Motorpsycho’s atmospheric ‘Here Be Monsters’ is sophisticated but sleepy

Despite subtle songwriting and gorgeous production, album remains slightly underwhelming

Album: “Here Be Monsters”

Artist: Motorpsycho

Release Date: Feb. 19

Label: Rune Grammofon

Grade: B

Conceived in the late ’80s as a grunge band, Norwegian rock outfit Motorpsycho has covered a lot of ground in the past 25 years. With a career spanning more than 20 albums, Motorpsycho moved through an alternative phase in the ’90s and explored psychedelic rock in the 2000s. Their latest studio album, “Here Be Monsters,” continues their recent string of psychedelic progressive or ‘prog’ rock albums starting with 2010’s “Heavy Metal Fruit.”

Technical but not conspicuously so, the strength of “Here Be Monsters” rests in its nuance. While groups like Rush and Dream Theater made their careers off sharp transitions and jarring virtuosity, Motorpsycho plays a more sedate brand of prog.

For the considerable compositional sophistication that’s here, the album never once seems self-indulgent or digresses into showmanship. In a genre notorious for excessive sonic “busyness,” Motorpsycho’s relatively minimalist approach is refreshing. Every twist and turn happens with an organic subtlety that’s been lost in the hyper-technical trends of modern progressive music.

The album starts on a low key with the brief “Sleepwalking,” a serene piano-centric instrumental. The first notes of the next track, “Lacuna / Sunrise,” evokes a perfect morning. With warm production and swelling melodies, the drifting intro is a nearly perfect sonic approximation of serenity, one of those songs you can feel in your bones.

The mood shifts a bit when singer and bassist Bent Sæther’s vocals come in. In what becomes a theme throughout the album, the vocals and the instrumentation seem to tell different stories. While Sæther’s voice is crisp and on key, his melodies convey a slightly unsettling mood that sometimes runs counter to the rest of the music. At his best moments, his emotions dynamically contrast with the album’s pastoral atmospheres. At other points, this divide borders on distracting.

“Running With Scissors” is a gorgeous instrumental track boasting a fantastic guitar solo, something of a lost art even in genres heavy on instrumental displays. Despite its staid mood, its gorgeous woodwind passages, jazzy drumming and expressive guitar melodies command attention

The next song, “I.M.S.,” is moody and dissonant, buzzing with a veritable pulse. The fastest and most aggressive track on the “Here Be Monsters,” its crescendo of screaming guitars and rumbling distortion resolves on an inventive note.

“Spin, Spin, Spin” is an eerie number, a cover of the tune of the same name by ’60s psychedelic rock group H.P. Lovecraft. Despite its markedly obscure source material, this is one of the most memorable moments on “Here Be Monsters.”

Clocking in at close to 18 minutes, the closing epic “Big Black Dog” is the undisputable highlight of the album. Moving between brooding, creeping passages and pleasant melodic turns, it’s strong on all fronts. Lyrics and vocal melodies are in top form and the quality of the instrumental passages doesn’t lag for a second.

Dreamy and reflective, Motorpsycho’s latest effort a choice soundtrack for rainy day, a solitary walk or a lazy morning spent in bed. But for its merits, “Here Be Monsters” is lacking in moments that really steal your attention. The album’s general sleepiness is both a strength and a weakness, enveloping the listener in pleasant atmospherics while providing few particularly defining moments, especially in the vocals department.

In the end, “Here Be Monsters” is definitely a grower and a recommended listen, but non-essential unless you care for the style.

Luke Heuskin is the assistant arts editor and can be reached at