Sunday, 26 August 2012

Litmus - Slaughterbahn

Has it really been six months since I've had the opportunity to work on updating this blog? It seems so, looking at the most recent posting and discovering that it was uploaded back in March. It's been a fragmented few months since then, with the writing highlight having been my free festivals bands feature in Record Collector's August edition, while I've also done some work on a second edition of Sonic Asssassins and am a long way into finishing an update of Strange Boat – Mike Scott & The Waterboys. The latter will be an e-book only release for the moment, whereas there may be some positive news on the Hawkwind update/rewrite before the year is out. Festivalized, however, is in a bit more of a state of flux, looking either for a new publisher or for a slot in the schedule to reformat it as an e-book and print on demand. More on that one as it develops, really.

That six months pales into insignificance really; can it really be three years since I was interviewing Martin Litmus on the occasion of the release of the third Litmus album, Aurora? It seems it was, and since then we've been left wondering what was happening to British space-rock's Kings-in-waiting. They'd already self-issued their debut LP, You Are Here, and gotten themselves the attention of the modern Hawkwind audience, had a clutch of great reviews for Planetfall, released by Rise Above Records, supported Julian Cope – this blogger saw them go down a storm with Cope's packed audience at the Fleece in Bristol – and then really compounded their potential with the excellent Aurora, also on Rise Above.

And then they sort of faded away. They had a few line-up changes, particularly behind the keyboards and synths and, I guess real life possibly also got in the way of taking things further, and it seemed for a while as though we might not be treated to fourth album. But then Slaughterbahn arrived, recorded by the core trio of Simon (vocals, guitar, synth, audio generator), Martin (Vocals, bass, mellotron, synth, audio generator) and Marek (Vocals, drums, synths). They've added James on keyboards for live dates and I see they've secured the opening slot for Hawklords at their tour gig at Hastings (The Carlisle) on 7th November. So I'm hoping this is the start of a well-deserved resurgence for this band.

As with Aurora, there is a real continuity from You Are Here inherent in Slaughterbahn that sets the three records apart from Planetfall. I described that one as having an industrial influence back when it was released, a notion that if you revisit the interview with Martin from 2009 you'll find he didn't really agree with, but it's certainly a heavier and colder affair than any of the other three Litmus records and if I'm honest I'm very happy that again they've eschewed that approach in favour of the melodies and harmonics that make their other albums approachable and highly appealing.

In an unpublished review of Aurora I talked about this album's immediate predecessor as showing that Litmus had broken free of convenient journalistic shticks with a contemporary sci-fi swish that might be possessed of elongated improvisation but was based on solid verse, chorus foundations and noted how on Planetfall, they'd produced a juggernaut heavy rock album that obscured the more thoughtful parts of their work. I felt they'd avoided repeating that on Aurora by recording the guitar/bass/drums at Foel Studios in Wales and then overdubbing with well-judged keyboards back at base, before commenting that saturating their basic sound in this way produced an immensely satisfying album of depth.

In fact I'd comment on Slaughterbahn in very much the same terms. Its twelve tracks are generally focused, sharp and to the point, with only a handful exceeding the five minute mark. They've retained their trademark vocal style which is based on an almost chanting methodology, as though they are descending down on to the Earth to preach their interstellar message but where last time out they were declaiming "We are Kings of infinite space" now they are appealing to be given "the stars / the future" or talking about how "with endless possibilities / standing senseless / the future stretches out before us." I don't know why we've not treasured what we've got in this band so much more quite frankly; I'm not hearing many other bands ploughing this furrow with so much fire, verve and accuracy. To my ears they've completely nailed that amalgamation of driving riffs, bass lines that cut right through to the heart of the sound, keyboard soundscapes and sci-fi imagery that really is the foundation for great space-rock. Slaughterbahn is a dynamic and exciting collection of songs which are going to go down so well in a live environment and, going back to that notion of resurgence, I'm hoping that this record, self-released and self-promoted though it is, is a positive restatement and restart for Litmus – it bloody well should be.

Pick of the album: 'Streamers', a genuinely brilliant, up-tempo and life-affirming three and a half minutes. "Head on through a wall of sound ... scion magenta / yellow corona / white star supernova ... see the streamers tearing through the walls."



Scott aka. Dr. Space said...

Excellent review and I agree fully with what you wrote as I just wrote my review today as well! Peace...

Ian Abrahams said...

Update here - I'm afraid to say Litmus, for technical reasons at the venue, are no longer supporting Hawklords at Hastings in November.