I have never been a great lover of the stoner rock scene that came out of the Californian desert. If I had, I might have heard of Swedish stoners Lowrider. I assumed this year’s Refractions was a debut, but it is a sophomore record some twenty years after the band last released an album. And it is a phenomenal beast, with riffs of almighty proportions. Not just titanic, but tectonic, with such earth-shaking potency that they are riffs the size of continental shelves. And it seems their debut was much the same, and so much so that it is regarded as a landmark in stoner rock. In fact, upon reading up on the band, several reviews of Lowrider’s Ode to Io state it as being the best desert rock-style album not to come from the Californian desert.
And, if I am to be somewhat prejudiced, that might be why this album appeals to me so much. The likes of Kyuss and Fu Manchu never resonated with me. With few exceptions, the stoner rock I enjoy tends to come from Europe and not the USA. The Europeans still play a fuzzed out groove, but somehow the fuzz has a sophistication, clarity and progressive slant the US stoners do not, for me. Regardless, the stoner rock acts I like and those I don’t do tend to play the same slow-to-mid tempo, heavily distorted, riff-laden, bass-heavy, retro rock. And for me, the Europeans just do it better.
Opener Red River lays down those monolithic riffs almost straight off the bat, launching into a huge wall of fuzz. That huge mid-paced groove is there from the get go. If you go with the theory that the base influence for stoner rock is Black Sabbath, Lowrider makes perfect sense. There are shades of Sabbath all over this track, and the remainder of the album, but never once do they come across as anything more than an inspiration. It is perhaps those shades of Sabbath that make Lowrider, and other European stoners such as Graveyard and Kadavar, appeal more to me than their US equivalents.
The stakes are raised on the following track, Ode To Ganymede, so lush in tone and depth I didn’t think it could be any better, until I am treated to swathes of Hammond near the end. Now that is lush! I love the sound of a Hammond organ, so this track is instantly one of my favourites. It’s at this point that I am checking that it is actually the same Lowrider who released an album some twenty years ago. Refractions is such a vibrant album that it’s hard to believe it’s not a new album by a new band. I think this can only be because the band were so young when they released Ode to Io that they are hardly grizzled old veterans these days.
This will sound anathema to many, but in the following track, Sernanders Krog, I hear similarities to bands such as Pearl Jam and Foo Fighters – though, it should be noted, only in the rhythm section. This song is just damn cool.
I can imagine this one will be awesome played live. Even listening to digital files, it is easy to tell this is an album recorded for a vinyl release, and that this is the closing number for the first side. It follows then, that as the opening number of the second side, Ol’ Mule Pepe, ups the tempo with a stomping riff. Sun Devil / M87 then gives a little room to breathe, but it’s only a short respite before those churning slabs of fuzz and bass descend once more. This is the sound of a band having a good time.
And then all that came before is swept asunder by the truly astounding closing number, Pipe Rider. It is a true grand finale, building and exploding with irresistible power. This is, without my favourite track on the album, and all six are very good. But Pipe Rider. Just wow!
Returning after twenty odd years could be difficult proposition for many bands – particularly when your sole record so far is regarded as such a milestone in your genre. Lowrider make it look like a walk in the park. I have never heard the debut, but I will be making sure to check it out, based on just how good Refractions is. I said at the beginning of this review that there were not too many stoner rock bands I like. You can add Lowrider to that small list, and probably at the top. It’s incredibly early in the year, but I wouldn’t be surprised if many people are already putting Refractions up as a contender for their album of the year. And speaking of years, hopefully it will not be another decade or two before the next release!
01. Red River (5:11)
02. Ode To Ganymede (6:47)
03. Sernanders Krog (8:15)
04. Ol’ Mule Pepe (5:02)
05. Sun Devil / M87 (4:57)
06. Pipe Rider (11:25)
Total Time – 42:37
Peder Bergstrand – Bass Guitar, Vocals
Ola Hellquist – Lead Guitar, Vocals
Niclas Stålfors – Guitar
Andreas Ericsson – Drums
Record Label: Blues Funeral
Country of Origin – Sweden
Date of Release – 21st February 2020