There’s an undercurrent in this past decade’s Swedish rock that draws liberal inspiration from the psychedelic sounds of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Dungen is probably the most obvious example, but it can also be heard in the progressive and folk elements of more adventurous black metal bands like Opeth. Hailing from Örebro, Sweden, the four-piece Dead Man mines similar territory, applying folksy instrumentation and unconventional song structures to a brand of acid rock that owes as to much to Black Sabbath and Santana as it does to 1960s Los Angeles groups like Love and the Doors.
On its second full-length LP, Dead Man employs its diverse influences in a largely unpredictable fashion, which sets the band apart from so many others digging in the same crates. The disc’s 11 pieces range from brief instrumentals to multi-part mini-suites, reflecting a seemingly endless supply of ideas that the band manages to stitch together in a logical and coherent manner. That said, there’s still an uncomfortable emphasis on instrumental prowess at the expense of memorable passages, resulting in music that seeps into the brain over time rather than making a powerful first impression.
Which is not to say there are not exceptions to that rule: songs like “I Must Be Blind”—a mid-tempo, country-tinged track reminiscent of something from Led Zeppelin’s first LP, or perhaps the Guess Who—have sections that vaguely resemble verses and choruses, although they still tend to shift from lush acoustic guitars to heavier instrumental breaks when least expected. And lazy as it may seem, the Zeppelin comparison isn’t mere grasping at critical straws. On “A Pinch of Salt”, Euphoria‘s most traditional rock song, the band directly quotes Robert Johnson via Robert Plant with a lewd entreaty to “squeeze my lemon until the juice runs down my leg”.
Of course, no psychedelic band worth its mettle (Meddle?) releases an album without at least one track that aims for epic status. On Euphoria, Dead Man concocts two, sequenced back-to-back. The first, “The Wheel”, is more loosely arranged, moving from humble acoustic beginnings to a plodding pentatonic riff before sprawling out to a wah-wah driven rock jam over the course of its nine-plus minutes. “Rest in Peace” is also nearly nine minutes, but benefits from a clearer sense of architecture: jazzy chord voicings give way to a heavily delayed and reverbed solo guitar section that serves as connective tissue to the most Sabbath-indebted unison riff on the entire record, finally returning full-circle to its mellow origins.
Overall, Euphoria is an album about dichotomy—heavy/soft, acoustic/electric, joy/gloom—and Dead Man exploits these contrasts with admirable skill. The addition of instruments like mandolin, lap steel, violin, and transverse flute (played by the four members and a couple of guest musicians) that extend the rock quartet format gives the music considerable depth, yet the band can’t avoid the occasional indulgence in the superficial trappings of psychedelic music (like the stereo panning and backwards masking that abruptly ends “Light Vast Corridors”). But the amount of work invested in composition and arrangement is what ultimately makes the record a difficult listen—rewarding those willing to make the investment, but most likely alienating those who are not.
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// Notes from the Road
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