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Motorpsycho - Motorpsycho & Ståle Storløkken: The Death Defying Unicorn CD (album) cover




Eclectic Prog

4.18 | 466 ratings

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4 stars The Death Defying Unicorn reminds me somehow of THE WHO's Quadrophenia but, musically, it reminds me most of MAUDLIN OF THE WELL's 2001 Bath/Leaving Your Body Map release(s). There is about an equal mix of delicate, often orchestral (jazz and string) parts that use vocals and/or acoustic (orchestral) instruments layered and mixed into/and with long, repetitive, plodding heavy parts. The effort is ambitious and laudable I'm just not sure the outcome and effect are as laudable as my fellow reviewers are extolling.

1. "Out of the Woods" (2:41) starts the album off with an intro filled with a lot of dissonance and tension being carried out among orchestra and large horn section (the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra). (8/10)

2. "The Hollow Lands" (7:37) begins quite powerfully with some multi-layered, busy music feeling quite a bit like THE WHO's Quadrophenia and SYLVAN's Posthumous Silence. It goes on for what seems like a long time. Too long. When it quiets down and the singing/story begins there is a nice MOODY BLUES feel to it--melody, vocals and all. The bass, drum and guitar interlude at 3:45 is awesome--turning very psychedelic after the electric guitar starts to solo (and still surprisingly MOODY BLUES-like!). An all-instrument build and crescendo opens up for a return to the singing/melody part. The orchestration almost clutters/muddies it, though. Ends with orchestral segue into the next song. (9/10) 3. "Through the Veil" (16:03) begins with some percussives a la BLUE MAN GROUP and Ståle Storløkken's SUPERSILENT. The percussive groove is quickly augmented and taken over by a very full horn section. Just before the two minute mark, a powerful heavy rock groove takes over sounding like a cross between CLAPTON and HENDRIX. The vocals enter giving it a very ALICE IN CHAINS sings CROSBY, STILLS, NASH & YOUNG feel to it. The next section, beginning around the 3:40 mark, takes one on a journey as if ARANIS were playing WINGS' "Live and Let Die." THE WHO takes over with a kind of QUADROPHENIA ride from 6:50 to 10:20. Nice work from the horn section. Then a HENDRIX-like guitar riff reintroduces and accompanies the re-entry of the vocal part. At 11:33 the heavy rock parade switches gear, to a kind of STEPPENWOLF/IRON BUTTERFLY jam. But then things quiet down at 12:25, get bluesy until a psychedelic guitar riff, and distorted vocals take over for a bit with "I can never go back, never go back there" BYRDS/CSN&Y section. Awesome bass sound and lines. SYD BARRETT would love this music! (Maybe he's there: playing the guitars!) African-like drumming with electronic psychedelia guitar sounds play out till it ends with an organ leading into the next song. (8/10)

4. "Doldrums" (3:07) is kind of a modern orchestral interlude. Quiet. Like doldrums. (7/10)

5. "Into the Gyre" (10:23) ("whirlpool"?) begins with a chamber orchestra intro, wobbling (on purpose) as electronic instruments join in and take over. Very SUPERSILENT-like. Layered vocal sections takes over, sounding like it's telling a BEATLES-esque children's story. At 4:32 the song finally kicks out of park and into gear--though taking a while to establish exactly what gear that will be. I guess 'cruise.' At 6:10 the boys must hit the autobahn cuz it suddenly races into overdrive--on a busy road, at that, cuz the soloing guitar, bass, drums, horns, and keys are all racing--as if against each other: the cohesion seems a bit lost, more like reckless abandon and chaotic unpredictability. Then it stops. (A crash?) This quiet section again makes me wonder if there isn't supposed to be a visual element running along with this, so mysterious is this rather eery, almost ambient section. To end. Not my favorite song. (Nor would it be my favorite rollercoaster ride.) (6/10)

6. "Flotsam" (1:33) is almost like a solo cello's tuning session. What is going on?? Floating debris after the shipwreck? (5/10)

7. "Oh Proteus ? A Prayer" (7:35) begins with a gorgeous little string trio. Vocals and synths join at 0:45 in a very TOBY DRIVER way: chromatic singing over dissonant chords. This goes on and on, builds, Toby is joined by his usual thick guitars and bass, plodding on, trying to pretend to invite the listener in with samples of 'pretty' melody, while the music is warning you to be cautious--be very cautious! Interesting song. (7/10) 8. "Sculls in Limbo" (2:21) offers another "Silent Sorrows"/"Welcome to the Machine" intro- type moment. Space. Must be floating. Still. (6/10)

9. "La Lethe" (7:53) begins with a kind of jazzy pulsation, again TOBY DRIVER- or even ULVER-like, eventually establishing a more ULVERish Post Rock feel to it, down to the plodding, pulsing pace, wild horns playing in the background, and odd male voices 'groaning' around in the fore and background. I guess this is a very good musical representation of Hades' River Lethe. Glad I don't live or work there! Does this mean the protagonist is close to death? Great MEL COLLINS-like sax solo in the six and seventh minutes. A suspenseful pause ensues at the 6:20 mark before an AFTER CRYING-like orchestral crescendo enters and builds. Violins lead into the next song. (8/10)

10. "Oh Proteus ? A Lament" (1:05) is a multi-layered vocal in which the protagonist muses about his surroundings/fate.

11. "Sharks" (7:56) is such a murky, mysterious, yet ultimately pretty TOBY DRIVER/RADIOHEAD/RAVEL's "Bolero"-like song. It just goes on way too long. (about the same length as "Bolero"! More than a coincidence?) I especially enjoy the entrance of the brief appearance of horns at 3:15. The ensuing lyric is sung almost tongue-in-cheek, comically. Intentional irony? The sharks thrashing in the final two minutes is pretty good. (8/10)

12. "Mutiny!" (8:33) transitions from the tension of shark-infested waters into theme music from a high-octane James Bond rescue mission--or a great song left off of motW's Part the Second album. Perhaps the only song on the album with a fairly straightforward, familiar melody. Definitely a great prog/classic rock feel. An early-KING CRIMSON-like instrumental section mid-song continues to make this one feel like a keeper for the all-time playlist. (10/10)

13. "Into the Mystic" (7:05) is an amazing song with all kinds of wild voice samples and a The feel and sounds remind me of some of the harder-driving music of THE MOODY BLUES and THE HOLLIES with a hint of RICK WAKEMAN. Although it segues straight out of "Mutiny!" it starts off with an awesome violin solo from Ola Kvernberg. The WHO/MOODY BLUES-like vocal melody and JETHRO TULL acoustic guitar-part from song 2, "The Hollow Lands" returns in full force, in its awesome glory--and is later rejoined by great violin, synth, and, of course, the ubiquitous heavy bass and drums.

The final lyrics leave me a bit befuddled: I didn't really sense this dude's struggle with other men--or even much within himself--but more of the random travesties of nature (both Mother and human). Eh?

A masterpiece, IMHO, is something that either offers something new mentally, sonically/aurally, or compositionally--something that could have an impact on other musicians and perhaps on the course of music history (of which, of course, only time can be the judge) OR it is music that offers the listener a package that is so enthralling, so emotionally engaging, that it keeps drawing you back again and again over time. Though I've owned Death Defying Unicorn for a while now I have had trouble A) listening to the entirety in a single sitting and B) feeling drawn in enough to want sit through the whole thing --especially the epics "Through the Veil" and "Into the Gyre." The songs seem to go on longer than I can stay connected. Even the 'shorter' songs, "Hollow Lands" (7:37), "Oh, Proteus?A Prayer" (7:35), "La Lethe" (7:53), and "Sharks" (7:56) seem to drag on longer than they 'need' to. (Only "Mutiny!" (8:33) and "Into the Mystic" (7:05) hit on all cylinders, IMO.) Why are they so long? Why are they so tunnel driven bordering on monotonous? What is the purpose and/or value of this story (I mean, does it have valuable lessons or archetypical significance to the universal listener, or is it a myopic tale from someone's personal dream or altered state of consciousness)? Is this piece of music intended to accompany a visual display (film, slide, art gallery, ballet, or stage play)? Is this really meant to be a theatrical soundtrack? If so, it may, in fact, need to be heard in association with that other medium in order to be fully appreciated.

I have to say, however, that as a purely musical adventure it has trouble standing on its own as a "masterpiece." It is interesting and has many excellent parts and amazing compositional ideas (blending orchestra, jazz group and rock quintet to tell a 90 minute story), but it is not a piece in which the listener finds himself easily drawn into or compelled to stay within the magical spell of the music--not like Beethoven's 9th Symphony, Brahms' 2nd or 3rd, YES's "Close to the Edge", GENESIS's The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway or "Supper's Ready," MIKE OLDFIELD's Incantations, many of the master-jams from the realms of Krautrock, Space/Psychedelia or Electronica or any of the Colossus/Musea Records epics from Odyssey: The Greatest Tale. Only one song stands out as "amazing" in a way that makes me want to push repeat over and over (well, actually two: the last two--which are pretty much one song), and neither the story nor the music is so compelling as to keep me engrossed for the full length of the "play."

As adventurous as this project is, as admirable is the vision and intent, I do not find it a success at creating a timeless masterpiece of musical entrainment. I like it, I will revisit it, and I will recommend it to the hardcore prog lovers out there. On that note, I rate this with 3.5 stars: it is IMHO, less than "excellent addition to any prog rock music collection" but significantly better than "good." More like a 3.88. It is not essential to every prog listener's music collection. I would recommend it to any and all prog lovers who are drawn to explore musics that push the envelope--that offer something different and out-of-the ordinary. I truly appreciate the mastery displayed in the attempt to render this ambitious project--and that the artists themselves might feel quite satisfied and successful in their result. I merely question how well their "success" will translate into sales, referrals and a place in the history books.

BrufordFreak | 4/5 |


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