REVIEW: MOTOROWL – “Atlas”
I have no idea what a Motorowl is, and the internet isn’t very forthcoming on the matter. The name sounds like it may have come from one of those random band name generators. Personally I choose to believe that the band is named after Bubo, the mechanical owl that Athena gave to Perseus in Desmond Davis’ 1981 film ‘Clash of the Titans.’ I know that’s a deep cut, but bear with me on this one. In 1981, renowned special effects expert Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion animation technique was already passé, but whether intentional or not, its use paid tribute to a bygone era of monster movies, and added a memorable effect to the film that was equal parts charming and otherworldly. Likewise, Motorowl’s affinity for seventies progressive hard rock and eighties doom culminates in a record that masterfully relishes in and pays tribute to those sounds to great effect.
That’s not to say that ‘Atlas,’ out July 27th via Century Media Records, is not forward thinking. On the heterogeneous and Greek mythology themed lead-off single and title track, the band skillfully moves from an airy organ driven intro to a metallic chug that isn’t dissimilar to post-death metal Opeth, before morphing into the Hammond heavy classic doom of the verse. In a turn that sets a precedent for the album, the band breaks out of the gloomy haze into a super catchy, driving, almost AOR style chorus, punctuated by the emotive vocals of singer/guitarist Max Hemmann. A descent into the band’s progressive side follows as Daniel Dettlev’s Moog synthesizer glides above Tim Camin’s steady bass driven figure before Martin Scheibe’s tom work and Vinzenz Steiniger supplemental guitars build the song into a full-on guitar and organ freak-out. Resolved by a return to the doom of the verse riff and an extension of the chorus, “Atlas” sets the tone for an album full of songs that marry unusual contextual shifts to a muscular, foundational retro-rock sound.
Whether it be the spacey atmospheric verses of the smart opening track “Infinite Logbook,” or the doomy riffage and guitar and keyboard interplay of complimentary tracks “To Take” and “To Give,” every track is predictably unpredictable. Bolstered by workmanlike production with plenty of head room, the diverse textures and melting pot of influences reward multiple listens.
“The Man Who Rules the World,” the best track on the record, unfolds in similarly atmospheric manner, but adds a bluesy verse groove punctuated by Dettlev’s essential organ work. For the chorus, Hemman, who is in fine form throughout the record, takes center stage with an earworm chorus that wouldn’t be out of place on modern rock radio. The chorus is so catchy that it has usurped Ghost’s “Rats” as my go to shower song. In fact, Hammen stamps his signature on this entire set of tunes via a bluesy expressive wail that more than compensates for any range limitations. In typical Motorowl fashion, the centerpiece of the song is a progressive workout augmented by a gypsy-scaled keyboard solo. The solo being indicative of Motorowl’s secret weapons, organs and other keyboards, that supplement and duplicate the excellent guitar work, and along with Herman’s vocals, define the band’s distinct sound.
The 6/8 doom shuffle of “Norma Jean” suitably closes out the record. The melodic plod of the chorus-less verses builds into a slab of lumbering psychedelic doom before a spare “Bolero”-esque piano figure provides a moment of calm. A reintroduction of a groovy, more intense take on the verse riff transitions into meaty double time swing which winds down into a short, atmospheric coda.
On their new album ‘Atlas,’ Germany’s Motorowl come out of relative obscurity to deliver a first-rate record that looks back to look forward. Their unique amalgamation of progressive seventies organ heavy hard-rock, eighties doom, and modern progressive metal effortlessly blends to produce one hell of a Kraken-slaying thrust.