Without ever having felt any joy, comfort, or belonging within relatable organized worship and/or belief, any suggestion that rock music conveys or equates a religious experience could be stricken from whatever trail of ramblings I’ve behind me at this point. The sacred solitude of meditation, an expanding oneness that’d feel the very skin of the universe replace my own, is exactly the kind of gig which I can relate. It might’ve been some early obsession with zen Buddhism in high school or, just the constant inhalation of cheap Vancouver-sourced grass throughout the mid-to-late 90’s but I’d soon find myself achieving sacred, rippling samādhi by way of ‘…And the Circus Leaves Town‘ from Kyuss off a random whirl of a VHS music video subscription tape. By the mid 2000’s countless worlds had opened up beyond that particular impetus, which might appear trite in hindsight but the whole concept of stoner rock wasn’t yet so widespread, “known”, and accepted back in the day. Just as I’d begin to write to zines and find a sliver of a voice the fates would set Fu Manchu in hand, and Nebula soon after. Beyond ‘Let it Burn’ came a split with a virtually unknown Swedish band, Lowrider, who played to my senses directly as a fellow who’d never loved music until he’d heard ‘Master of Reality’ for the first time. As much as I’d like to say their debut (‘Ode to Io‘, 2000) was a big deal for me at the time, I’d never picked it up. The weight of this band, widely considered an influential group in the space of Scandinavian stoner rock and stoner metal, isn’t lost upon me despite missing out in the moment. A full two decades later the big hope is that they’ve not resurfaced in vain, or in some cheap and bloated capacity. Relax, ‘Refractions’ is as good or even better than anyone’d could’ve hoped.
Excuse the cliché worldview beyond the usual cynicism but what weeds out the finest stoner rock (eh, desert rock, stoner metal, etc.) bands past and present is still the riff and the feeling with which it is presented. It never mattered that Lowrider sounded influenced by Kyuss‘, they had their own sludgy n’ bounding Sabbath-esque groove informing the slick ride that has kept ‘Ode to Io’ fresh in the minds of the devout ever since. Hindsight on my part has bolstered Lowrider‘s debut, alongside certain Dozer and Terra Firma records, making it a ‘go to’ Swedish stoner record yet none of that’d built expectations; Two decades of space meant they’ve nothing to prove here. The only chance I was going to lose my mind over ‘Refractions’ was if they still had that ol’ knack for a liquid riff and desert groove in hand. Pshh! Yeah, they’ve still got it and mile-long sludge rock grooves to spare for a sound that is the essence of late 90’s/early 2000’s stoner rock purified, exorcised and rebuilt into a lucid and ecstatic experience. Either they’ve tapped into a timeless sound and resonance or simply managed an evocative modern version of themselves where every second of the album counts, it just works as a second hit of Lowrider.
Is it me, or these guys pouring out twenty years worth of the brain’s mud while “Ode to Ganymede” soars atop its smooth-doomed major grooves? Is it weakness leaving the body, a learned cathartic reaction to stoned musical cues, or the power of the riff setting that essence under glass? I’ll continue to ask questions for the sake of prolonging that ecstasy, but the gist of it is that Lowrider have absolutely provided a record worthy of the lifetime in between records and they’re two-for-two with killer LPs in my book. The absolute easy-riding push of “Sernanders Krog” is the infectious, wild-eyed show pony here, the big piece that’d catch my attention from any distance at any volume. Too often modern (or even legacy) stoner music titans get lost in fiddling out ornate compositions that largely serve to find that ‘pocket’ of righteous rhythmic ideas but Lowrider just float in off their silvery cloud and plow right into the pocket from start to finish, that 8 minute song is such a major “show ’em how” moment for modern stoner rock. I couldn’t get that main riff out of my head for weeks.
As much as I’d like to start waxing on how all things have come full circle — Such as one of MeteorCity Records‘ (Lowrider‘s original label) founders releasing this on his new Blues Funeral Recordings imprint, the phenomenal reprise and expansion of “Sun Devil” from the first album, and whatnot… I see ‘Refractions’ as the peak of a slow spiral upward, a seven year long rebuilding of past and persistent passions for all involved. It certainly says a lot that so many were patient enough to nurture this return when the band themselves were ready. The average listener doesn’t necessarily need to care about this, fair enough, but a reprisal built on passion and thoughtful hard work is so much more valuable than the typical fuckin’ half-assed “we’re back because the market was right” revival. “Pipe Rider” is the shove over the edge, the final push and the big wide-open blast that’d cement ‘Refractions’ as more than a re-warming of old passions. The looking-glass begins to smoke away eyelashes and cornea, blinding and enlightening through one big shocking ray of yearning. What’d shocked me most is that it’d gotten me thinking of prime (read: not that last album) Torche or y’know, back when The Sword weren’t dead-eyed and wandering, rather than the old associations I’d prepped in mind. When that Geezer-worthy bass guitar tone flicks in beyond the mid-point, it takes me right back to “Texas Pt 1 & 2” as I begin to sweat under the fiery heat of it all.
Even if you’ve no intention of taking stoner rock, stoner metal, or this desert-branded and sludge-rocking tuneful style of music I think ‘Refractions’ could win a lot of folks over. The songs are a bit long if you’re not in the know and prone to these grooves but these wise Swedes earn every minute without wasting a single note. Don’t even consider that it has been twenty years since their last album, Lowrider had it back then and they still have it now. Evolved but still conscious of their original purpose, ‘Refractions’ is music to my ears, and a triumph at the very least. A very high recommendation on my end.
Very high recommendation. 4.25/5.0
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