WoooOOOOoooo, despite the spooky name and album title, Rumours Of A Presence by Spirits Of The Dead is most assuredly not another entry in the current line of Scooby-Doom ‘Occult Rock’ bands, nuh-uh, what we have here is an absolutely cracking album in the classic rock mould, albeit with a more contemporary feel, shot through with a rich vein of progressive rock and a touch of psychedelia. Infinitely more preferable to another sixties/seventies retread with witchy pretensions and hamfistedly applied faux-occult trappings as far as I’m concerned.
Axeman Ole Øvstedal cranks out crunchy, spiky riffs, shimmering tonal play and playful leads with a Josh Homme meets Billy Duffy by-way-of Paul Kossof flair, ably backed by the inventive, nimble drumming of Geir Thorstensen and the thick ‘n’ meaty, supple ‘n’ clanking bass support of Kristian Hultgren, leaving the velvet-voiced Ragnar Vikse to provide the deeply listenable vocal hooks, all in all making for a superbly complimentary mix of skills and disciplines and an A + musical experience.
Lead-off track ‘Wheels Of The World’ comes off like Unida’s ‘Thorn’ fed through the ‘robot rock’ filter of Homme’s Queens Of The Stone Age work with some tasty Kossof-esque licks thrown in and a superb li’l shuffle section full of bubbling, spacey sound FX, lithe bass, angular slide guitar and twinkling keys. The whole thing is tight and enthralling, with Vikse’ vocal putting me in mind of Daniel Davies – Year Long Disaster frontman, solo artist and son of The Kinks guitarist Dave Davies – but with a more fluid, low-key, delivery, which is no bad thing to these ears!
‘Song Of Many Reefs’ continues the QOTSA feel with a spiky, rhythmic feel to the guitars, odd accents and unusual chord choices combining with Thorstensen’s rolling drums and Hutgren’s warmy, punchy fluid bass to create considerable depth and Vikse really pushing his boundaries to deliver a vocal that occasionally puts me in mind of Tripping Daisy/The Polyphonic Spree frontman Tim Delaughter whilst also using his voice in a purely textural fashion at other points – notably during a relentlessly rolling section that recalls both QOTSA, circa their first LP, and Pink Floyd’s bluesier, hypno-jamming circa Dark Side.
‘Golden Sun’ throws the progressive influence in with a relatively straightforward boogie feel to evoke some kind of Dr Feelgood-plays-QOTSA obscurity, also featuring some rather smashing wah-inflected lead work from Øvstedal, the very brief instrumental ‘Dance Of The Dead’ moodily coalesces from an ominous cloud of fuzz into a thing of twinkling malevolence, and title track ‘Rumours Of New Presence’ builds from darkly delayed, subtly picked crystalline guitar, imaginatively deployed drums and lilting bass into full-on mosquito-fuzz prog rock replete with waltz time stinging ring modulated guitar solo.
Spirits Of The Dead bring the doom in for the hard-edged Sabbathesque ‘Red Death’ with Vikse pushing his voice into full-blown howling rock god guise and Thorstensen giving it the complete Bill Ward jazzy shuffle throughout. Such overt Sabbism here is the exception rather than the rule, though, as spectral acoustic number ‘Seaweed’ follows in a completely different vein again with the entire track comprising of Øvstedal’s crisp, biting acoustic guitar, Vikse’s lightly processed, breathy vocal and some judiciously applied maritime sound FX, and closing number ‘Oceanus’ moves into Led Zeppelin territory, driven by a pounding ‘When The Levee Breaks’ style beat and featuring a Page-esque mix of acoustic and brittle electric guitar.
It really is an incredibly refreshing change to hear a band that ostensibly operates within the Retro/Stoner Rock milieu that actually manages to retain an identity all of their own and isn’t relying on a slavish devotion to minutely recreating the tones, feel and sound of a particular band – or agglomeration of bands – from a particular era.
Rumours Of A Presence is an enthralling, thoroughly rewarding, listen and it would be a crying shame for them to be swept up and forgotten amidst the current wave of ten-a-penny faceless retro merchants. They deserve better than that.
Scribed by: Paul Robertson