Craneium – Unknown Heights Review

Finland’s Craneium managed to accrue some low-level buzz on the strength of two albums of entertainingly fuzzy, buzzy pysch/stoner rock mixed with minor sludge and alt-rock influences. While their sound is sure to remind you of other bigger acts like Monster Magnet and Sahg, they’ve managed to do their own thing and create some interesting material with a unique spin. Now comes third album Unknown Heights, which after nearly three years of effort the band thinks is their best product thus far. I generally take such promo puffery with a few grains of bath salts, but since I enjoyed 2018s The Narrow Line quite a bit, expectations were elevated and ears were lubed and ready for fuzz bombs.

And expectations are certainly well met on opener “A Secret Garden” which is easily one of the band’s best songs to date. It’s got the righteously fuzzed out riffs and 70s-centric acid rock ethos but it also sounds a lot like a straightforward Audrey Horne-style hard rocker with a chorus that’s simple, massive and hits like a titanium anvil. It’s the kind of joyous rocker you hit repeat on before it even ends and it’s going to get a cosmic ass-ton of replay in the House of Steel. The high-quality tuneage continues with the doomier, darker “Somber Aeons” where Craneium show us a more menacing face as slight Tool and Candlemass influences creep in to mess up the sheets and drink all the high-end hooch. It features a weird spoken-word piece opining on the nature of “true darkness” and it’s a cool touch in an already compelling song. “Weight to Carry” is the album’s big showpiece and clocks in at 8 minutes, but every second is made to count as the band drags you through a series of genres and moods ranging from doom, stoner rock and alt-rock weirdness. A strong Monster Magnet vibe pulses at the song’s core and from there the band launches raids at nearby genres and subgenres. It’s quite an accomplished piece of heavy rock art with a lot of hooks and replay value.

The first half of Unknown Heights is excellent and is indeed some of Craneium’s finest work. Unfortunately, there’s a drop-off on the back half. Songs like “Shine Again” and “The Devil Drives” are entertaining but lack the sheer enormousness of the earlier cuts. I do enjoy the similarities to Los Disidentes Del Sucio Motel on “Shine Again” but I just don’t love it as intensely as the earlier numbers. Things end quite well with the title track and its downbeat, dreamlike trance shamble, but there’s a stark asymmetry between the front and back of the album nonetheless. This issue is partially ameliorated by the tight 38-minute runtime which prevents Unknown Heights from ever getting tiring or oppressive. It’s an effortless spin with something for everyone along the way.

Craneium live and die by the RIFF and Martin Ahlö and Andreas Kaján bring their A-game to the leads and harmonies as they ramble through stoner, acid rock, space jams and doom, never staying in one place long enough to put down roots bloody roots. This isn’t the kind of album that fixates on one big riff per song and beats it to death. There are enough giant fuzz riffs to earn them their Golden Bong, but their forrays into related genres and influences are what keep the material lively and interesting. If you can imagine a more stoner-forward version of early Audrey Horne you’d be close to the truth. Martin Ahlö’s vocals add to the Audrey Horne similarities. He sounds a lot like Toschie of that Twin Peaks loving act, which I appreciate. He has an easy-to-like hard rock croon and despite the absence of a broad range, he can dial things up and down effectively as needed, conveying plenty of emotion without getting maudlin.

Uknown Heights is one-half excellent and one-half good. The best stuff is so good it makes the rest feel a bit disappointing, which is a shame, as there really are no bad songs here. If you like your stoner rock with bells, whistles and a heaping helping of hooks, this will check all the boxes and then some. I can’t help but feel this could have been a true monstepiece with a few tweaks and twists, but such is life in the fast-paced, bong-eat-bong world of stoner rock. Worth checking out.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 10 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: The Sign Records
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: October 15th, 2021

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