by Noel Oxford
The sober reflection of but a moment will bring us, I am positive, to the consensus that the 1970s represent the absolute pinnacle of human civilisation. To wit, the birth of hard rock and heavy metal; the trend towards startling facial hair, scandalous collars and kipper ties; ludicrous cars the size of spaceships (not to mention actual, genuine, real-life spaceships jetting off all over the place); and Starsky and Hutch. In fairness, we must balance all these fine accomplishments of the decade against one or two sore points, namely two million dead Vietnamese; the resignation of a US president; continual strife and war in the middle east; two separate and major hostage crises, one ending in a massacre; and the genesis of punk rock.
Tally it up, though, and we still come out with a clear win, I think you’ll agree.
Enter Asteroid, a Swedish stoner outfit with a fetish for the 1970s so obvious it’s bobbing down the street to a wah-wah accompaniment, collecting urban detritus in the cuffs of its outrageous bell-bottoms. The drummer is named ‘Elvis’, for pity’s sake. Doesn’t that say it all? Procuring presumably the last remaining un-colonised song title of the late, lamented Kyuss for their standard, Asteroid’s love for the polyester decade shines from their every pore, and informs every single stroke of their self-titled debut, a thick, fuzzy doorstop of bottom-heavy riffs. What’s more is that it’s completely brilliant from beginning to end.
Opener ‘The Great Unknown’ barges into your life riding a livid, snorting steer of a hook, buzzing guitars swollen fat in the pants with grinding Hammond, in the mien of classic Deep Purple. ‘Panoramic Telescope’ retains the fuzz, but adds sonorous wah pedal and a clean-picked mid-eight to the mix, before morphing that theme into ‘The Infinite Secrets of Planet Megladon’, an instrumental that gives us a tantalising glimpse of an alternate reality where Grand Funk Railroad ingested an outrageous dose of blotter acid on a dare and never truly returned to us.
It’s not just the marriage of a thick fuzztone and deep groove that drives this record, though. The band’s two vocalists, Robin Hirse and Johannes Nilsson, contrast and complement each other like night and day, the one sporting a gruff, low-pitched grumble, the other deftly harmonising with a melodic, honeyed croon you’d be forgiven for thinking belonged to a woman. Nilsson’s softer touch carries ‘Silver Leaf’, a slow, strutting 6/8 pimp-walk, mellower than what’s come before, yet somehow lacking none of the punch that underpins the album’s entire runtime.
The record shortly remounts its aggressive groove offensive and rides off toward its conclusion, until closer ‘Doctor Smoke’ pops out of nowhere, tempting with a gritty Hammond-led tilt-a-whirl. A percussive riff glides over the ever-present groove, now filigreed with contrapuntal drumwork, sandwiched between which we find a melody to die for and even a quick harmonica break, all wrapped up with a giant bow in the form of a sing-along la-la-la coda. It’s the most inventive piece of work here, and the record’s obvious stand-out tune. Which is to accord high praise indeed, since there’s not a remotely mediocre song in sight; indeed, the solitary criticism I can level is that, with little by way of contrast, the continual heady riffing might start to feel a tad monotonous over the course of the entire album’s hour or so.
But that doesn’t really wash, does it? Any bunch of fools can sit around pounding out riff after riff, but it takes vision and balls to marry that to melody, and, on top of that, to make it work. That’s what this album does, in the best traditions of its forebears, no more, no less – and it does it bloody well.