How in the damn hell did I miss this band? For the past year I have been harassing bands like Fellwoods, Dead Man and Elope to put out some new music, as I’ve had an itch for more albums that navigate that fascinating era of 1968-70 when bands floated in a musical neverland between psych and prog while mixing in some folk, proto-doom and modern fuzzy stoner rock sounds. Norway’s Spirits Of The Dead is pretty much the perfect embodiment of that aesthetic. And they’re already on their third album! I blame The Obelisk. H.P. Taskmaster gave The Great God Pan (2011) a solid but not completely enthusiastic review. I missed it and he did not rate the album in his year-end list. Revenge! Kidding, I love The Obelisk, which may not always align with my tastes, but covered this band when I remained in the dark. Their self-titled debut from 2008 is just as great. But despite claims of widespread raves, press coverage has been sparse. Here’s hoping that changes with Rumours Of A Presence, out now on Brooklyn based metal label The End records. I have to say The End have been dropping the ball, given that it was released on June 25, but not available in any of the usual places (Amazon, All That Is Heavy, Aquarius, Bandcamp) other than crappy MP3s on Amazon and iTunes. Per the band’s requirements with the label, the only way to get the CD at the moment seems to be to purchase it in a bundle with the vinyl for $30+. [Update: Previously I thought it was the label’s decision. The band can do what they like, but I hate to see them limit their sales, and it doesn’t make sense to me that they’d sell compressed MP3s but not full-bandwidth CDs or FLAC. ]
So far the only way I’ve been able to hear it is through a slightly muddy vinyl rip. Despite that, I believe the production is spot on, as it was with the last album. It kicks off with “Wheels Of The World,” with a wonderfully propulsive guitar riff that pays homage to Tony Iommi’s riff on “Wheels Of Confusion” from Black Sabbath’s Vol. 4 without copying it. The psychedelic interlude at 2:30 steps the song off to another level, introducing the kind of bittersweet melody that first made Radiohead stars. “Song Of Many Reefs” should please lots of folks who crave the feel of the early Queens Of The Stone Age, which the tune resembles but still retaining the band’s own sound, especially when they stretch out into a proggy excursion with some laid back, virtuostic soloing from Ole Øvstedal. It’s a nice introduction to many of the band’s key strengths. I don’t know if it’s officially a single, but it’s the first song made available from the album.
Psych pop gem “Golden Sun” keeps the hot streak aflame with a gorgeous melody that literally haunted my dreams the first night after I heard it. Amazing. Things take a darker turn with the interlude-length “Dance Of The Dead” with spooky vocal effects. “Rumours Of New Presence” demonstrates vocalist Ragnar Vikse’s versatility, where he starts out in a higher pitch over the watery ambiance that’s more delicate than many female leads in recent bands, but then drops to a more sinister, heavier, doomy style, but without overdoing it. On “Red Death” he shows he can belt it out even heavier to match the album’s loudest, doomiest track. In stark contrast, “Seaweed” is entirely acoustic, played simply but lovely with subtly understated vocals. The album wraps up with the longest track at 7:38, “Oceanus.” Propelled by some cavernous Bonhamesque drumming by Geir Thorstensen and a wickedly complex bass line from Kristian Hultgren, it’s a maritime-themed epic with a powerful groove, one of the band’s most impressive accomplishments.
And then it’s over. The only disappointment is that the album isn’t longer, though at 41:03 it at least has more music than the previous two. My solution was to get all three, and luxuriate in repeat listens of one of my new favorite bands, up there with the likes of Graveyard, Witchcraft and Colour Haze. Those limited for now to just Rumours Of A Presence should be advised that deep headphone listening will reward them with all sorts of surprising details in their truly psychedelic production.