Thoughts on The Crucible

Most people would say Tomas Järmyr’s first Motorpsychodelic experience was a trial of fire. In March 2017, after having been a ‘psycho for only two and a half months and never even once having played any old Motorpsycho songs, he was put to work recording The Tower  – in a country he’d never been to and with people he hardly knew. The resulting album doesn’t exactly feature ‘easy’ material by anyone’s standards, but somehow he made it his: it worked and the world seemed to like what it heard.

Now, more than a year, and many many gigs later, Tomas is fully immersed in everything Motorpsychodelic and has taken his rightful place as the lastest in what is by now a line of great Motorpsycho drummers. If you thought he sounded timid on The Tower, you were perhaps at least partly right: it takes a couple of years for a rythm section to coalesce and for the new rythmic sensibility to settle in, but on The Crucible, there is no timidity anywhere, least of all in the drumming. There isn’t much uncertainty in anything else on the album for that matter: with better acquaintance comes confidence in ability, and this has lead the ever changing Norwegian veteran band to this, The Crucible, a work in its’ own way perhaps even more ambitious than any they’ve ever attempted before.

Both visually and musically, the album starts where The Tower ended, but it soon takes on it’s own hue, and it is clear that it can not be called a ‘sequel’ as such:  this is very much a step further out than anywhere the band ventured on The Tower. While it is broader lyrically speaking, it is even sharper focused musically and if possible even more idiosyncratic and insular than ever: unarguably a Motorpsycho album, it is one that is going to make the novice Psychonaut’s head spin, but feel comfortingly unfamiliar to the acolyte. Such is the paradox of Psychonautia! Much has indeed been made of the ‘prog rock’ tag in regards to Motorpsycho lately. This is unfortunate. The band obviously enjoys dabbling in the non-standard song structures and extended works of the genre, but do not sing of hobbits much, and wouldn’t dare to mention their name in the same breath as some of those who so famously did so around 45 years ago. Reverence for musical mavericks of any era nonewithstanding, there is a certain.. one presumes Norwegian simplicity about the band and their ways, one that keeps such grandiose ambitions in check, and also keeps one finger firmly in the ground. Rest assured: Motorpsycho was always too gnarly for prog nerds as well as too musically unwieldy for punks, and as their appeal becomes ever more selective, they are still proudly falling between all cracks, stools or chairs one might think of putting in their way. ‘prog rock’? Call it Motorpsychodelia!

The Crucible was recorded at Monnow Valley Studios in Wales in August 2018 by Hans Magnus Ryan (guitars, vocals), Bent Sæther (bass, vocals, sundry) and Tomas Järmyr (drums), with co-producers Andrew Scheps and Deathprod.
Mr Scheps mixed the band’s last two live recordings (A Boxful of Demons and Roadwork vol.5), and in that process made himself a logical choice to record the next studio album, after Dave Raphael – who co-helmed The Tower – found the process unrepeatable and concluded that enough was enough.
Andrew Scheps has worked with a lot of famous people over the years, recording and mixing in L.A. and more recently from his new base in the UK, and has helped shape the sound of both the mainstream and the fringes of modern music over the last few decades. To balance out mr Scheps’ newer aestethic and modern sound sensibilities, the band also sought out the assistance of stalvart producer Deathprod and his infamous Audio Virus. It has been more than a decade since the last time he helped record any new music by the band, but the time and context felt right now: a lot happens to both a musical group and a producer in a decade, and this collaboration felt both fresh and inspired.
To these ears, and to the band’s satisfaction, this co-production ploy worked out wonderfully, and has resulted in a beautifully crafted record, smaller in size but at least equal in ambition to it’s celebrated predesessor. It is somehow both more focused, and denser in content, but also compositionally more ambitious than The Tower. One would perhaps think that this necessarily results in a diminished sonic assault, but the album still packs a wallop like a good rock record should. And – ‘for once’ some wagish tongues would say – does not outstay it’s welcome.
There aren’t many traditional song structures or pop format platitudes on display, and there is indeed hardly any respect paid to any trad rock song conventions on the whole album, but that’s not really what one listens to Motorpsycho for anyway, is it?
From the most neanderthal of rock riffs to the most rythmically oblique polytonal solo sections they’ve ever recorded, this album musically seems to sum up the extremes of band’s current interests and concerns, while the lyrics seem to concern themselves with a wider theme of transformation than the body politic musings of Folk Flest or politically specific concerns of The Tower: transformation, or death – of a way of life, a culture, a country, a parent, and the sense of loss and the frustration this often brings about. Also, a century after WW1, where are we at? At Brexit, with a Trump whitehouse and ‘strong men’ again on the rise in many hitherto democratic countries, with anti- democratic destabilisation at a peak, totalitarian winds blowing in from the right, religious fundamentalism again making life unbearable for many, and the planet clearly suffering from centuries of abuse – what else is there to sing about?

Wilfully autonomous and as artistically searching as ever, while loving the ambitions and masterpieces of both the prog genre and other related esoteric musical styles, and indeed in their own way joyously stretching the rock format as out of whack as they can, Motorpsycho neither can nor will align themselves fully to any scene or genre. Just like they never called themselves a grunge band back in the early 90’s, a post rock band a decade later, or a stoner rock band a decade ago, they will never want be a member of any club who would want them as a member, and are as ever travelling their own path in their own tempo, whatever anyone calls it or them at the moment. That way it takes a lot longer to get anywhere, but that is just fine when it’s the journey itself that is the point.

As the boys would say “Make loud, not war!”

Bob LeBad