Psychedelic rock with lashings of proggy jam, a smooth layer of spacey ambiance, and a heavy crust to ensure conformity to a metal-lover’s palate. This is what I was promised by Germany’s Black Space Riders on their fourth full-length, Refugeeum. As it goes, this is more of a confused hybrid of baked goods in concept, and a bland homemade cake in execution, rather than a luxurious Victoria sponge, with some serious identity problems. Black Space Riders don’t use their composite genres to the fullest extents and my interest waned as I paid closer attention.
The biggest issue facing Refugeeum is that its spacey, proggy core is essentially characterless. The album is split between experimental, atmospheric tracks which run longer than eight minutes, of which there are four, and more direct rocking tracks with overt guitar hooks. These four longer tracks, composing over half of the hour run-time (overly long to begin with), had very little impact on me and I struggle to recall any of their defining characteristics despite my concerted listening efforts. Nothing draws me to these besides my duty as an informed critic – it was a bore to endure “Run to the Plains” to name just one of them. My enthusiasm for the longer material is demonstrated by my meager notes which merely document the instruments playing and when they started. It reads like a check list: guitar, bass, percussion, vocals, etc. There’s little subjective commentary on quality or emotion since the longer material makes for very uninspiring listening.
Occupying the other half of Refugeeum are the shorter and typically straight-forward rock songs, which fare better. These focus on immediate engagement through hooky riffs and orientate themselves around these, sounding somewhat akin to Queens of the Stone Age. You’ll rapidly be nodding your head to “Universal Bloodlines,” bearing the strongest of the record’s riffs and featuring a strong, modern tone and a groovy bass-line. “The Lure (Come With Us)” is similarly worth noting, also boasting a slick vocal melody. Additionally, “Melek’s Lament (Yazidi Tears)” stands out as one of the better short tracks since it’s the most effective atmospheric passage of the album. The title is fitting given the use of subtle percussion and a melancholic mood, offering the only point at which I was emotionally engaged.
Notwithstanding “Melek’s Lament,” there’s still a problem with these shorter songs however: the aforementioned riffs which are solid on isolated listens aren’t exactly diverse when heard back-to-back. As a result of this, and the lackluster longer songs, I see little point in listening beyond “Universal Bloodlines,” “The Lure” and “Melek’s Lament.” Sure, the other shorter tracks may largely be solid, but they don’t offer anything new to what’s available on those highlights.
Moreover, it seems Black Space Riders are caught between two prongs in their identity. They market themselves as spacey, psychedelic rock and offer half an album of such. But that half is dull, unimaginative and entirely overshadowed by the other half which is occupied with simple rockers. I’m not quite sure what to make of them, and I’m not convinced they’re too sure either.
Across an album wherein one half is entirely forgettable and the other can be condensed to three short songs, there’s not much to recommend. A sequel would be improved by a more assured step in one direction or more sophisticated integration of their two preferred styles, as would further embellishment and diversity within these styles. That said, I’ve not exactly been inspired to seek out the band’s back catalog so I can’t guarantee I’ll be back.
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 256kbps MP3
Label: Black Space Records | Cargo Records
Websites: Black Space Riders Official | Black Space Riders Bandcamp
Release Dates: Out Worldwide 07.24.2015