When I saw the name Saint Karloff bobbing in the promo cesspool, I was intrigued. Growing up with Saturday morning horror movies in the 70s and 80s, Boris Karloff was like my unauthorized babysitter and creepy uncle, so I felt compelled to hear the band that dared to hijack his name. Upon closer inspection I learned this Norwegian psychedelic occult/stoner act’s sophomore outing, coming hot on the heels of a 2018 debut, is one 40:23 minute song. I was dismayed by this, and immediately considered weaponizing it and dropping it on some unsuspecting staffer like a concrete piano from a fourth floor window. Then I pressed play. I expected to have my patience tested, but Interstellar Voodoo is far more treat than trial. The 40-plus minutes features riffs for days as you journey to such exotic locales as Planet Sabbath, the Kyuss asteroid belt and the Uncle Acid Nebula. It’s strictly a ‘bring your own hallucinogenics’ kind of trip, but trip you shall, one way or the other. Get your bread out, cause here come the jams!
And jammy stoner rock is what you’ll get, with a real swagger and an ear from fat, grooving riffage. It’s a long song to be sure, but ideas frequently reoccur to maintain the sense that it’s a unified piece of music. Riffs make your acquaintance, hoist a few brews and bid adieu, only to return later wearing a different hat or a fake mustache. The longer it spins, the more cohesive it becomes. The composition has pockets of intense, highly energy stoner rock that are nigh irresistible in their power and charisma. These hard driving segments are broken up by experimental, free form jams that are sometimes quite hippie-dippy, sitting someplace between Black Sabbath‘s immortal “Planet Caravan” and The Doors‘ long-winded keyboard freak outs, but they really work. This massive enterprise kicks off with heavy, fuzzy doom riffs that would feel at home on the futon of Master of Reality, the music slowly evolves to a bass-forward upbeat rock swing with excellent riffs, especially around 3:00, and Mads Melvold’s Ozzy-esque vocals fit like a hemp-stitched glove. There’s a strong Kadavar and Uncle Acid feel to the music, and it’s impossible not to get caught up in the fun. At 5:45 the music feels so righteous you’ll wish it would never stop, but time is fluid and the now is always in flux.
Shockingly, the album almost always replaces one killer moment with another of equal or better quality as it tumbles through time and space. By the 8-minute mark you’re cruising high over Sky Valley and if you look out your widow you’ll see the “Gardenia” Comet streak by. The periodic rest stops for minimalist, laconic noodling are never long-lived and the Good Ship Riff is soon off to the next exciting destination. Around the 26th minute you’ll land to examine 70s hippie rock culture, complete with bongo drums, woodblocks and a Hammond organ blaring and jamming away like an Iron Butterfly caught in the Apocalypse Now soundtrack. The song’s final third gets even more experimental, psychedelic and trippy, at times approaching the lunatic levels of Miles Davis‘ Bitches Brew, but with a far greater rock focus. Through all this insanity, things somehow make sense and the song follows a sort of chaotic logic that listeners can appreciate on the very first spin.
The fact so much super-charged music is churned out by a trio is rather amazing. Mads Melvold’s guitar-work is very impressive throughout, from his often excellent riffs to his experimental jamming and noodling, the man brings all the clowns to the carnival. His vocals are sometimes raw and unrefined, but they fit, and his Ozzy-style crooning is quite enjoyable and retro. As impressive as the guitar-work is, Ole Sletner’s bass performance is every bit as crucial and impressive. He’s all over this album, and as Tony Iommi needed Geezer Butler to take Sabbath‘s classics to that next level, so does Melvold rely on Sletner to drive the song along, delivering a rumbling, bubbling undercurrent. Lastly, Adam Suleiman’s drumming is sublime, at times holding way back, at others trying to drive you into the ground like a tent pole. The keyboards are uncredited, but they’re another essential cog in the wheel and really enhance the spacey atmosphere. The genius of this thing is how easy and rewarding it is to experience as a whole. I’ve spun it straight through many times and it gets better with every immersion.
As the last notes of Interstellar Voodoo trail off into deep space, you’ll know you went on a one-of-a-kind trip. I feel in love with this weird creature early on, and this was stone cold sober, mind you. I can’t begin to fathom the impact this album would have with the addition of chemical enhancements. This is high art, regardless whether you are or not. Put it in your pipe, smoke it, and prepare to see things hitherto unseen. If you have the time, they have the rocking space jam. Don’t Sleep on this, and Hail Karloff.1