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Motorpsycho
The Death Defying Unicorn


4.5
superb

Review

by Mad. USER (28 Reviews)
August 19th, 2016 | 64 replies


Release Date: 2012 | Tracklist


For a band to still be pulsing with originality, and arguably entering its finest form, 20 years into its existence is a rare occurrence and a clear sign of true integrity. Motorpsycho have been around since the late 80s, quietly churning out little gems of albums and earning themselves a small but adoring fanbase. Evolving from grunge metal to garage rock to jazz fusion to heavy psych, they finally present us with The Death Defying Unicorn, a hugely ambitious 84-minute progressive concept album based on Homer's Odyssey among other things and featuring a full jazz orchestra. Or as Motorpsycho themselves would have it "a fanciful and fairly far-out musical fable."

Coming two years after they reinvented themselves with their magnum opus of progressive rock and utter mastery of instrumentation Heavy Metal Fruit, the band nearly one-up themselves with this sprawling monster. Fruit proved that the core trio of the band Kapstad, Snah, and Sæther's years of experience have given them virtuosity perhaps rivalled by none of their contemporaries and up there with the greats, and Unicorn is an attempt to push their sound to the limit.

Opening with a demented overture of tortured sax and violin that yet still sounds organic, the scene is set for what feels like a twisted fairytale taking place in an ancient time. The full orchestra bursts in for 'The Hollow Lands' in which the album's story finally starts, with what feels like the third intro. The instruments then clear way for Snah's vocals and a lively acoustic guitar.
The album tells the first-person story of a poacher who is caught and given the option to "sail or swing" from a rope. Unsurprisingly, he chooses to join a ship as a cabin boy on a mission to explore thhe "Hollow Lands." Interspersed with the lyrical story are the instrumental sections that almost feel like the workings of a ship - Kapstad's drums are characteristically poly-rhythmic and driving, as if to represent the workings of "a hundred souls" rowing the boat. Snah's lead guitar on the other hand is eerily foreboding and creates the album's atmosphere, with the orchestra creating the vast scale of the journey.

The moment where all this peaks is the third track 'Through The Veil,' easily one of the most incredible pieces of music Motorpsycho have created. Over 16 minutes we are treated to a literal storm. Starting with calm, we hear the orchestra gently scraping their instruments, which sounds like the moving of wooden oars, before a blistering sax riff emerges and then the rock instruments explode into frame. As Snah wails "every wave a jolt from nature / every breeze a challenge and a bait" the entire orchestra crashes together like merciless waves and the ship battles to stay afloat. Halfway through the song the orchestra is given free reign to go off in different tangents, yet the song never falls apart into pointless noodling, instead creating a cacophonous, cinematic image.
Once the chaos finally clears we are treated to a final movement that more peacefully seems to mark the calming of the storm, yet the ship is ruined. The lyrics conjure up elements of ancient Greek mythology as our protagonist laments "oblivion on your lips, Lethe flows in your kiss... laudanum make me numb" and the song fades out.

After this, the album becomes more experimental and disjointed as the sailors are lost at sea. For the next half-hour we are presented with a lot of soundscapes created with Ståle Storløkken's ghostly keys and abstract sounds from the orchestra. While this is at first slightly disconcerting because the album becomes less structured and easy to listen to as a whole, there are highlights such as how 'Into The Gyre' swirls up into what represents a maelstrom further tearing apart the ship. This leaves our sailors to despair, praying to the sea god in 'Oh Proteus - A Prayer' for salvation from "a desert of torment, an ocean of thirst and madness."
Those hoping for another epic in the vein of 'Through The Veil' will be disappointed this section of the album is mainly focused on creating a desolate atmosphere that feels as huge as it does empty of hope for our protagonist. As previously mentioned this does make the album more difficult to listen to casually or in a single sitting but has its merits; the focus is on creating a dense cinematic ambience to the point where you can almost see the visuals in front of you. This is also in no small part due to the poetic lyrics, littered with references to mythology and somewhat archaic in their use of language to conjure up that sense of dark fairytale.

The album concludes with a three-parter that charts the crew's descent into factionalism and madness. The title 'Sharks' might make you assume the crew is attacked by that most feared of ancient sea creatures but in fact it charts the ship's officers' slow turn to the idea of cannibalism as the food and water runs out; "their gentleman's breeding shows well / they circle their servants like sharks," turning to our protagonist and deploring him to give up his life "for kingdom, for country, for their polite society."
The song builds with fearful intensity as they close in on our hero "screaming for subsistence, gnawing, devouring," and driving him to the extreme. 'Mutiny!' bursts out immediately from the previous song as he turns the tables on his peers declaring "damn you sir, damn your etiquette, the blood red moon has set and you're not here for long." Of the "rock" songs on the album this is the weakest, feeling perhaps as if the band's creative juices for the album were beginning to drain but nonetheless, the song concludes the trials and hardships of our hero poignantly with his remark that "we ventured to find the hollow earth, but all that we've found are the hollows in our souls."

The album's last hurrah comes in the form of 'Into The Mystic,' wrapping up the journey with a slight return of The Hollow Lands' main riff as our hero ventures off, leaving behind the ship and his crew if there is anything left of it, having learnt that their mission was futile and in fact "this far from home only monsters roam, not Hollow Lands, just Hollow Man." His future is left unknown as he gazes "deep into the mystic" and a surprisingly upbeat and retro keyboard solo carries us into the album's final crescendo in what feels like the end of a long and vivid journey of unexpectedly poetic lyricism and masterful musicianship.
While this feels like an important moment in their career as perhaps their last great expansion from their familiar style, if Motorpsycho surpass this who knows what they'll accomplish.



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user ratings (104)
4.3
superb

Comments:Add a Comment 
Mad.
August 19th 2016


4902 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

Full album stream: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o5nTFZl1ZJY



This is massively underrated and unknown, from a band that deserve way more recognition.



It also makes me feel tingly.



SharkTooth
August 19th 2016


14917 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

thank you for doing this



ever since I started college it's been impossible for me to review albums

Mad.
August 19th 2016


4902 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

Np fam same



Been meaning to review this for like 2 years lol

TheHung89
August 19th 2016


328 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Great to at least see some Motorpsycho fans on here but I agree they need way more exposure.



Album is my fav of theirs, it really stands out in their discography. These guys are like top 3 all time for me so I enjoy all of their albums on some level.

Mad.
August 19th 2016


4902 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

Yeah this is one hell of an album, Heavy Metal Fruit is my personal fave tho. I don't seem to 'get' some of their older albums that people say are their best like Black Hole or Timothy's Monster... they're still good tho

TheSpaceMan
August 19th 2016


13612 Comments


[2]

TheSpaceMan
August 19th 2016


13612 Comments


ace review bro, bout damn time this had some words to go with it. glad its from one of the other like 5 fans active on the site too!

also worth mentioning that it looks like two unintentional paragraph breaks appear, one when you're talking about Sharks and one in the paragraph(s) above it, possibly just a result from copying the lyrics from another text

Mad.
August 19th 2016


4902 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

Ty m8 and I gotya on those paragraphs



Tis a shame there are only 5 of us

SharkTooth
August 20th 2016


14917 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Where's HuricanSlash when you need him? He'd be thrilled to see this up

Hurricanslash
August 20th 2016


1831 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Heyyoooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo.



Perfect write-up of one of their best albums no doubt! Nice to see so many people commenting here. Really makes me happy, as the biggest Motorpsycho-nerd on this site.

SharkTooth
August 20th 2016


14917 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

"Really makes me happy, as the biggest Motorpsycho-nerd on this site."



Raul Stanciu tho

KILL
August 20th 2016


81580 Comments


move it or lose it baby

TheSpaceMan
August 20th 2016


13612 Comments


Yeah where are the insomniac comments?

Mad.
August 21st 2016


4902 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

Raul only gave this album a 3.5 so I guess hurrican wins

Hurricanslash
August 22nd 2016


1831 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

AAAAAAAYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY.



I also have like 4 or 5 albums of them at a 5. Wassuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuup.

SharkTooth
May 6th 2017


14917 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

SOLD ME TO SLOPS

SHIPPED ME TO SEA

MADE A SAILOR OUT OF MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

Mad.
May 6th 2017


4902 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

*cue mindmelting bassline*

Mad.
May 11th 2017


4902 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

Is Through The Veil the best song of all time?

SharkTooth
May 12th 2017


14917 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

it's quite up there



btw Mad since you love this I highly recommend you check Charles Mingus's The Black Saint and Sinner Lady, it's a pure jazz album but it's similarly heavy

Mad.
May 12th 2017


4902 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

already a fan matey, killer album



Let My Children Hear Music is also sikk



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