Today Jayaprakash Satyamurthy reviews the new live album from ‘Samsara Blues Experiment‘.
…and then there’s music that’s undeniably heavy whether you even want to call it metal or not. If I’d heard that there was a local band with this name, I’d immediately assume it was a collective of burned-out Deadheads and over-the-hill rockers, the sort who guzzle watered-down beer in antediluvian pubs, and serve up a similarly watered-down avatar of the blues. At the risk of sounding prejudiced, when I heard that the band was from Germany, the land of Krautrock, all that changed. And sure enough, the albums ‘Long Distance Trip’ and ‘Revalation & Mystery’ turned out to be ten-tonne slabs of dark, heavy, yet groovy jam rock – and not the Phish/String Cheese Incident flavor of jam rock either. Instead, this is a band that will appeal to devotees of Amon Duul, Ash Ra Tempel, Jimi Hendrix, Blue Cheer, Black Sabbath, Hawkwind, Sleep and Electric Wizard alike.
I’d love to trip out to a band like this live. The mile-wide riffs, the soaring, probing guitar solos, the hypnotic, implacable rhythms and from-a-cloud-of-herbal-smoke vocals demand to be heard live, powering through the most massive PA money, insanity and alchemy can assemble. Owing to geographical limitations, that’s a bit unlikely to happen. Instead, I have to make do with this live platter, which draws even-handedly from both their albums.
The Samsara sound has always had a blend of improvisatory and worked-out passages, and that makes for a satisfying live set, with some things following in the footsteps of the studio version and enough room for live magic. The dual guitar weaving of frontman Christian Peters and Hans Eiselt form the core of the sound, ringing the band through the changes, as on the transition from the spacey ‘Singata Mystical Queen’ into the proto-metal chug of ‘Hangin’ On The Wire’. The Iommian maneuvers of ‘Army of Ignorance’ and ‘Outside Insight Blues’ sound heavier and more foreboding than ever, and make me wonder why more bands that channel this sound don’t have a dual guitar attack. This isn’t the rhythm section-choking bottom-end-heavy dual guitar attack of some American stoner/doom metal bands – instead it is a pretext for some very effective layering and a deepening of texture. Before you think that the band is just another Sabbath clone in Led boots, I must hasten to point out that a song like this one is a perfect example of how you can take the same influences as a hundred, thousand other SG-brandishing, Les Paul-bashing bands and make them your own with the right mix of originality, taste and quirk. Or of quirk, strangeness and charm to quote Hawkwind, a band whose marathon Space Ritual jams are not far from my mind when I listen to this music. ‘For The Lost Souls’ and the epic set-closer ‘Double Freedom’ take us into the more spacey, hard psych side of the band with 70s guitar-hero soliloquies billowing over questing, swirling backing tracks. There’s something of the motorik essence of classic Neu! here, crossed with the warm, chromosomal pulse of the more psyched forays of bands like Ten Years After. And it’s all so crushingly heavy, in its own way. The vocals sometimes dampen the mood a bit, being little more than functional, but at least they are few and far between, and the majesty of the riffs and jams surrounding them is too fundamental to be undermined that easily. ‘Into the Black’ plunges us into the deep end with aggressive soloing and a riff that’s so massive it should have its own gravity field, followed by a groovy uptempo march. It’s like 70s hard rock/proto metal on some very, very good acid and the simultaneous sense of heavy precision and jammy looseness underscore why a live album is such a great idea for this band. The way this song conveys the intensity and danger of early proto-metal without the slavish adherence to the template that so many other bands display is probably a testament to their wider-ranging influences, but it’s also an object lesson in how it’s done, if you’re interested.
View the entire set below
It’s not about copping the ‘Children of the Grave’ groove and having a singer who sounds like the bastard child of Ozzy Osbourne; there’s an almost mystic gravity in this kind of music, something that the Samsara Blues Experiment strike right to the heart of. There is such a thing as setting your focus too narrow; this band’s multiple allegiances to space cruising, blues rocking and garage-ready head bashing allow them to draw on a wider bag of tricks, always putting their own spin on everything and channeling some raw, elemental spirits of their own in the process. That’s why the next track, ‘Center of the Sun’ can sound like some of the more way-out, soaring instrumental jams Hendrix was recording towards the end of his life while still fitting in with the kraut tendencies bubbling around and not contradicting the primal heaviness of the preceding track. This one also has a more marked vocal presence, and it often has the same impact as some of Paul Chain’s syllabic vocals. The song may evoke the sun in its title, but the extended jams evoke the feeling of drifting on a changeable ocean of liquid melody. The album concludes with a studio version of ‘Singata Mystic Queen’, which deploys acoustic guitar across a drone backing. Be sure to light your agarbhati sticks in time for this one!
This is a fine live offering from a band that should appeal to fans of kraut, space rock, stoner metal and psychedelia while maintaining its own identity. It’ll sound equally good as part of a marathon session with the second Blue Cheer session, a later Hendrix compilation album like South Saturn Delta, an early Can or Amon Duul album, Hawkwind’s Space Ritual, Sleep’s Dopesmoker, some Electric Wizard, a selection of Mountain and Ten Years After jams, or best of all, a combination of them all.
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