Well into the second decade of the 21st Century, it is wonderfully anachronistic that bands are still twisting the kaleidoscope of psychedelia. One such is Toronto’s Comet Control. Based around the songwriting partnership of guitarists Chad Ross and Andrew Moszynski (whose relationship pre-existed musically in the psych-metal band Quest For Fire), Comet Control released their second album some three months ago.
In addition to the two guitarist-writers, the band comprises bass player Nicole Howell, Christopher Sandes on keyboards and drummer/percussionist Jay Anderson. It’s a five piece that makes a big, space-rock noise. Indeed, although the swirling guitars and descending minor key vocal lines evoke echoes of earlier psychedelia, on listening you are reminded most of Hawkwind and Nuggets-era garage psych rather than the English whimsy of, say, Tomorrow.
‘Darkness Moves’ races out of the gate like an up tempo out-take from Uriah Heep’s Demons and Wizards; it’s a fast-rocking groove. Although the vocals are not at all David Byron, there’s a lightly harmonised stoner-rock feel; the lovely keyboard colourings—even a brief solo—brings fond memories of Ken Hensley’s British heavy prog veterans. ‘Silver Spade’ certainly has a psych-tinged vocal, in fact despite the heavy groove it is a remarkably accessible almost-pop song.
‘The Hive’ has it all and then some. Shifting drum sounds, synth colours, feedback, groove and a surge as big as the galaxy. Exhilarating.
Side two highlights include the distorted guitar squall in ‘Criminal Mystic’ and the spooky organ-lead ‘Golden Rule’ which had me thinking warmly of a muscled-up lovechild of Atomic Rooster and early Hawkwind. Final song ‘Sick in Space’ is slow, dreamy even, with resigned, breathy vocals over a still-crunchy but well-controlled guitar swell. I enjoyed the light and shade in this massive six-string sound.
The band’s record company present a breathless blurb to woo new fans:
Toronto space rock cosmonauts Comet Control re-enter the atmosphere with their stargazed sophomore album, Centre Of The Maze. Flooded with swirling synths, ghostly vocals and fuzz-bomb guitars that burst into flames in electrifyingly airborne ways, the record effortlessly merges the ethereal and the terrestrial.
Regular readers will know that we’re suspicious of gush here at Vinyl Connection, yet I have little disagreement with the thrust of that introduction. This is very well-crafted heavy space-rock with vocals that manage to retain a midnight-mist dreaminess. And that dreamlike voice-cloud does not diminish the powerful musical thrust arising from the guitars. Keyboards add colour and tonal variation with subtlety and skill, and there is an attention to variations of pace and density that make this a very enjoyable listen, inviting repeated listenings.
The only questions I’m left with are (a) Is it psychedelia? And what, indeed, IS psychedelia in 2016, and (b) Why is my 35 minute vinyl edition missing the final ten minute ‘Artificial Light’. Offering it as a poxy mp3 download leaves me feeling a bit short-changed, especially as its slow building, surging roll and attractive Floyd-ish melody would have made a fine finale to the album.
Caveats notwithstanding, Centre of the Maze is more than an album for ageing retro-space-rockers. This is no tired pastiche, but an energetic re-discovery of some of those things that made heavy prog and early space rock so enjoyable. It is an album for modern cosmic cadets who love Moon Duo (for the heavies) and All India Radio for those lighter moments in the swirling cosmos. Maybe that’s why I was miffed about missing out on the final track… I wanted more.