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Sulphur Dreams : The Divine Anthropocene

Raucous, eclectic and with plenty of verve, Sulphur Dreams' debut is a promising one.

My first thoughts, looking at the Giger-esque sprawling cover art for Sulphur Dreams' debut release, were of Magma - some way off the mark, as it turned out when band spokesperson, bassist/vocalist Alex, promptly and politely explained he was pretty sure none of the band had actually heard of the Kobaïan cycle and weren't especially clued up on early French prog-rock...

Fair enough. Wrong band, right period. Well, sort of - the Swedish trio do list an awful lot of influences, and many of those lead back to the heartlands of the early '70s (check out this brief interview for an extensive list, if you wish). You might even think it's going to head direct into retro-worship when 'The Divine Anthropocene' comes out of the blocks like Frank Marino, takes in some choppy Hendrix-style wah-pedal and then drifts into spacy, bluesy Robin Trower territory (that's just the opening track, 'Babel AD', by the way). However, it's not long before Metal and Grunge elements make an appearance, alongside some inevitable Sabbath rifferama - and if all of that starts to sound like Cathedral's eclectic melting-pot approach of the '90s and beyond, it's because Lee Dorrian's outfit is indeed the one casting the longest shadow here.

Wait one moment, though, lest I create too much of an impression that this is purely derivative. It isn't: for all the many different strands of classic rock and metal woven into the sound, Sulphur Dreams have put their own stamp on proceedings, through a lens of clear, modern recording quality and percussion-laden heaviness that has the fat, fuzzy bass duelling on an equal footing with a dynamic range of lead guitar tones. The vocals are clear and slightly-accented, tunefully throwing lyrics in English, German and Swedish into the mix and rising to a forceful bellow when emphasis is needed. On a technical front, it works well, building an infectiously stomping synthesis of the trio's most obvious musical strengths that handles low and high-gear passages with equal facility.

There's no danger of mistaking it for a one-dimensional soundscape, either, given how frequently the generally mid-length tracks shift and shimmer through changes of pace and tone. It takes a deft hand and tight focus to keep that sort of approach from becoming too busy and overloaded, a balance that the first three tracks pull off with splendid aplomb, while 'Feuer Auf Der Seele' teeters somewhat more unsteadily on the edge. Sadly, things do lose a bit of momentum after that point - in contrast to the energetic eastern-tinged groove of 'Ritual Highway', from the 2014 demo, which scrubbed up really well for this new outing, its stablemate 'Doom Witch' is a bit too close to a plodding 'mystic evil potion' Stoner cliché for my taste. The final pair of songs do pick things back up, to an extent, but never quite hit the highlights of the openers. (Though, in the case of 'Novemberdimma', that's only because the Swedish vocals sound a little awkward, as if it's a difficult language to punch out with rock phrasing - which, could, of course, be more of a fault with my parochial British ears than with the track itself...).

Package-wise, props to the band for self-releasing a no-frills but tidy gloss limited digipak, for those of us who prefer to grab on to a physical copy. You still have to visit Bandcamp to pick up the mission statement, however: "...the album title refers to the arrogance and pride of the human being seeing itself as the superior race and disregarding its own imperfection..." ('Anthropocene' being a so-far unofficial naming proposal for the current epoch, which would date from when mankind's impact on the environment first became significant).

So, there you have it: for a first full release, it's got plenty of verve and personality, decent presentation and a thought-through concept behind it. I very much like the raucously enthusiastic sound that Sulphur Dreams deliver, across an about-even split of potential and actual excellence - which absolutely comes to full and vibrant life when they hit their compositional peaks, and properly balance out the desire to mix things up technically with the desire to rock out big-time. Ironically, perhaps - and going somewhat full circle - that's more or less the exact question Magma posed throughout their career, sometimes fully answering it, sometimes not. Likewise, 'The Divine Anthropocene' doesn't quite hit the indispensible heights of the former category, but it is an entirely credible attempt to do so: pretty damn good in its own right, and hopefully a signpost towards even better things to come.

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Reviewer's rating: 7.5/10


Tracklist :
1. Babel AD
2. Ritual Highway
3. Wisdom Hunters
4. Feuer Auf Die Seele
5. Doom Witch
6. Novemberdimma
7. Utopia Out Of Sight

Duration : Approx. 46 minutes

Visit the Sulphur Dreams bandpage.

Reviewed on 2017-10-05 by Mike Liassides
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