I’m surprised to find an album that actually takes the edge off Graveyard’s recent breakup for me. Not to say that these Swedish bands are interchangeable, though there is some similarity in “Them Calling” and some of their bluesy moments. If anything, Asteroid influenced the younger band, having formed in 2003 at the tail end of the initial fertile stoner wave in Sweden that included Blind Dog, Numbah Ten, Dozer, Lowrider, Terra Firma, Truckfighters and Mammoth Volume.
The band has used their time wisely since their highly regarded second album II (2010), honing their musicianship and taking their time to create some rich textures. You can just about hear Johannes Nilsson’s fingers on the bass strings in the moody opener to “Pale Moon.” Like All Them Witches, they revel in the natural sounds of their instruments, letting the bass and drum (with new drummer immi Kohlscheen) interplay flow with a virtuosic groove that has more in common with the most accomplished classic rock than scruffy underground fuzz heads. They sparingly unleash the fuzz effects, such as at the end of “Pale Moon,” and most notably on “Wolf & Snake,” giving me a fond flashback to Sungrazer.
Robin Hirse’s vocals have also matured nicely beyond his initial influences from John Garcia and the late Layne Staley have into his own style. This is also the band’s most consistent, keeping the songwriting quality high on all seven tracks. “Til’ Dawn” begins with the kind of jangly western sound that Troubled Horse does so well with before turning up the juice. “Silver & Gold” is the most instrumentally spare, with an eerie noir vibe. The album ends with a bang with “Mr. Strange,” chock full of changes from guitar harmonies to space jams and “whoa whoa” vocals. III should seal Asteroid’s spot in the top tier of heavy rock bands not just in Sweden, but the world.