The Tower by MotorpsychoRelease date: September 8, 2017
Label: Rune Grammofon / Stickman Records
I shouldn’t be writing about Motorpsycho. Well, actually I should, but I’ll explain why it feels like the most daunting thing I’ve ever written. Motorpsycho is the best band in the world. To me they are at least. They’ve been around since the late 80s, they have released around two dozen releases, not including the extended singles and EPs which would double this tally probably, either under their own moniker, or under the different disguises. They have evolved as no other band has, starting as a rough grunge heavy metal band, and gradually becoming a psychedelic, progressive heavy rock powerhouse. And they are simply one of the best bands you’ll ever see on the live stage.
Over the last couple of years I have had with the idea to write a much extended introduction guide to Motorpsycho many, many times, but I have never managed to get a single letter on paper, simply because they haven’t put out a bad release, so I’d just recommend them all. Okay, they have their “really good” releases and their “good, but not as good as their very best output” releases, but on any given day you can play any Motorpsycho record to me and I will give you a big hug and high five for doing so.
Over the course of their career they have achieved a lot, like the numerous releases, reinventing their own sound on more than one occasion, producing film and theatre music productions, and being included in Norway’s rock music hall of fame, of which the ceremony was broadcasted on Norwegian television. And this latter point probably hits the nail on the head. They are simply huge in their own country Norway, but outside of Norway they have their dedicated fans, but not the recognition they deserve. I am based in the UK and there have been numerous times where I mentioned Motorpsycho to fellow music fans and they would stare back at me with a look of not knowing what I’m going on about on their faces.
Simply put, this needs to change, fans of progressive, heavy, psychedelic rock need to know who Motorpsycho are, and why they have such a dedicated army of fans, the self-proclaimed “Psychonauts”. Perhaps therefore I feel it’s almost my duty to write these words and hopefully it will increase their fanbase a bit more. It also helps that their new release The Tower is one of their finest releases of recent years.
Things were a bit unsure last year when long-time drummer Kenneth Kapstad announced he was leaving Motorpsycho to focus more time on that other great Norwegian rock band, Spidergawd (which also used to feature Motorpsycho founding member and bassist/vocalist Bent Sæther). What was going to happen now? The band had survived a similar moment when their previous long-timer drummer Håkon Gebhardt left the band in 2005, surely they would find another replacement to take the seat?
And they sure did. In comes the Swede Tomas Järmyr, possibly one of the best avant-garde drummers out there at the moment. Tomas is of course best known for his work with Zu, but also through his collaborations with Aidan Baker in Werl and with Dirk Serries in Yodok III. This certainly was great news, but to replace Kenneth’s powerful, driving drumming would have been a daunting task to any talented drummer.
Fortunately for the band and their fans Tomas took the seat and the result is new album The Tower, Motorpsycho’s first double LP since 2014’s Behind the Sun. Sometimes people say that a change of line-up could inject a new energy, or a new source of inspiration in a band, which is definitely the case on The Tower. However, Motorpsycho doesn’t necessarily need any new inspiration, but Tomas certainly brings in a re-energised sound to the band.
The Tower consist of 10 tracks and starts with the title track ‘The Tower’, which after a brief, dreamy intro is classic Motorpsycho stuff. Bent’s heavy, fuzzy and pulsating bass lines, Snah (Hans Magnus Ryan)’s fuzzy guitar riffs and those beautiful vocals, almost sounding as if they’ve gone straight back to a 70s classic prog band. From this first track it is instantly clear that Tomas has found his place in the band and his drumming perfectly complements the music. One of the elements I’ve always loved about Motorpsycho’s sound is the bass. Listen to any of their albums and the bass always has a huge prominence, and not just simply playing the rhythm section, but really adding tons to the music and song structures. Check out the middle section of this opening track for example, where things soon erupt in a huge sounding jam, which is just glorious.
Rather than doing a track by track analysis, I’d rather want to focus on a couple of personal album highlights. For example the middle part on the album, with tracks 5 and 6, ‘Stardust’ and ‘In Every Dream Home’, which go right back to the in 2001 released Phanerothyme album, where the band continued to experiment with added folk prog sounds using cello, flute and violins into their sound. Here we can hear those elements creeping back into their sound, which provides a nice and calming section right in the middle of The Tower.
‘A.S.F.E.’ is a classic sounding Motorpsycho track, with great riffs, harmonic vocals and big layers of melody. ‘Intrepid Explorer’ is a long stretched, psychedelic tinged jam. And the two longest album tracks, ‘A Pacific Sonata’ and album closer ‘Ship of Fools, are both glorious, but in very different aspects. Where ‘A Pacific Sonata’ is a very slow, almost experimental and avant-garde prog inspired track, ‘Ship of Fools’ is a grooving Motorpsycho track of epic proportions, bringing The Tower to a powerful end.
So there. I’ve done it, I finally wrote about my favourite band in the world, which feels like I’ve done another thing on my bucket list. It’s difficult for me to review any Motorpsycho album objectively as I love everything they release, but I can certainly say this is probably in my top 5 favourite Motorpsycho albums they’ve released to date. It has all the Motorpsycho elements, they go back to their older sounds, either the heavier rock sound or the more folk prog sound. Plus new drummer Tomas fits in perfectly, which makes it a very interesting prospect to see them live now as I’ve seen Tomas on stage with both Zu and Yodok III, being very impressive on both occasions.
Fans of both heavy rock and more classic prog would absolutely love The Tower and I hope it will be the gateway to new potential fans to dive into the huge back catalogue and explore the greatness this Norwegian band has produced in their long career so far.