll soon find, Hawkwind.

There's fuzz here on Edoardo Mancini's bass but it's relatively clean, so shifting into hard rock, and that's eventually where we find the final track, Fire in the Sky, which kicks off with a riff that could have been lifted from a Paul Di'Anno era Iron Maiden track but quickly shifts into full on Hawkwind territory, with that patented driving bass and clean vocals from Gabriele Fiori that are delivered in unaccented English. This track is so unmistakably Hawkwind that it's clearly an overt homage.

And it isn't the first one, though the others forgo the drive for the space rock acid trip. The Pilgrim Son and King Snake both shift notably into space rock, keyboard generated atmospheres building a swirling maelstrom around Mancini's bass. The former evolves back into the regular sound during the second half, albeit not quite so bouncy as the early tracks and with the keyboard swirls there in the background behind everything else, until it drops back into peaceful space rock noodling to go home. The latter is more subdued, a mellow trip throughout. Desert Sun kicks in emphatically as a deliberate contrast.

The question is which of these approaches work best and I'm not sure I have an answer. They do the bouncy stoner rock thing so well that I'm tempted to go for those songs. I'd surely call out Children of Fire and Sacrifice as my favourite track, but Lone Wolf won't leave me alone. It's extra playful so it's not only the bounce that sells it. I adore the riff on this one and I love how it evolves during the instrumental second half even more. I'd also highlight All the Chaos in Mine, not because it does anything fancy but because it has no interest in doing anything fancy and stands out anyway. It features such a simple riff, in contrast to Lone Wolf, but it's exquisitely effective, turning the song into some sort of unstoppable behemoth.

I like the space rock songs too, but not as much. The Pilgrim Sun runs eight and a half minutes and I don't think it has enough to warrant that sort of cosmic journey. King Snake feels more effective at only five minutes, a laid back Hawkwind vibe with everything drenched in acid echo. It certainly has a more effective approach to taking me somewhere, which space rock always ought to do. If it's not taking me way outside on a colourful journey through the cosmos, it should take me way inside and feel hypnotically insightful. The Pilgrim Sun aims for the former while King Snake does the latter.

And, just when I'm forgetting it's there, every time through I get captured all over again by Fire in the Sky. Sure, it's the most derivative song here but it simply pulsates with energy and ought to be an absolute blast live. In its way, it's a combination of the two approaches above. It has the bounce of the early highlights, like Apocalypse March and Children of Fire and Sacrifices, but it also has an obvious keyboard presence, those cosmic swirls surrounding everything like a dry ice machine that won't switch off. The echoes are fantastic too, especially when applied to the riffs so that they rise above us and float in the ether.

Whichever style works best, the album's pretty solid and there are seven earlier studio albums to track down, starting with 2007's Twilight in the Desert and proceeding irregularly from there. The covers are all glorious too, so I could totally see picking up vinyl copies and sliding them into clear covers on the wall. This may feature their best cover yet, courtesy of a Brazilian artist called Pedro Correa, who's done posters for Phish, Eddie Vedder and Coheed and Cambria. His portfolio is very cool indeed. It's the icing on top of this tasty psychedelic cake.

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