Demon Box (1993, 73.48) ***½/½
|Waiting for the One
Nothing to Say
All is Loneliness
Come on in
Step Inside Again
The One That Went Away
Timothy's Monster (1994, 97.55) ****/TT½
Leave it Like That
A Shrug and a Fistful
Kill Some Day
On My Pillow
Wearing Yr Smell
|Now It's Time to Skate
The Golden Core
Blissard (1996, 53.09) ****/T
The Nerve Tattoo
Nathan Daniel's Tune From Hawaii
Manmower EP (1996, 18.39) ****/TTManmower
A Saw Sage Full of Secretion
Heaven + Hell
Trust Us (1998, 81.36) ****/TTT
The Ocean in Her Eye
|Mantrick Muffin Stomp
Hey, Jane (1998, 24.47) ***/THey, Jane
Mellow Muffin Stomp
The Ballad of Pat & Put
Heavy Metal Fruit (2010, 62.04) ****/TT½
X-3 (Knuckleheads in Space)/
The Getaway Special
The Bomb-Proof Roll and Beyond
Close Your Eyes
|Gullible's Travails (pt I-IV)
I Eye All-Seeing
II The Elementhaler
IV Phoot Flower (a Burly Return)
The Death Defying Unicorn: A Fanciful & Fairly Far-Out Musical Fable
|Out of the Woods
The Hollow Lands
Through the Veil
Into the Gyre
Oh, Proteus - a Prayer
|Sculls in Limbo
Oh, Proteus - a Lament
Into the Mystic
Still Life With Eggplant (2013, 45.06) ****/THell part 1-3
Barleycorn (Let it Come/Let it Be)
Behind the Sun (2014, 60.39) ****/TTTCloudwalker (a Darker Blue)
On a Plate
Kvæstor (incl. Where Greyhounds Dare)
Hell, part 4-6: Traitor/The Tapestry/Swiss Cheese Mountain
The Magic & the Wonder (a Love Theme)
Hell, part 7: Victim of Rock
Motorpsycho have presented me with a conundrum: some years ago, one of my contacts forwarded an e-mail from the band, saying, "We do not own our own Mellotron... what we have used and still use for gigs, is samples of the strings (two versions), flutes, cellos, brass and choir from a M400, recorded onto a DAT by a friend and put unaltered into an Akai sampler..." (my italics). However, I've recently been told that the band's Bent Sæther has made reference to 'using Mellotrons in the past'. So how much of their Mellotron use is genuine? I'm having to make educated guesses on most of these and there's no guarantee I'm right about any of them; the only absolute confirmation is 2010's Heavy Metal Fruit. Maybe, one day, someone from the band will give me the full low-down... Who are Motorpsycho, anyway? One of the most unique rock bands around, it would seem, although their appeal is still discouragingly selective, probably not helped by their frequent side-steps into other musical areas. Although they're quoted as beginning as a full-on metal outfit in late '89, even their first demo, Maiden Voyage, is more interesting than that sounds, their first release 'proper', Lobotomizer, being an interesting and varied selection of eclectic hard rock songs as they used to be, without all that one-dimensional '80s metal tedium that we've had to put up with for so long.
1993's Demon Box is possibly just a tad too eclectic for its own good, to be honest, the 'side-long' title track being seventeen minutes of audio cut-up; several other tracks could be uncharitably described as 'messing about', too. Plenty of good material, both loud and soft, although the album overall suffers from a slight lack of direction. Mellotron on one track from Lars Lien (Art By Machinery, 3rd & the Mortal), Plan #1, with a flute part that, frankly, could be almost anything. The following year's Timothy's Monster, while still eclectic, seems more focussed than its predecessor, with several killer tracks, not least thirteen-minute closer The Golden Core. The Wheel is even longer, if less remarkable, but, overall, a good album. Five Mellotron tracks this time round, mostly from Helge "Deathprod" Sten, with flutes on Feel (from Sæther), a high string melody on Kill Some Day, flutes and strings on the excellent Giftland, cellos on GrindStone and strings and cellos on the aforementioned The Golden Core.
'96's Blissard proved that the band could edit their outpourings of ideas down to a normal-length album, or it's possible (although unlikely, going by previous form) that they only had that much material. Once again, a wide range of styles was covered, from the almost 'alt.rock' of Manmower through the acoustic Fools Gold, to the epic hard rock of S.T.G. (Sonic Teenage Guinevere). Mellotron on two tracks, from Morten F(agervik), with background flutes towards the end of Greener and an upfront string part on Manmower. Said track also gave their next EP its title, almost a microcosm of the band's career, covering several bases in only five tracks, including a killer cover of The Who's Heaven + Hell. Aside from the title track, there are more strings on 7th Dream, this time from Bent.
By 1998's Trust Us, Motorpsycho had become pretty reliable at sticking out another lengthy, eclectic, psychedelic hard rock album, pushing all the right buttons. Highlights included The Ocean In Her Eye and Radiance Frequency, but, amazingly for an eighty-minute-plus album, no stinkers. Mellotron on several tracks, faint cellos and strings on Vortexsurfer from Bent and Hans Magnus "Snah" Ryan and background flutes on EP lead track Hey, Jane (Snah again), but the strings on Evernine (Snah), Mantrick Muffin Stomp (Bent) and the really major part on Radiance Frequency (drummer Håkon "Geb" Gebhardt) are all pretty full-on. The Hey, Jane EP, apart from its title track, contains a reworking of the album's Mantrick Muffin Stomp, Mellow Muffin Stomp, the gentle Celestine, the jazzy Valis and one other Mellotron track, the slow, psychedelic The Ballad Of Pat & Put, with background flutes from Fagervik.
As far as I can work out, the band started using samples after this (I could be so wrong about all of this), until 2010; reviews of probable sample efforts below.
Moving on a decade plus and the Blue Öyster Cult-referencing Heavy Metal Fruit (whadd'ya mean, you didn't know that?) carries on the good work, combining intricate heavy rock with intelligent jamming, best heard on opener Starhammer and twenty-minute, four-part closer Gullible's Travails (ho ho). The band used Kåre (Christoffer) Vestrheim (Gluecifer, Morten Harket)'s M400, seemingly played by its owner, with a major string part on Starhammer, complete with pitchbends, more strings (although the brass appears to be real) on X-3, possible strings and definite flutes on The Bomb-Proof Roll And Beyond and strings and flutes throughout Gullible's Travails. All in all, another great Motorpsycho album, easily matching the standards set by 2008's Mellotron-free Little Lucid Moments.
2012's The Death Defying Unicorn (subtitled A Fanciful & Fairly Far-Out Musical Fable), credited to the band and arranger Ståle Storløkken, is yet another double-disc release (HOW do they write so much good material?), heavily featuring the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra. The album opens in full-blown avant-prog style on Out Of The Woods, bordering-dissonant brass and string sections duking it out, a trend that continues throughout the bulk of the album's eighty-minute-plus length. Under the umbrella of avant-, the band covers a multitude of styles, shifting between the jazz jamming of Through The Veil, Doldrums' 20th Century classical approach, the epic vocalising of Oh, Proteus - A Prayer, the electronic experimentation of Sculls In Limbo and Mutiny!'s eight minutes of balls-out rock jamming. With a jazz orchestra. Vocally, I'm remind of (of all bands) XTC in places, although I'm not sure why; something to do with the angular melodies? You know, in some ways, Motorpsycho have actually progressed right out of any 'rock' genre into modern composition, admittedly with rock elements, sometimes major ones, but you won't hear the atonality employed here in any other ensemble outside of the experimental jazz or modern classical areas. Or perhaps it's all Storløkken's work? My favourite moments? Probably Through The Veil and Mutiny!, complete with its amusing little homage to Yes' 90125 classic Changes (I presume it was deliberate...), but even the 'difficult bits' here weren't enough to put me off. Vestrheim on Mellotron again, with a harmony flute part on The Hollow Lands, an authentically clicky flute line on Into The Gyre, background choirs on Oh, Proteus - A Prayer, an upfront string part towards the end of Mutiny! and traces of strings and flutes on closer Into The Mystic.
2013's Still Life With Eggplant sees the band augmented by Swedish psych/prog legend Reine Fiske (Landberk, Paatos, Dungen), who almost certainly provides the album's ragingly psychedelic guitar work, notably on seventeen-minute psych epic Ratcatcher. The album actually covers several bases, also featuring their trademarked psychedelic hard rock (opener Hell Part 1-3), psych/prog (August, The Afterglow) and folk/prog/psych (Barleycorn (Let It Come/Let It Be)), all to their usual high standard. Someone (Bent?) plays a handful of string chords on Hell Part 1-3, while Fiske adds rather orchestral strings and flutes to closer The Afterglow for good measure. The following year's Behind the Sun keeps up the quality after a pair of laidback openers, the album kicking in properly with the psychedelic heaviness of On A Plate and The Promise, while the blistering, jammed-out Kvæstor and the next four parts of Hell are all mind-blowing. How do they do it? Mellotron from Sæther and Fiske, with background strings on Cloudwalker (A Darker Blue), upfront strings on Ghost (nice pitchbend work), the faintest of background strings on Kvæstor, a solo strings part opening Hell, Part 4-6, more of the same cropping up elsewhere in the track, flutes on Entropy and strings on The Magic & The Wonder (more nice pitchbend work) and closer Hell, Part 7. What's not to like?
OK, so I'll stick my neck on the line here and say 'I think these use samples'. I don't know this for certain, but when it comes to Motorpsycho, do any of us really know anything? Come on chaps, write to me and put me out of my misery...
2001's Phanerothyme is named for Aldous Huxley's original term for what became LSD: "To make this mundane world sublime, take half a gram of phanerothyme". His friend Humphrey Osmond wrote back, "To fathom hell or soar angelic, just take a pinch of psychedelic". Anyway... the album opens on a gentle note with Bedroom Eyes; despite the heavier For Free, it's a more laid-back proposition all round, adding more strings to the band's already well-laden bow, literally, on some tracks. There's an almost chamber-pop sensibility going on in places, too, not least on the intro to Go To California, which also features a sly little musical Who quote, while the subtle brass on Painting The Night Unreal was a departure for the band. Mellotron string and flute samples on For Free, played just that little bit too fast and too accurately for authenticity, plus flutes on The Slow Phaseout. It seems Motorpsycho have only been a part-time proposition since 2003 or so and don't seem to have used their Mellotron samples on the few recordings they've made since 2002's It's a Love Cult and associated sessions. The Serpentine EP preceded the album, four non-album tracks on board, of which the best is probably the jammed-out Fade To Gray. Mellotron samples on Little Ricky Massenburg, with a melodic flute part that enhances the song and quieter flute and string parts on Snafu.
It's a Love Cult retains its predecessor's eclecticism, giving the impression that most things hard'n'heavy have been left behind, although, of course, things are rarely that simple in Motorpsycholand. The album features their Mellotron samples on six of its ten tracks, although opener Überwagner Or A Billion Bubbles In My Mind's strings only really make themselves heard at the end of the song. Flutes on the acoustic Circles and possibly buried under a morass of near-Motown instrumentation on Neverland, with pitchbent strings on Carousel giving the sample game away. Nothing obvious on What If..., leaving Custer's Last Stand (One More Daemon) as the band's last 'Mellotron' track to date, with heavy (and unusual for them) use of the choirs, plus background strings.
2017's The Tower is a long, complex work, covering a great deal of musical ground, albeit most of it familiar to the band, from the storming title track, through the acoustic, dreamlike Stardust, the transcendent The Cuckoo and the mighty, quarter-hour progressive psychedelia of closer Ship Of Fools. The 'Mellotron' parts are almost certainly sampled (probably one of the new hardware players), with flutes and brass on the title track, various strings on Stardust, strings on In Every Dream Home (There's A Dream Of Something Else), flutes on The Cuckoo and a flute/string combination on Ship Of Fools. Motorpsycho don't make bad albums, but this is just possibly their best in some time.
Motorpsycho are one of those bands who struggle along forever, slowly gaining a small but fanatical fanbase, while vastly less deserving acts go on to fame and fortune. Listening to their catalogue in sequence makes you realise how they've progressed over the years, taking on new influences and maturing along the way, even when that means leaving a favourite style behind. For those into epic hard rock, most of their releases up to and including Trust Us are worth hearing, more recent albums being suitable for those with more eclectic tastes.
See: Jaga Jazzist