With their previous album D:REI, it is fair to say that German space rockers Black Space Riders not only set a new benchmark for themselves but ignited a whole new host of appetites and acclaiming attention. Now the Muenster sextet return with its successor Refugeeum; an intensive and expansive exploration which may or may not quite surpass its exceptional predecessor, but is an equal as it reinforces the band’s stature as one of the most fascinating and gripping propositions in heavy rock.
This time around the band has dropped from spatial explorations and focused on earthbound issues and tempestuous times. Musically the band has found an earthier and more organically trespassing, as well as more intimate, depth and invention to their ever diverse, flavour embracing sound. Certainly there are moments which soar and take flight through rich and broad landscapes but always they lead to the turbulence and raw canvas of emotional and physical migrancy, to simplify the album’s theme. There is also a new and open maturity to the songwriting and its realisation in Refugeeum, a quality taking the already recognised and rewarding potency in all aspects of band and sound that had already powerfully blossomed within D:REI, to new pastures.
A spatial shimmer grows around ears initially as album opener Vortex Sun starts things off, its distant twinkle soon joined by a lone melody and vocal harmonies. Everything has a shadowy glaze to it but equally a magnetism which within seconds draws ears and imagination right into the brewing soundscape of the song. Once the drums begin rolling with increasing resonance and hunger, the track is on the lip of a thickly atmospheric and energetically contagious proposal, guitars casting a cascade of sonic enterprise around nagging riffs whilst the vocals add further descriptive drama and texture. The threat of a full explosion of sound and turbulence is constantly there but never really realised, the song moving through constantly shifting rock scenery with exotic mystique and sultry Eastern whispers a regular and inventive lining.
The track is a glorious start to the album and swiftly matched by Universal Bloodlines, who wins its persuasive argument from the opening bait of throaty riffs and crispy beats alone. They come with an irresistible hook, one which only persists as the band develops and slips into a Life of Agony like emotive croon within rousing rhythmic and dirtily aggressive temptation. It is a fiery and intimidating fusion and ridiculously irresistible, even when the sonic craft of the guitarists SLI and JE add searing sonic flames to the raw alchemy.
Born a Lion (Homeless) comes next, opening with its own compelling coaxing. The scuzzy tone of bass from SAQ is a thick menacing hook all on its own whilst just as quickly, fuzzy guitars and slithers of keys align with its enthralling call to accentuate and colour the tribal call of the song. The vocals are shared around the album by Seb and JE, and here offer maybe their most rapacious and fiercely captivating delivery yet. The song itself continues to grow into a brute of a proposition, a treat lying somewhere between Killing Joke, Rammstein, and David Bowie.
There is a post punk edge to the following The Lure (Come with us), especially in its opening stalking of ears. Four songs in and each has provided the most individual and passion enslaving openings, entrances backed by ever evolving and twisting adventures, and here the fourth song goes on to explore a filth toned embrace of snarling vocals, evocative guitar caresses, and one hypnotically tenacious doomy prowl.
A mellower lure escapes Run to the Plains next, gentle vocal persuasion luring in attention as a darker groan of bass from SAQ or HEVO, who also features upon Refugeeum, courts its invitation. It is a tempting increasing as both vocalists unite with their unique and complementary tones. There is a touch of post rock to the track and a Palms like alternative rock smoulder to the stoner-esque ripeness colouring the mesmeric encounter. At over ten minutes the track is a maelstrom in waiting too, expelling thick tendrils of intensity and heavy grooves as well as tempestuous riffs across its constantly resonating sonic glow.
The pair of Curtains of Death, another with a start which just seems to know how to flick the switch of lust, and Melek’s Lament (Yazidi Tears) just seduce and engross with constant imagination. The outstanding first of the two follows up its tasty start with a spiral of tangy grooves, feisty riffs, and grouchy vocals, all honed into an intimidating and again wonderfully fuzzy yet boisterous shuffle before drifting off into reflective and haunting, almost cavernous exploration. It is a riot for the ears and feast for the imagination whilst its successor is a mist of worldly whispers, flirtatious textures, and emotional intensity, and in a completely different way just as fascinating and infectious, especially as it brews up its own seventies rock tinged roar of a climax which in turn descends into a sonic escape.
Such his skilled rhythmic jungle of beats and resourcefulness C.RIP has an easy time winning these ears over from start to finish within Refugeeum, and again ensures Walking Shades has its hooks into the psyche straight away with another almost meditatively inviting dance of beats. Subsequent melodies and vocals pursue another Life of Agony like toning in their catchy and provocative body, it all colluding for one tantalising offering before Ritual of Inner Strength brings the album to an epic close. The track in many ways is like a musical epilogue to Refugeeum, all the richest and most potent elements creating the hearts of the album’s songs converging together in a gentle but intensifying tempest. It is creative theatre, one igniting thoughts and emotions as strongly as its infectious lures grip the body, and though it does not take personal emotions quite to the heights sparked by other songs, its impacting croon is a fine end to a mighty release.
The band’s previous album had great ruggedness to it which has been rounded off for Refugeeum but in its place the band has honed a more intricate blend of slimmer tempests, thicker explorations, and a perpetual unpredictable invention. The album is Black Space Riders’ boldest and farthest reaching creative offering yet and after many more listens whilst composing this, decidedly their most thrilling exploit yet.
Refugeeum is available now digitally, on Cd, and on double vinyl (2x180G, incl. CD & lyric-insert) @ https://blackspaceriders.bandcamp.com/album/refugeeum
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