Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Scarlet Utopia - Adventures Under Black Light

There was a moment whilst listening to this five-track album by Cologne-based space-rockers, Scarlet Utopia that I wanted so badly to leap out of my chair in a Eureka! moment, similar to that experienced, as legend has it, by John Lennon on first catching sight of Ron Mael from Sparks on his television set, and shout-out (to nobody in particular), ‘Fuck me! It’s Metal Mickey!’ For, in all seriousness, at the start of track 2, ‘NGC 1365 Spiral Galaxy’, to someone of a certain age, it sounded, for all the world, as though that metal robot of dubious quality 1980s kids TV fame was making a come-back here with an introductory voiceover to the song in question. ‘Boogie, Boogie’.

It’s a pure coincidence, I assume, but actually... I rather enjoyed that moment of surprise!

Scarlet Utopia is a spin-off group from Cologne pysch-rockers Silverheat, established to take the music of Silverheat members Scarlet Rose O’Silver (vocals) and Jean D’Auberlaque (guitars) in a more space-rock orientated direction. Or, as they put it, “To make one step further – right into space.” What they’ve arrived at in doing so is a Krautrock-influenced take on space-rock, so it’s absolutely clear where they’re coming from. It’s Can on the German side, it’s Hawkwind on the British, and interestingly the Hawkwind side immediately becomes apparent simply by looking at the track listings and seeing two numbers with titles that nod to Hawkwind (the afore-mentioned ‘NGC 1365 Spiral Galaxy’ and the opening ‘Black Sun’).

The ensuing result, recorded in Düsseldorf over the early part of this year, is aptly described by the band as being comprised of tunes that are “all around 10 minutes long, but [not] progressive type ‘long-tracks’ with multiple chord, rhythm, or mood-changes. We just try to create a trippy atmosphere through repetition of key parts, pretty often.” And, you know, they’ve done that pretty damned well. They’ve laid-down driving rhythms that power their way across some very effective vocals (sung predominately in English – despite their German residency, I’m not clear about the nationalities involved here) that variously take their subject matter from the expanse and intrigues of the universe or from themes closer to home; in ‘Moonlight Society’, for instance, the ‘Lunar Society’ of the late 18th and early 19th Century, comprising some of the day’s leading thinkers and philosophers, is their focus.

Though much of their music is formed around a basic hook, it really holds together extremely well. D’Auberlaque has a terrific guitar sound which completely wraps their work in its gritty, angular shapes, underpinned in an unobtrusive way by Peter Sherman’s solid but restrained drumming. The overall collision of what’s going on here is that of a rush of influences, disparate but complementary, coming together to add some early Floyd and something 80s, something like Sisters of Mercy or Xmal Deutschland perhaps, to the mix, and you can hear these things absolutely meshing.

Its wide horizons stuff, demanding to be played very loud, and preferably on the move; a cracking release that I know will excite fans of the heavy end of space-rock.

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