I do still ponder how it is certain bands get big and others don’t. A world where iwrestledabearonce is hot shit and Wilderun isn’t is cruel and unjust but much of that seems to be down to lucky exposure to label scouts. At the luckier end, take Motorowl. A tiny band from Eastern Germany with scarcely 500 followers on Facebook and no outstanding reason to have garnered the attention of a large label. And yet they’ve signed with Century Media, one of metal’s largest, for the release of their debut album Om Generator. Even the great Dan Swanö was persuaded to co-produce. Century must have seen something, heard something, and even more luckily, what they saw and heard was good.
Motorowl draw from an interesting cross-section in developing their sound. Most usually it can be described as hard rock comparable with Royal Thunder but bearing strong stoner influences. Indeed, the pacing and thick guitar tone is quite doomy, progressing into passages which can only be described as such on occasion. The sincerity and earthiness with which they execute their music is what most recalls Royal Thunder but the relative heaviness and lesser reliance on emotion to drive the album distances itself from imitation. The meat and potatoes of these composite genres are performed well: rocking riffs; reasonably bluesy voice; engaging drum fills. But what’s most exciting are the unexpected twists. Warm keyboards frequently harmonize with or counter-point the guitars, the vocal style shifts, the neat transitions within and between tracks confer decent flow, and variety without deviating too far from what’s sensible revitalizes Om Generator throughout.
Max Hemmann’s clean vocals recall Mlny Parsonz’s (Royal Thunder) depth, if not quite her range, but in total he is proven very versatile. He carries out shouts and harsher shouts (I’m reluctant to call them rasps or growls) with aplomb, bringing an infectious enthusiasm to the proceedings and fluctuating to reflect the music. His riffs, and those of fellow axe-wielder Vinzenz Steiniger, have a strong groove and are a little more complex than is often the case for stoner or doom. But best of all is Daniel Dettlev on the keys. They add another solid layer to the mix which substantially contributes to the total sound, and these melodies are often the most engaging aspect. The carnival swing at 4:47 on “Om Generator” is great fun. The arrangement of bluesy organ with chuggy riff on “The Highest City Part I” marries the two very happily. The warm tone but cool atmosphere on “Beloved Whale” exhibits effortless composure. All are facilitated by the tasteful keyboards and are pure entertainment.
My criticisms are more niggles than album-busting errors but there are a couple. The conclusion, “Spiritual Healing,” plods a little in the middle and has an overly repetitive outro, rendering it the longest track when it needn’t be. And remarkably good though Om Generator is for a debut, it doesn’t quite wow me enough as a whole to engage full gush mode. Production hitches also limit my praise. We know Swanö is best when permitted to work his dynamic magic which begs the question why we get the bog standard DR 6 here. It has decent punch and depth of sound considering this ceiling but could be improved. Indeed, the vocals are a touch low in the mix behind the guitars. It’s not a huge hindrance but does undermine the melodic chorus of “One and Zero.”
I’m glad to report that Century have indeed unearthed a little gem here. Motorowl are yet rough around the edges but their quality belies a much more experienced group. Strong basics and compelling track construction demonstrate maturity while the varied songs, vocals and great keyboard introduce a fresh twist on the formula. The cliché “keep an eye on these guys!” holds true but don’t ignore this release – it’s a highly satisfying album in itself.