MOTORPSYCHO — The All is One (review)

MOTORPSYCHO — The All is One album cover Album · 2020 · Non-Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
lukretion
Motorpsycho’s new album, The All Is One, concludes the so called “Gullvåg trilogy” of albums inspired by the art of painter Håkon Gullvåg that the band started in 2017 with The Tower and continued with 2019’s The Crucible. Sporting on its cover another beautiful Gullvåg’s painting, The All Is One might just be the best progressive rock album released in 2020. Whether you agree with this statement or not, one thing is for certain: it is simply amazing how, after 30 years of career and more than 20 full-length albums, these three Norwegians are still able to create music that feels fresh and innovative and is of such a high quality. This is truly a testament to their creativity and ability as musicians that I have a deep respect for.

So what makes The All Is One so good, you ask? Two things stand out for me: how deliciously varied its 9 compositions are, and how they are perfectly balanced between creative discipline and looseness. These characteristics put the record at the top of the trio of albums that form the Gullvåg trilogy, in my opinion. The songs on this album have the same playful, proggy exploratory spirit of The Tower, but with the structure and discipline that one can find on The Crucible, giving us the best of both worlds.

There are three types of songs on The All Is One, reflecting three distinct phases in the recording process. A first bulk of songs were recorded in September 2019 at the Black Box Studio in France. These recording sessions see the Motorpsycho trio (Bent Sæther - lead vocals, bass, guitar; Hans Magnus Ryan - lead guitar, vocals; Tomas Järmyr - drums) join forces with long-time collaborator guitarist Reine Fiske (Landberk, Paatos). The songs that came out from these sessions are of medium length (between 5 and 8 minutes), follow a somewhat traditional structure and are fairly vocal-driven, without too many extended instrumental jams or detours, making them relatively easy to assimilate. Nevertheless, the music has a strong classic prog flavour, somewhat reminiscent of the US modern school of progressive rock (bands like Echolyn, but also Spock’s Beard and Neal Morse come to mind). Classic acts like Yes and King Crimson are also obvious influences, but they are re-interpreted through a modern lens that avoids the music sounding derivative. Among these tracks, the title-track and “The Magpie” stand out, containing some of the best and most memorable hooks of the album. “Dreams of Fancy” is also notable, with its classic rock feel (Led Zeppelin come to mind). “The Same Old Rock” and “Like Chrome” are instead perhaps a tad less inspired and come across a bit as run-of-the-mill prog.

Then we have the 42-minute suite “N.O.X”. This piece, recorded in November 2019 at the Oceans Sound studio in Norway, was originally written as performance music that Motorpsycho were commissioned to play at 2019 St. Olav Festival as part of its celebration of the art of Håkon Gullvåg. The suite was composed with the help of two other instrumentalists, Lars Horntveth of Jaga Jazzist (saxophones and clarinet) and Ola Kvernberg of Steamdome (violin). It is an amazing piece of music, and my personal highlight from the album. It comes in 5 separate parts (each a separate track on the album) that are interconnected and tied together by recurring motifs and common rhythm patterns. The music has a strong experimental and avant-garde feel, and encompasses a range of different styles, from krautrock and space rock (Hawkwind), to classic prog, to Canterbury prog (Caravan come to mind on the opening bars of “Circles Around the Sun pt I”), to psychedelia. The suite has everything one would ask for from a prog masterpiece: it is complex and shapeshifting while never losing focus or tension, it is filled with sublime arrangements and exceptional playing, it is groovy like hell (listen to “Ouroboros”) and it has strong dynamics, moving between hard-hitting, almost punkish pieces (“Circles Around the Sun pt II”) and dreamy, reverb-drenched meditative moments (the Pink Floydian “Ascension”). Vocals appear sparsely throughout the suite, and are often processed and used more as an additional complementary instrument than as lead instrument. Drummer Tomas Järmyr puts in a monstrous performance on this piece, but the playing of everyone involved is truly dazzling and a joy to listen to. What impressed me the most, though, is the sense of structure and discipline that transpires from the music. Motorpsycho have often indulged in extended instrumental jams on previous albums. While captivating and engrossing, I often found these jamming pieces a bit too loose, structureless and repetitive, which made it difficult to continuously retain my attention. “N.O.X” is incredibly tight and well-organized, each part flowing naturally - almost necessarily - into the next one, in a way that brings to mind classical music more than jazz or psychedelic improvs. This perfect balance between discipline and looseness is what makes “N.O.X”, and the album in general, such a fantastic piece of music for me.

Finally, the album contains three shorter songs, recorded at various times between 2018 and 2019 in Trondheim (Norway). These are acoustic pieces for guitar and voice (and synths sometimes) that are strategically placed on the album to separate the “N.O.X” suite from the other tracks. I am particularly fond of “Delusion”, a beautiful, delicate piece that reminds me of the more pastoral moments of early King Crimson. “A Little Light” is also endearing, with its simple guitar line, especially after the musical mayhem of the closing parts of “N.O.X”.

Overall, the alternation between acoustic pieces, more regular prog rock songs, and the tour-de-force of “N.O.X” gives the album a sense of progression and moving-forward that is truly captivating and naturally invites the repeated listens that are necessary to properly assimilate the sheer amount of creativity that is contained in the 80+ minutes of music on this double-album. Nevertheless, The All Is One is also a record that is very easy to instantly like as it contains enough hooks and moments of brilliance to entrance the listener on the first run. It is also notable that the doom/stoner/heavy prog influences (e.g., Black Sabbath) that Motorpsycho are known for are not so strong on this album. Overall, there is more prog and less fuzz on The All Is One, which may make it an even more palatable release for the prog community.

In short, The All Is One is an amazing piece of work. It contains some of the proggiest and most inventive pieces of music Motorpsycho have come up with in a long time. The experimental, largely instrumental suite “N.O.X.”, alone, would have made for an incredible album, but perhaps it stands out even more with the addition of the other acoustic and more standard vocal-driven tracks to balance the record. Despite some less inspired moment (“The Sme Old Rock”, “The Dowser”, “Like Chrome”), it is without doubt one of the best progressive rock albums I have listened to this year and it is highly recommended to anyone with an interest in prog.

[Originally posted on http://www.progarchives.com]
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lukretion wrote:
8 days ago
Nice, I am glad you enjoyed it! It may take a bit to "click" but is a great album!
8 days ago
Listened to this based on your review and have subsequently played it again twice. Really great album!
13 days ago
A trilogy with great cover art? I smell money burning holes in my wallet! I already have a couple of Motorpsycho albums. Three more wouldn't hurt.
Nightfly wrote:
15 days ago
Great review, i really need to hear this. I've fallen a bit behind with Motorpsycho. The last album of theirs I bought was The Tower.

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