Back in 2015, Germany’s Black Space Riders underwhelmed El Cuervo to the point that, when jousting over January promos, he couldn’t even remember having reviewed Refugeeum. That is a warning sign if I’ve ever seen one, but something about Amoretum Vol. 1 intrigued me nonetheless, and I’m worried I might regret it: after all, Vol. 2 is also slated to come out this year, and I’ll get stuck with it, good or bad. But I like the concept presented — “Amoretum” is a made-up word, taken from “amor” and “arboretum,” and referring to a protective garden where the seed of love can germinate. Cheesy I know — so I put on my big boy onesie and pressed “Play” anyhow.
Upon hearing the opening track “Lovely Lovelie,” I was firmly on Team Cuervo. The song is a raucous, unruly garage band song with few redeeming qualities. While it isn’t exactly a bad song, it’s as forgettable as Refugeeum was. What makes this strange is that it’s the only song on Amoretum Vol. 1 of this nature: the rest of the album is psychedelic space-rock, making the inclusion of “Lovely Lovelie” distracting and annoying. Perhaps it was a concession to a disgruntled band member: “Fine, we’ll include your crappy song here, now leave us alone and get back behind the kit.” Regardless, it’s a song that doesn’t fit at all, and after a few listens to confirm this, I’ve been skipping over it ever since. Luckily, it’s the first song, and out of thought and mind quickly.
Also lucky is the fact that the rest of Amoretum Vol. 1 kicks a marginal degree of ass. “Another Sort of Homecoming” is where I believe the album truly begins. Layers of fuzzy guitars and galactic synth patches undulate through the speakers, and where one of the lead singers (either JE or SEB: yep, Black Space Riders love the gimmicky anonymous thing) was shouting out of tune in “Lovely Lovelie,” here he assumes the vocal style both singers carry throughout the album: a new wave, post-punk style that makes me think fleetingly of Julian Cope and David Bowie. It’s a driving song, pure space opera rock, complete with sci-fi lyrics and an appropriately cheesy video. It also leads straight into one of the album’s highlights, “Soul Shelter (Inside of Me),” a huge song with a wonderful psychedelia-meets-new wave arrangement, slow and pensive but building into rolling percussion and crashing guitars, all the while with a beat you can’t stop nodding to.
The rest of the album maintains the quality of those two songs. “Movements” is a bit long and drawn-out, and while it could be cut down in length it still ebbs and flows with nuance and emotion. “Friends are Falling” is another highlight, grooving along behind the fuzzy, growling bass, echoing guitars, and quirky vocal delivery. Like most songs here, drummer C.RIP loves to pound through his toms, bringing plenty of bombast to the material. The album ends with “Fellow Peacemakers,” a somber, piano-driven number with a percussion loop and wistful vocals that culminates in a rousing singalong chorus: “She will find, she will find, she will find fellow peeeeace-makers!” It’s a great way for Black Space Riders to end the album — and to make us look forward to Vol. 2.
Amoretum Vol. 1 is light years better than Refugeeum. It is filled with solid, engaging songs whose riffs and groove stick in your head long after listening – aside from the ugly duckling that opens the record. The other seven songs are performed and arranged with skill not evident in the band’s earlier material. If you’re looking for a comparison, the work here is most similar to Refugeeum’s “Melek’s Lament (Yasidi Tears),” at times with a bit of a lighter Crippled Black Phoenix vibe. Production suits the space opera style and performances nicely. I’m on board for Vol. 2. Hopefully, Black Space Riders keep it going.
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Black Space Records
Websites: blackspaceriders.bandcamp.com | blackspaceriders.com | facebook.com/BlackSpaceRiders
Releases Worldwide: January 26th, 2018