As with its follow-up, Timothy´s Monster (1994, and already given Rune Grammofon’s expanded reissue treatment; ditto Blissard (1996)), Demon Box was initially conceived as a double album but ultimately, after a limited first run on vinyl, truncated to fit onto single CD. Here it’s restored to the intended double span over two slabs of vinyl or, as reviewed here, a box containing the album over two CDs, plus a third CD compiling the associated Mountain and Another Ugly EPs, a fourth of out-takes and live cuts, and a DVD presenting a full two-hour concert from a 1993 European tour.
On Demon Box you get to enjoy all the rich earthy textures of the musical loam nurturing Motorpsycho’s roots: 70s hard rock and Sabs-style proto-doom, 80s grunge and late 80s post-hardcore. Prog has yet to exert any major influence on the Motorpsycho sound. Helge Sen, aka. Deathprod is, however, newly on board, co-producing the album and contributing “noise generation and audio virus” to the mix. He makes an intriguing difference, but his evolution into Supersilent’s Eno is still at a larval stage.
Of my favourite tracks on this collection, “Gutwrench” is a superbly scuzzy, sleazy grind, apparently “literally” dreamed up and recorded, in one take, the following day. Its raw spontaneity is characteristic of Demon Box as a whole, which stands in stark contrast to the studied, and comparatively staid craftsmanship of Beyond the Sun. (Released back in March 2014, the latter album presents more from the sessions that produced the superior Still Life With Eggplant.)
“Gutwrench” was one of three culled from the initial CD issue of Demon Box, while another Dalston Sound favourite, “Mountain”, was held over and cropped to become the lead track of an EP. On this evidence the band were right to favour a double album release in the first place, but there was weaker material that did make the cut.
Surely tipping a nod to the Welsh rockers of the same name, the atypically mid-paced “Mountain” has a brooding laboriousness that’s charged and concentrated by injections of organ whorl and sustain. It’s a monster, and leaving it out made the remainder seem scrappier. Here re-sequenced near the end of on Demon Box‘s first disc, it’s followed by “Tuesday Morning”, a gentle acoustic song with ARP synth interference that concludes with a couple of unexpected twists.
The first CD ends with a surprising, affecting and effective take on Moondog’s “All is Loneliness”. If you know the original, and doubt you’d enjoy Motorpsycho’s version, then you might be surprised, since it succeeds by embracing not just the form but also the melancholic, mystical positivism of the original. An electric sitar is an effective element in the mix.
Other covers you’ll find scattered among these five discs include Jefferson Airplane’s “The House at Poonei Corners” (Mountain EP), “California Dreaming” (a rough-and-ready encore performance on the live DVD), The Groundhogs’ “Cherry Red” (a studio outtake), a couple of Kiss songs, and a Grateful Dead rarity, “Mason’s Children”, a live track previously available only on a Charles Manson ‘tribute’ album, and by no means a highlight here.
Not everything included is of equal value, but when you come to consider a compendium like this, a concept like value seems vague and unhelpful. The only tracks I routinely skip are “Motorhead Mama”, a karaoke-style tribute song, again bashed out live, and the differently cheesy “Summertime is Here”, which was “a big 1972 hit”, apparently, and here features its writer Larry ‘Lux’ Llydwlin, Geb’s grand-uncle from Wales, on vocals.
The second disc of Demon Box proper is dominated by the seventeen-minute title piece, but begins quite differently, with a lovelorn song, on which Bent Sæther accompanies himself on acoustic guitar. Next up, on “Step Inside Again”, Sæther whispers, increasingly demonic, into a fragile acoustic amid blooms of Deathprod’s doomy synth bass. That sets us up nicely for the main turn, a brooding slab of riffage with a mid-song breakdown a la “Whole Lotta Love”, in which Deathprod gets to spread more of his ‘audio virus’.
In a live version of “Demon Box” on the DVD there’s a real disjunction between the band’s monolithic bookending riffs and Sten’s crude electronics, but the album version is tighter, with Deathprod’s studio production more refined and original-sounding. I actually like a rejected early version, included here on the fourth disc of sundry ephemera, that predates Deathprod’s involvement and is more spontaneously creative, if less coherent overall than the final version.
“Plan #1” is likewise strikingly original, a power-pop/prog-metal instrumental workout in service to a part-spoken, semi-opaque narrative. But the remaining songs on CD two are a hoarier mix of Hüsker Dü-style aggression (“Babylon”), goofiness recorded with a micro-cassette dictaphone (“Mr Who”), and grunge with identity issues (“Junior”). Of the closing brace of songs, “Sheer Profundity” is charged with compellingly staccato passive-aggression, while “The One Who Went Away” brings the set full circle with a full-band pound through the set’s acoustic opener, “Waiting for the One”.
Tommy Olsson, author of the (typically excellent) accompanying booklet’s introductory notes, recalls that the album’s “tender, acoustic opening” was “a shock” for early fans. In retrospect, I reckon the group’s enduing appeal is down not just to their all-inclusive rock syncretism, but also to its inherent melodicism. That opening track features recorders, violin, mandolin, and a simple choral round. The steady drums, flinch of introductory guitar feedback and raw-vocal chorus on next-up “Nothing to Say” are quite a contrast, but the two songs are equally tuneful, and there are few indulgent instrumental breaks anywhere here.
The fifth disc, a DVD, is a one-camera video of a full gig (over two hours, including four encores) at the Vera venue in Groningen, The Netherlands, in September 1993. You can’t see much in the gloom but the sound is surprisingly good, and the music is rawly compelling. Among the curiosities here is a long jam section amid “Blueberry Daydream” that riffs on Hawkwind’s Space Ritual chant “You Shouldn’t Do That”, and also features string-sound synth textures from Deathprod.
This is a great reissue, and the wealth of additional material only serves to flesh out an already eclectic and varied portrait of a band at a pivotal point in its evolution, a group as charged and volatile as the album’s production.
Another booklet essay tells how, in recording onto 16-track tape with a mixing board that lacked automation, at times: “Each available person was given a fader or two to supervise, and the mixes were performed by as many as five pairs of hands reaching across the mixing board at once. This wasn’t an exact science, and balances often fell out of whack as correct levels were lost (and never found again).”
And get this: “Demon Box was recorded and mastered entirely without compressors… Levels are all over the place,,, In that sense, it is a wildly psychedelic record, albeit by accident.” And if that doesn’t sell it to you, I don’t know what might.
Bent Sæther vocals, bass, guitars, organ bass, synth bass, percussion, taurus, cymbals, toy piano; Hans Magnus ‘Snah’ Ryan guitars, vocals, sitar, mandolin, flutes, violin, drums, taurus; Håkon Gebhardt drums, percussion, guitars, ARP Axxe, vocals; Lars Lien piano, hammond organ, mellotron, vocals; Helge Sten (Deathprod) samples, echomachines, synth bass, taurus, “machines”; Vegard Moen sitar on “All is Loneliness”; Matt Burt narration on “Plan #1”.
Motorpsycho – Blissard (expanded reissue).
Motorpsycho – Still Life With Eggplant.
Motorpsycho and Ståle Storløkken: The Death Defying Unicorn + Bushman’s Revenge: A Little Bit of Big Bonanza.
Buy Demon Box direct from Rune Grammofon.