There are those albums you just know are going to be good from the opening seconds of the initial spin. This is one of them. Following their acclaimed self titled debut, Mars Red Sky brings us ‘Stranded In Arcadia’, a psych/blues rock opus with enough ‘Howls From The Hills’ era Dead Meadow-isms to make you think they bottled Simon and Co.’s ‘White Worm‘ and drank the ever living shit out of it. But to stop there would be a disservice. This album is more than a kick ass rehash of familiar 70’s influences; this French three piece comes dangerously close to classic album territory, with a sound that’s equally melodic and menacing, brutal and beautifully serene, and this reconciliation of polarities is the driving force behind their particular brand of psychedelia. Mars Red Sky achieves that almost unattainable balance of masculine/feminine principles (both in atmosphere and composition), drawing on the best aspects of each and the end result is a journey that follows giants like Sleepy Sun where musical subtlety and restraint are just layovers before the ultimate strike.
Opener ‘The Light Beyond’ is a nice example of what the band has to offer; the production is crisp without being overly polished, the guitar tone’s buzz-saw fuzz bites but keeps a palatable smoothness, the bottom end crushes only when it needs to. In fact, you risk blowing your speakers with the opening crash of guitars. They pull you with a ‘hop along’ central blues riff accented by reverb-drenched solos and a vocal style akin to a more seasoned Jason Simon (Dead Meadow). This track takes its time with the slow build; its heaviness periodically receding into light echoed acoustics. But again, the balance is maintained, and the song assumes the definitive ‘epic identity’ that becomes the foundation for the rest of the album.
Peeling back the different faces of this ‘identity‘ is what makes this album truly enjoyable, whether it’s the weaving, sinewy crush of riff heavy ‘Hovering Satellites’ or the 60’s psych pop flare of ‘Join The Race’. In the former, Mars Red Sky plants the rattlesnake at the door, with a double bass pound and a slithering riff that crawls up and down the fret board looking for a way in…invitation unnecessary. Regardless, the door is blown wide open when the chorus lands; Julien Pras’s vocal harmonizing especially shines, bringing this track as close to perfection as could be reasonably expected of a band at this stage in their career. I mean, they are mere mortals, right? But the song is that good.
This kind of momentum is sustained for the album’s duration, peaking with the ominous ‘Seen A Ghost’, a 7+ minute ‘choose your own acid trip’ adventure. The rhythm plods and stumbles along like a child’s warped slinky, dragging its chugging riff in tandem. Some prog flourishes manifest reminiscent of Cathedral’s twists and turns on ‘The Guessing Game’; this ‘trip’ is an ethereal one for sure, where images of furry vines, floating mushrooms, and unquestionably sinister apparitions are the norm (remember, I said choose your own acid trip…this is mine). The arrangements effectively convey that sense of dread (or confusion, or disbelief) when you realize the world as you once knew it is no more, or where the unshakable faith in ‘reality‘ that yielded emotional security is destroyed; but sometimes it’s a relief to let go and allow the unknown to be your guide. As the album closes with ‘Beyond The Light‘ (a reworking of the opening track), you get the sense that Mars Red Sky is the manifestation of that ‘unknown‘, guiding us to their reinterpretation of the afterlife.
Charisma and consistency in quality song writing and execution (while maintaining a unique identity) is the hallmark of a great band. A great album, however, requires a culmination of these individual talents at a specific point in time. For Mars Red Sky, that moment is now; how long that moment will last is unclear, but hopefully they’ll remain stranded here for a while. Highly Recommended.
Scribed by: Jeremy Moore