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4.74 | 7 ratings | 3 reviews
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Album · 2012

Filed under Non-Metal


Disc 1:
1. Out Of The Woods (2:41)
2. The Hollow Lands (7:37)
3. Through The Veil (16:01)
4. Doldrums (3:07)
5. Into The Gyre (10:22)
6. Flotsam (1:33)

Disc 2:
7. Oh Proteus - A Prayer (7:35)
8. Sculls In Limbo (2:21)
9. La Lethe (7:53)
10. Oh Proteus - A Lament (1:05)
11. Sharks (7:56)
12. Mutiny! (8:33)
13. Into The Mystic (7:05)

Total Time 83:44

Vinyl edition:

Side A:

Out of the Woods
The Hollow Lands
Through the Veil, Part I
Side B:

Through the Veil, Part II
Into the gyre
Side C:

Oh, Proteus - A Prayer
Sculls in Limbo
La Lethe
Oh, Proteus - A Lament
Side D:

Into the Mystic


- Bent Sæther / vocals, bass
- Hans Magnus Ryan / vocals, guitars
- Kenneth Kapstad / drums
- Staale Storløkken / keyboards


Trondheim Jazz Orchestra
and Trondheimssolistene

About this release

Stickman Records/Rune Grammofon, 10th of February 2012

Music arranged by Motorpsycho and Ståle Storløkken
Words by Bent Sæther
Trondheimsolistene and the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra arranged by Ståle Storløkken

Thanks to UMUR for the addition


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Specialists/collaborators reviews

A wild and delirious journey through a bizarre variety of musical styles, Motorpsycho's The Death Defying Unicorn is prog brilliance. Intense instrumental workouts reminiscent of King Crimson give way to sections featuring vocals reminiscent of a much more successful version of Pure Reason Revolution's attempt at updating Pink Floyd on their debut album. Spooky passages threatening to break into space rock, zeuhl or RIO territory at any moment swirl around before coalescing into avant-fusion segments reminiscent of Frank Zappa conducting the Mahavishnu Orchestra. In fact, it's Ståle Storløkken adding some jazz sensibilities to the fabulous Motorpsycho, a potent combination which makes me want to explore the work of both further.
"The Death Defying Unicorn" is the 14th full-length studio album by Norwegian rock act Motorpsycho. The album was released through Stickman Records/Rune Grammofon in February 2012. It´s a collaborative release between Motorpsycho and Ståle Storløkken. The latter plays keyboards on the album and has arranged the tracks along with the group. He is also responsible for arranging the parts of the album played by Trondheimsolistene and the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra. "The Death Defying Unicorn" was released on double CD and double 12" vinyl.

The music on the album is quite the eclectic mix of psychadelic, stoner/hard and progressive rock spiced up with some avant garde type jazz/chamber orchestra moments (and some more symphonic ones too). At times the avant garde element reminds me of The Mothers of Invention. There is also a cinematic/theatrical element to the music, which is probably due to this being a concept album, and to build a dramatic atmosphere to go along with the lyrics (which are a fairytale at sea of sorts), the band have opted to include that element too. The band themselves are as always well playing and their jamming type rock, which owes a big depth to both 60s psychadelic rock and 70s hard rock, and on this particular album also to 70s progressive rock (vintage keyboards and flutes are some of the elements), works like a charm. A heavy bass, fuzzy guitars and (mostly) laid back mellow vocals are the foundation of the music. All the other elements are layered on top of that. Sometimes, like in some parts of the 16:01 minutes long "Through The Veil", in a multi-layered chaotic fashion.

A track like "Into the Gyre", with it´s mellow first couple of minutes and heavier and busier last couple of minutes, is an obvious highlight to my ears, but there are brilliant moments popping up throughout the album. Tracks like "The Hollow Lands", the above mentioned "Through The Veil", the energetic "Mutiny!" and the closing "Into the Mystic" are standout tracks too. I could have done without some of the most ambient and slow building tracks, but that´s probably an aquired taste.

The sound production is warm, organic and detailed, suiting the music perfectly. Overall "The Death Defying Unicorn" is a very adventurous album by Motorpsycho. It´s admirable how an act that have been around for about 25 years are still branching out and trying new things. This is by far their most progressive release yet and while there are several nods toward 70s prog and other vintage rock styles, this doesn´t sound like a clone of anything. Motorpsycho are unique. At 83:44 minutes, "The Death Defying Unicorn" is a pretty long album and if the band had left out some of the more atmosphere enhancing ambient tracks like "Doldrums", "Flotsam", "Sculls in Limbo" and "La Lethe" I feel the album would still have been a long but much stronger one disc album. In it´s current for there are though still enough quality material to warrant a 4 star (80%) rating.
A masterpiece album of 2012.

Not so much a metal album as an assortment of prog and odd nautical themes with a ghostly atmosphere. Before I approached the album I had no idea what to expect, though I had heard one track on a Prog mag compilation sampler and loved that. So I put on the headphones one dark evening after midnight and let the music immerse my soul. I think I was lifted into another plane of existence as the music simply nailed me to the couch with its inexorable power. The opening hyperventilating saxophone kept lunging into spasms until finally an outbreak of dizzying orchestra blew the doors off any boundaries that may have been set in place for music convention. This is mind blowing stuff and is encased in a concept of a ship lost at sea and how the crew fight for survival against incredible odds. It moves eventually into an acoustic rhythm with beautiful flute responses and a song begins.

We have come Out of the Woods into The Hollow Lands. I am already in love with the hyper strangeness of odd rock and orchestra symphonic expulsions. I begin to realise why the album was hailed as one of the albums of 2012. It is purely progressive heaven. The way the band utilise bass and scratchy guitar on this song is incredible. This is the song I had heard on the sampler and I couldn't stop playing it. It is mesmirising. This is amazing music and I don't know why it took me so long to get to it. The lyrics spell out the tale unfolding of a cabin boy as part of a ship's crew; 'It seems the order was clear, 'go see if anything's there', so our ship set sail found her course, and in a month a hundred souls slipped through the veil, to state our claim to the Hollow Lands'.

Next it is Through The Veil, a 16 minute epic that opens with scratching on a guitar or something. It is weird and delightfully avant garde. The sax reminds me of Jackson's odd chimes from 'Pawn Hearts'. It builds into a heavy fuzz guitar riff stinking of classic 70s rock and it is buried in avant sax outbursts that grind with vivacious delight. The pure invention and bold approach is captivating and never fails to impress. This is prog with the hinges hanging off the doors, not just out of the box, the box is blown clean open. It is quite unnerving in sections, with screaming violins, crescendos that blaze from nowhere and then are layered with beauty. I listened to this during a rather downbeat moment in my life and it spoke to my heart. This is so incredible, I feel even more moved emotionally than my first listen of the masterpieces of King Crimson and Van der Graaf Generator. It changes time sig at 5:50 and motors along with staccato sax, and out of sync guitar that floods through and germinates into spasmodic fireballs of anger.

The lyrics unfold the amazing tale; 'Something fills the air, it's all around us, as striking as a bolt out of the blue, the impact's nearly rendered us unconscious, laid a mist upon the crew'. It feels aggressive and unfriendly but it is such a refreshing soundscape, the way prog should be, not the poor excuses of prog bands that commercialise everything they put their hand to. To heck with commercial, Motorpsycho are the real deal and are full on proglords. The vocals are like Hawkwind and the guitars are like Led Zeppelin or Budgie tuned down; it has a distinct 70s sound, that was captured by Opeth on 'Heritage'. At 11:50 the song takes a detour into pure sonic violence with a freakout psychedelic lead break over a cacophony of brass noise. Then it moves into a spacey reverberating voice effect akin to Camel or Led Zeppelin's most psychedelic vocal work. The way the sax riff locks in and allows the other musicians to commit jazzerside over the scape is an astonishing achievement; this is the beauty of the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra and Trondheimssolistene. I love how this music is not designed for the squeamish, and how it would cause the average music listener to switch off; this is prog dammit!

Doldrums is next, much shorter at 3:07, but no less inventive, glistening with off kilter brass and downright chilling musical figures, like an orchestra in its most rebellious state of mind. At this stage I had to look at who was playing this zany music; we have Bent S'ther on vocals, bass, Hans Magnus Ryan on vocals, guitars, Kenneth Kapstad on drums, and Staale Storl'kken on keyboards. They are an incredible unit and are getting some well deserved attention with this astounding album. The Trondheim Jazz Orchestra and Trondheimssolistene are a real drawcard to this album though as they provide intense musicscapes that really augment the rock sections.

Into The Gyre is replete with beautiful violins in the opening that move into a floating flute passage. The heavenly sounds threaten to break out and yet it merges into an airy vocal instead. The music is mischievous playing with time sigs and tempo changes. I can depict a semblance of a concept more clearly that revolves around the sailors on a voyage to somewhere, who hit a snag as the ship is plummeted down.; 'Down into this sailor's tale, damned before the storm, and into the gyre we'll go, I think I feel the Maelstrom's tug, on our ship, my mind and my soul'. It builds with cymbal splashes and plucking guitar Frippisms that may represent waves crashing against the ship as it heads to a destination lashing through torrential storms. It builds ascending higher in pitch and the intensity grows until the crescendo and the fuzz guitar takes dominance with a fret melting lead break, and some dissonant violins scream violently. This is an unbelievable virtuoso performance from all concerned. It is as good as the Van der Graaf Generator outbreaks of the 70s. Then it stops and a lone guitar monotone figure is heard and some tearful alienated violin scrapes. An organ shimmers and throbs with an unnerving drone, and it has a chilling dark resonance. The image of a ship moving slowly through the fog springs into the conscious. At 2 am in the morning this is a creepy soundscape for this reviewer but I cannot stop listening intensely.

Flotsam is a short (1:33) transition style track that has a hollow minimalist violin sound that enhances the feelings of loneliness out on the water lost at sea. The raw sound is so moving, we can even hear the strings being scraped and the bow lifting off, all is mixed to the front for great effect. Then it segues into Oh Proteus - A Prayer, that features more violins with melancholy power. The voice that sings is harmonised; 'our ship is sunk in the deep forever.' It is very sad in mood and a measured performance over the mournful symphonic strings.

'We are lost in the fog directionless,' Bent S'ther sings, and then a majestic organ and violin passage builds with a powerful crescendo. Then a very deep guitar riff joins on an odd time sig as we hear of 'the desert of torment' and the words state the tale has taken a turn for the worst as the crew bravely fight for survival now their ship is lost. 'an ocean of thirst and madness, Oh, we must row ' put your weight on the oars, oh, we must pull as if everything depended on it, Let us sing a song while we bend to the task, let us set the course by the stars, and let us row and save our lives.' Again my thoughts are drawn to VDGG's 'A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers', not only the lyrics but especially the atmosphere and creepy effects made by odd musical figures.

Sculls In Limbo is an atmospheric piece with very eerie music that has a haunting resonance. La Lethe is more upbeat with a dynamic jazz fusion feel like Mahavishnu Orchestra on slow motion. It mirrors the feeling of rowing on an endless ocean, and has that ray of hope the sailors would also have at this point as food runs dry and the sea becomes a beast ready to swallow them whole. This is a powerful instrumental that has many emotional textures, it is sombre, bleak and yet strangely compelling music.

Oh Proteus - A Lament is another short piece (1:05), with doom laden lyrics; 'Something here is wrong, Still hunger is gnawing, and I feel my mind is going slowly.' Sharks (7:56) is an appropriate title as we realise the sailors are going to be eaten alive by the ferocious killers of the sea. This track moves in many directions like sharks circling as the protagonists face certain doom in the terrifying maw of the sharks. The lyrics state it clearly; 'Nothing moves but the fins of the sharks that swim, So endlessly, dark shadows that roam the deep, stalk our wake and haunt our sleep so ghastly white.' So the occupants await their turn to die, but the protagonist does not want to go quietly in the night without a fight; 'We ventured to find the hollow earth but all that we found were the hollows on our souls screaming for subsistence, gnawing, devouring, to give my life to give them their lives? Such preposterous hypocrisy I cannot abide, oh no I will not go quietly.' The lyrics are staggering in their poetic beauty and are perfectly matched by the glorious progressive jazz symphony.

Mutiny! Is a fast paced track, quite jarring after all the gentle ambience. In fact it blazes with heavy guitars chugging and brass stings. It moves into dissonant competing guitars and reverberating keyboards. It is a raucous sound emulating the trauma of the protagonists who fight for control on the boat. The lyrics speak of the mutiny 'Damn you sir, and damn your etiquette! The blood red moon has set and you're not here for long, I'm no gent, but don't take me for a fool, I serve no master and I won't obey your rules! You're a thief and taker! You're a cheat and faker!'

The noisy avant jazz settles into violins and segues to Into The Mystic. This last track wraps up the concept beautifully, opening with 70s style guitar riffs and a wonderful pulsating bassline. The violins are everpresent howling over the guitars and pounding drums. It is an accomplishment the way the musicians are able to capture so much raw emotion with the blend of rock and jazz. The protagonist tells the last part of the tale; 'It was a hopeless try, but I couldn't just lay down and die.' He has survived after 'staring death in the face' but he is now left with painful memories as 'deep into the mystic I gazed.' The music feels like a finale, the violins and flute compete nicely with a Fripp like guitar riff and there are some lovely sweeping symphonic textures. The keyboards join in and there is a wall of sound drawing the album to a close.

I can only include with the inevitable after being treated to a mesmerising musical explosion like this. The album is an undisputable masterpiece of prog and one of the must listen to albums of 2012.

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