” marks the third full length studio effort by London, UK, based space rockers Litmus. And although fanatically interested in anything that has to do with space rock/metal for well over 30 years, I can still not fully fathom this outfit. Not because they belong to the weirdest among the already weird in itself spacehead scene, on the contrary. At least in one thing they make things very easy on you and that is consistency. Except for changing titles, I would have to change very little else in this review to make it applicable to their other two albums.
Together with bands like Spacehead, Krel, Space Ritual
, and a few others, Litmus has to be filed with what among spaceheads are called, “Neo-originalists” or Fundamentalists. According to the sparse statements that the band makes, they have no problem with such a qualification at all. In fact that is exactly what they have always wanted to be: Twenty-first century representatives of the original space rock, or, explaining that a little further, the sound that was so characteristic for the great space rock propagandists Hawkwind
during their 1971 – 1974 ultra heavy period.
We have to take them at their word and in that we can conclude nothing more than that they have been successful once more. Although certainly giving their own spirit to it they hover often very close to the Hawkwind
of the In Search of Space/Space Ritual
period. Meaning music with certainly cosmic elements in it, but much more guitar and bass centered and much less dependent on electronic soundscaping (Although such is not completely absent in their compositions). Logically this makes their sound simpler and heavier than that of most of the kingpins of contemporary space rock.
Any deeper analysis of the band goes astray due to their general silence, disliking to be interviewed, not publishing much about themselves, and basically liking the art of live touring much more than making studio albums. Just as they were for their great examples for long periods, albums are for them just a way of keeping in communication with fans in widely scattered places.
The whole anti-hero image is in the case of Litmus extra accentuated by their general appearance, looking like the boys next door, wearing worn jeans and non-descript shirts from the local discount textile store. At least in this they differ most widely from their fellow spaceheads, who are mostly known for their extravaganza and savage looks, sometimes including face paintings that would do with the average black metal outfit, (Well, lets not forget that it were indeed Nik Turner, Robert Calvert and dancer Stacia, who first experimented with this ancient body art at a time when even the oldest black metalists of today were still wetting their dipers)
Album Art, Label, Line-up
Well, one can hardly speak about any album art in the case of the Aurora
. The front of the sleeve is such a simple geometric depiction of the phenomenon of polar light, that given an average graphic computer program, even my seven year old daughter could produce something more interesting. Same counts for the letters in which the title and the band name are written: The dullest of the dull that is available in digital letter types. Maybe the clearest point that they are making here is that they don’t care a shit about packages and rather concentrate all their effort on the music.
As is a common event with every new Litmus album, they also changed label this time, now to Metal Blade Records. This is not exactly a company that is associated much with Litmus’s genre, but more than one way it makes sense. The band being not very widely known and neither very prosperous like some of their fellow travelers in music, do not posses their own studios, so professionalism and capability in production is probably what they are seeking in a label. Secondly, Litmus surely is among the heaviest in the space scene, and in that a company specialized in the noisier productions might just fit them well. Lastly it would probably not be a wrong guess to start from the assumption that the band members are just as little infatuated to the record industry as all others in the genre and thus prefer constant change to continuity.
For several years now the band has been performing as a stable 5 men line-up, double guitar, bass, drums and keyboards/electronics, and that was also the personnel layout that made this album. But the recording of it also marked the farewell of two of the band members, Anton, who is emigrating to Sweden, and Oli who is going to resettle in Budapest, Hungary. That was however a development that was foreseen and has been performed in all friendliness according to statements on the band’s website. At the moment of writing this review, founder member Andy Thompson has rejoined, and now a four-piece again the band at the moment is busy recording the follow up to Aurora
Compared with the previous productions of Litmus, this album contains very little changes in artistic concept. Yes, melodic elements might have been used a little more than before, but that is about it. Also lyrically it builds on already explored ground. All the tracks have cosmic lyrical themes, often simpler than those of others, but I can’t help liking them. No change needed here!
The album starts with the 11 minute 41 seconds long track “Beyond the Sun”, which is exactly what the band wants to be, and is, known for: Undiluted high powered space-rock, the intro almost sounding as plagiarism of “Master of the Universe”. Like usual, first setting up a firm wall of sound, before some more atmospheric elements are brought in with more electronic wind and spacy noise as well as lengthy guitar and bass soloing.. On the whole however it sticks to the concept of “Firm hauling makes for an early arriving home” That that last still takes nearly 12 minutes might be no surprise given the vastness of the cosmic sea……..
The considerably shorter 2nd track “In the Burning Light” follows the same musical body plan. Starting out in a way that you get the idea that they will now really try to rock your guts out of your nostrils and mouth, to be equally toned down into more elaborately woven patterns after the first minutes. Rhythm section again keeps pumping on through the length of the track.
The next two, shorter, songs, “Eos” and “Miles Away” deliver unmistakable proof again that, although by no means a clone of it like Space Ritual
, Litmus is founded on early and mid 1970’s Hawkwind
concepts. Interesting with these two is that they move on a couple of years with these, sounds being more similar to those appearing on 1974 and 1975 albums “Hall of the Mountain
Grill” and “Warriors on the Edge of Time”. True to their own style they avoid outright coping here also”
4 Minute long “Stars”, beginning with typical audio generator noises, so loved by DikMik, then quickly moves on to the familiar sound-walling of the first tracks, with the remark that it is more upspeed.
Every album somehow needs a highlight and over here that is beyond doubt track 6, named “Kings of Infinite Space”. Like wanting to tell you in the most clear terms “Hey, buddies, we are not just copy-cats”, they produce something that is unmistakably 100% their own. Concept is such that in fact their great role models could have made a song like that, but the important thing is they never did, (In all likeliness to the great regret of Lemmy; Imagine, 8 minutes of pumping Rickenbacker bass soloing, how he would have loved that……..). The number keeps you for minutes in anticipating suspense, before it explodes in the final message, proclaiming “We will be kings of infinite space”. Who said there is no ambition in this band……..????
For the last two tracks of the album they return to 10 minute plus compositions. Ma55on rift starting out in a dark, ambient and lengthy intro, to continue in a bass dominated middle part, before finally the usual guitar onslaught sets in. Not my favorite, as it reminds me of the early eighties intellectualism that space rock can do without. Over 12 minute long exit track “Red
Skies” would not have been out of line had it been on the “Space Ritual
” album 36 years before. It’s almost perfectly done, but that doesn’t make it great: Sounds to much like a “Brainstorm/Silver Machine” clone and it is my opinion that if bands want to copy they should play outright covers.
This is certainly not a bad album to invest in for those who like the style anyway, and it also has the accessibility to be of the liking for fans of other metal genres, but except for track 6 it misses greatness as well as originality. Solid, well played and well produced it is for certain. That combined with the fact that I am indeed an affecionado with this kind of music makes me give it a 16 out of twenty
Maybe, it was indeed time for a line-up change as another album in exactly this style would probably lead to the onset of boredom with the fans. Lets hope that the return of keyboardist Thompson, who makes the impression to be more ambitious, brings some fresh artistic inspiration.
Keep informed: Forth album “Slaughterbahn
is in the making and I will be around to review it as I can’t help liking the band!