Lightsabres, the solo efforts of John Strömshed (also of Tunga Moln), may well on the surface remain a somewhat lonely one-man affair. But with the launch of Hibernation, the Luleå, northern Sweden native’s fourth full length in well under three years, you get the sense that glorious isolation is just the tonic for this haunting, yet addictively catchy project. Fresh from the acclaimed garage fuzzing of last year’s Beheaded album, Strömshed has clearly not been resting on any laurels with a notable change in both direction and rhythm aboard Hibernation which both survives and conveys a set of deep emotions matched only by the gorgeousness of the accompanying Hunters In The Snow (1565) artwork by Pieter Bruegel. Whilst on the face of these ten scuzzy jams you could easily be drawn into simple comparisons to Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats or Dead Meadow, Lightsabres occupy a more resonating type of psychedelia that’ll encourage you to think harder than you’ll want to nod your head.
The opening title track itself does indeed feel like a slow awakening from a winter-long slumber. Gentle washes of bass and drums open out and settle into a grungy, but warm dirge of guitar and Strömshed’s lullaby-like, heavily overdriven vocals. Similarly, the beautiful and soulful Cascades Of Blood harnesses the deep, furrowed-brow, eyelids-clenched emotional strains of John’s poignant, sincere voice and makes this the star of the show in, and amongst, the twinkling guitar melodies. Whisper To Me Softly opens this emotion out into a more electric expanse, kind of like how the more modern QOTSA records show Josh Homme pushing the prioritisation of his deep love of the likes of Nick Cave, Mark Lanegan and PJ Harvey’s strident vocals over the furious drums and heavy riffing of his past, to avoid putting his compositions’ effects and messages into jeopardy. Satan’s Pilgrim and Possessed go further still to end up practically as lullabies all of their own. The former, with its “rise up, rise up with the morning star” chorus utilises gentle drum taps and sparkly guitar lines merely as a support vehicle for the vocals to sit on. These could arguably be vocals-only cuts if it they so chose.
Blue Smoke is by a country mile the best track on Hibernation, for me at least. Its glowing combination of Sonic Youth’s downward-sinking guitars and the slow, lingering, yet cryptic, Ozzy-like vocals form the perfect blend of the very style and atmosphere that Lightsabres is trying to reach. Ultimately a tale of great sorrow and pain, the flickering guitar motifs and solid drum rumbles do hint at a better tomorrow on some other side of the “dead end street” walked in the second verse’s lyrics.
The middle of the order is where we see the influences of the Scandinavian stoner scene pull harder on Lightsabres’ overall direction. Breaking Bones is a full-on fuzz-rocker; the by-product of that innate boredom after a long week at college or work giving way and grabbing a crate of beers, a couple of microphones and those Lowrider and Dozer records we’ve all lovingly kept close in order to keep our spirits alive in this cruel, harsh world. Throw It All Away will also evoke a few Truckfighters or Witchcraft references in its bass-riffed intro and spiralling riffage. Meanwhile, closer Blood On the Snow saves the best head-nodder of a riff Lightsabres have available for the final sixty seconds of the album to see us out with a suitable bang and crash.
What I do have to tiptoe around a little is that this album’s mix, as with many DIY-only efforts, is at times far from perfect. The drums and plodding bassline at the helm of Endless Summer, for example sound to me far more 8-bit than I think is stylistically intentional. The vocals, whilst at times brilliantly toned, do suffer a little on some tracks; Blood On the Snow and Throw It All Away using too much distortion and sounding far too screechy in some sections. Equally, if you were a fan of the scorching, upbeat hooks and killer punk-laden groove of Lightsabres’ previous effort, you might well be disappointed with much of Hibernation’s slower, depressive edges. But in reality, this album is ultimately scratching at a far more complex itch than any amount of fun guitar riffs and simple, poppy lyrics ever could.
Hibernation manages to be both elegant and mysterious in nature, whilst its short song-lengths and accessible ease on the ear simultaneously make it a pick-up-and-play record that aches for your attention in a variety of situations. Beautifully packaged by the fine folks at HeviSike Records, who know a thing or two about making their precious vinyl releases look far too cool for school, Lightsabres’ heartfelt fourth record is also ready for immediate collection via pay-what-you-want download on Bandcamp. Fine, Star Wars-referencing, one-man fuzzadelica from Sweden… What’s not to dig?
Scribed by: Pete Green