Motorpsycho and Ståle Storløkken – The Death Defying Unicorn + Bushman’s Revenge – A Little Bit of Big Bonanza

The second of two related posts reviewing new psych/power rock albums on the Norwegian Rune Grammofon label looks at a new collaboration between Motorpsycho and Ståle Storløkken, plus the latest-but-one offering from Bushman’s Revenge.

An earlier post looked at the debut albums of El Doom & the Born Electric and the Hedvig Mollestad Trio.

Motorpsycho and Ståle StorløkkenThe Death Defying Unicorn (Rune Grammofon)
When I first saw Motorpsycho in concert, I had gone along more interested in the support slot by ex Supersilent member Ståle Storløkken’s Hammond-driven power trio, elephant9. But Motorpsycho were unexpectedly magnificent, much better than my patchy knowledge of their 1994 ‘classic’ Timothy’s Monster had led me to expect. In retrospect, it seems the 2007 recruitment of a new drummer, Kenneth Kapstad, led to a new phase in the band’s 23-year-long development. The reinvigorated trio’s three albums to date, Little Lucid Moments, Child of the Future, and Heavy Metal Fruit, are all ambitious prog/metal tours de force built on solid melodic foundations.

After that 2010 concert I heard that Motorpsycho and Storløkken had joined forces for that year’s Molde Jazz Festival, and so I was already looking forward to Unicorn before it was announced. What I had in mind, however, was something that harnessed their phenomenal energies in powerhouse synergy. What we actually get, in the form of their new opus, is an expansive double CD album subtitled “a fanciful and fairly far-out musical fable”.

The Death Defying Unicorn extends the Motorpsycho sound into orchestral realms, with parts for the Trondheimsolistene string octet and Trondheim Jazz Orchestra (including Jaga Jazzist mainstay and ECM bandleader Mathias Eick) on brass and reeds, arranged by Storløkken. There’s also a featured violinist (Ola Kvernberg); plus Mellotron, “sonic mayhem” and gongs by Kåre Chr. Vestrheim.

The album, unsurprisingly, sounds rather indigestible at first, but that’s par for the course with Motorpsycho’s long-form structures. It takes just a couple of listens for Unicorm to emerge as just as formally coherent and satisfying a listen as their other recent works. It helps that the lyrics by bassist Bent Sæther, which narrate a seafaring yarn inspired by Mutiny on the Bounty and Moby Dick, are nowhere near as fanciful as the album’s title suggests.

Coming after a couple of orchestrated scene-setting tracks at the start of disc one, album highlight “Through The Veil” is an epic, powerhouse Motorpsycho rocker with a second act in which the track’s themes are richly orchestrated, and yet another in which the various musical strands are deftly woven together. The second CD is, if anything, a little too restrained, with the music succumbing to the very doldrums endured by its narrative’s protagonists, who are adrift and delirious following a shipwreck. But Storløkken’s orchestrations are uniformly superb, and the core trio find a near-perfect balance between the urge to rock and the need for subtlety.

Bushman’s RevengeA Little Bit of Big Bonanza (Rune Grammofon)
Stale Storløkken also appeared on 2010’s Jitterbug, the last offering from Motorpsycho labelmates Bushman’s Revenge. After a promising debut, that sophomore effort was a pretty mediocre one by any standards. I didn’t hold out much hope for A Little Bit of Big Bonanza.

There’s no assist from Storløkken this time out, and it seems the young rock improv trio are better off without him, because Bushman’s shuck off their former turgid curdled-Cream blues derivations and sub-Motörhead riffola in favour of a fleeter, fiercer and more flowing attack.

They hit hardest from the get-go, with an incendiary romp through electric jazz man Sonny Sharrock’s “As We Used to Sing” that alone would make the album a keeper, as the Rune Nergaard/Gard Nilssen rhythm section lock together in a pell-mell forward plummet, lit by the traceries of Even Helte Hermansen’s strafing electric guitar. The rest of the album is all original material (if you want more covers, there’s a less successful vinyl-only companion volume, Never Mind The Botox, of material by artists including Black Sabbath, Pixies, Ornette Coleman and Sun Ra), with “No More Dead Bodies For Daddy Tonight” carrying Sharrock’s torch on a blazing romp into power-prog territory, and “Jeg Baker Kokosboller” ripping a leaf from the doomier pages of Caspar Brötzmann’s stylebook.

The acoustic simplicity of “John Lennon Was the Greatest Man Who Ever Lived” signals lighter moments to come, and there are some ambitious (if necessarily spartan) musical arrangements (witness the downtempo “Tinnitus Love Poem”, which has much more going for it than a great title) fleshed out along the way to the album’s tumultuous conclusion.

Bonanza is a satisfyingly mature work, yet brimming with youthful spunk and élan. It’s so much better than Jitterbug that it’s hard to credit there are no core lineup changes to take into account. I recently passed up an opportunity to see Bushman’s Revenge, when they played at The Vortex. I won’t do that next time.

Related Posts
Motorpsycho – Still Life With Eggplant.
elephant9 with Reine Fiske – Atlantis.
El Doom & the Born Electric / Hedvig Mollestad Trio – El Doom & the Born Electric / Shoot!
SynKoke – The Ideologist.

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