Rise Above dropped one of my favorite records this year in the totally unexpected prog masterpiece that is Astra's The Weirding. I'm hoping they go two-fer-two here... So let's see...
But before the review, a seemingly random question: do you like Hawkwind?
I ask if you do because it’s clear that Litmus does.
In regards to your own opinion of Hawkwind, the proper answer to the above question should be, "Sometimes." Not to digress too far from my subject matter, but that somewhat-legendary band's catalog is wickedly convoluted, cluttered with an insurmountable glut of live albums, re-packagings, compilations and whatever the hell else they felt like releasing. But in their day, which was in about 1973, Hawkwind was a great band, one of the defining pinnacles of space rock. Warrior On The Edge Of Time is a damn fine record, as is the ridiculously titled Hall Of The Mountain Grill. And hell, Lemmy was in Hawkwind, so that's pretty rad, right?
But Litmus, man! Litmus! What about Litmus!?!
They sound like Hawkwind. They sound a lot like Hawkwind, but they don’t sound exactly like Hawkwind. Litmus is modernized, beefier, bigger, a touch more metallic and a bit less 1970's. They leave behind the worst bits of Hawkwind-ian excess—thankfully, there are no spoken word alleged-poems, and they’re smart enough to reign in some of Hawkwind’s more noodly tendencies. Even if they’re more metallic than Hawkwind, Litmus’ claims to metal-ness are still tenuous (assuming they’re making any)—they possess more energy than most space rockers, but at their most energetic, they’re still just a kinetic rock band. All categorical hair-splitting aside, Litmus’ pulsating space rock is most enjoyable, borrowed perhaps but rocking nonetheless, and should be of interest to discerning metal-heads with a liking for similarly 70's-sounding acts like Astra, Witchcraft and such.
Aurora is reportedly more streamlined and less spacey than previous Litmus efforts, but it’s my first experience with the band, so I cannot confirm that. As mentioned now twelve times previously, the Hawkwind influence is prevalent, predominant, pre-eminent, pretty much the defining characteristic. (Before I take the Hawkwind comparison too much farther, let me mention that the band is aware of their nature—they have appeared on a Hawkwind tribute record, and they have performed at Hawkwind-themed festivals.) These tunes all feature psychedelic vocal melodies, sung entirely in two-part harmony by some combination of Fiddler, Marek and Martin. (All three are credited with vocals.) The drums are pulsating, pounding simple hypnotic krautrock-ian rhythms throughout, driving the tracks into a fast-paced groove that makes them simultaneously uptempo and yet still ethereal. The guitar and bass interplay is perfect—the guitar riffs are simple and searing, wholly effective, and the bass work is melodic and at times as much a lead instrument as the guitars. On the band’s Myspace, keyboardist Anton is credited with "swooshes, bleeps and twiddly noises," which sums up his musical contributions more concisely than I ever could. Lyrically, Litmus favors repetition, with vocals some songs consisting entirely of a few phrases replayed perpetually. (Case in point: "Ma:55oN Rift," which repeats one short phrase endlessly, or "Kings Of Infinite Space," which declares repeatedly that the band will be kings of infinite space.)
There’s really not a bad track on this one, although it’s a bit of a one-trick pony. I will admit that I prefer Astra’s genre-study exercise to Litmus’ band-specific homage, solely because I tend to like prog itself a bit better than I like Hawkwind. Regardless, for fans of space rock, Aurora is a must-have, and for those looking for a fun little trip through dreamy sci-fi rock, look no further.