Since forming in Trondheim, Norway in 1989, Motorpsycho have become something
of an institution in their home country and an enigma just about everywhere
else. The band's more recent albums, such as Phanerothyme and It's
a Love Cult, were the first to gain wider coverage beyond the specialist
rock press, even as the band's mixed musical palette continued to baffle as
much as it delighted, moving away from the retro-garageisms of the early
years into carefully rendered psychedelic pop, West Coast folk-rock and
sprawling prog with virtuoso trimmings.
Well, after a break of two to three years, the band has returned, now
slimmed down to a duo of core players Hans Magnus Ryan and Bent Sæther.
And Black Hole/Blank Canvas is a return to rockier climes, with less of
studied classicism of previous releases, and a generally harder, edgier
sound. It also has a decidedly gloomy lyrical slant to match its tight,
muscular grooves and sharp riffs. In fact, it could be seen as Motorpsycho's
two surviving members placing their wagons in a circle and making a last
stand with all guns blazing.
Except that nothing is quite that straightforward. The thing is, for all its
blatant rock-isms, Black Hole/Blank Canvas has an impervious coating
of sophistication. As the streamlined hard rock of "No Evil" launches the
album, the metal that most comes to mind is not of the heavy variety, but
rather polished chrome. Progressing through ostensibly weighty material like
"In Your Tree", "Kill Devil Hills" and "Critical Mess," strident riffs merge
with sinuous basslines, melodic leads and soaring harmony vocals.
disc of this double set is consistent, but perhaps a little too samey, with
a sense of gradually diminishing returns as the band launches into yet
another galloping groove offset by warbling lead guitar.
Thankfully, greater variety comes into play on the second half, with the
self-consciously anthemic "Hyena" and a (slight) return to West Coast
acoustic reveries on "Sancho Says." Special mention should go to the epic
balladry of "Before the Flood," which incorporates a scorching Ernie
Isley-styled guitar workout that pretty much eclipses everything else.
Black Hole/Blank Canvas seems to find the band attempting to simplify
its sound, but unable to resist the urge to keep breaking out into different
areas. While the sense of continuity on the more straight-up rock
material is welcome, it's the unexpected variations in tone that generate
the most vivid moments.