Motorpsycho: Behind The Sun

Norwegian hairies crank up the throttle. Mostly.

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For a while there it looked like Motorpsycho may have forsaken volume for an altogether noodlier take on Scandinavian psychedelia. 2012’s collaboration with composer Ståle Storløkken and the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra – the ever so proggily-titled The Death Defying Unicorn – suggested they were ready to reinvent themselves as jazz-rock buffs. Then along came Still Life With Eggplant, an album of offcuts and strays that saw a semi-return to the immediacy of their earlier output.

The fact that Behind The Sun finds the Trondheim trio rocking like the proverbial primate again shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise for a band who’ve made a career out of second-guessing the second guessers. Metal, punk, electronica and even spaghetti western (2004’s The Tussler was the soundtrack to a cowboy movie that didn’t exist) have all figured in their repertoire since they started making records in the early 90s.

Retaining the services of guitarist Reine Fiske, who played on the band’s live shows with Storløkken, was clearly a smart move. His ascending riffs are a key feature of the pumped-up On A Plate, which finds Motorpsycho in full roar. As does the seven-minute instrumental Kvaestor, all bruising bombast and fluid time signatures. Hell Part 7: The Victim Of Rock, the heaviest thing on here, strafes everything in sight with sheer noise.

At the core of everything though, and one of the reasons why they’re so damn worthwhile, is good old-fashioned songcraft. Chief writers Hans Magnus Ryan and Bent Sæther have a gift for sniffing out a melody. Cloudwalker (A Darker Blue), for instance, could be a West Coast descendant of Jefferson Airplane or Moby Grape. It’s a motif that recurs on The Magic & The Wonder (A Love Theme), with its gliding Mellotron and deft mix of acoustic and electric guitars.

For all the bluster, there’s still plenty of space within the grooves. The brittle ambience of Ghost finds Sæther whispering over piano and the artful tones of guest violinist Kari Rønnekleiv, in a song that recalls the dreamy pastorale of Mercury Rev or the Radar Brothers. But top marks go to the album’s 12-minute centrepiece, an unwieldy-named suite called Hell, Part 4-6: Traitor/The Tapestry/Swiss Cheese Mountain. Here they seem to strike an ideal compromise between their love of all things ambient and their more brusque impulses. It starts off all watcher-of- the-skies delicate – you half expect a Roger Dean island to come floating by – before gearing up for the mighty rumble that inevitably follows.

Behind The Sun isn’t perfect, but it’s a fine addition to what is already a very handsome catalogue.

Rob Hughes

Freelance writer for Classic Rock since 2008, and sister title Prog since its inception in 2009. Regular contributor to Uncut magazine for over 20 years. Other clients include Word magazine, Record Collector, The Guardian, Sunday Times, The Telegraph and When Saturday Comes. Alongside Marc Riley, co-presenter of long-running A-Z Of David Bowie podcast. Also appears twice a week on Riley’s BBC6 radio show, rifling through old copies of the NME and Melody Maker in the Parallel Universe slot. Designed Aston Villa’s kit during a previous life as a sportswear designer. Geezer Butler told him he loved the all-black away strip.