I was raised on classic rock. My three favorite albums as a 7 year old were To You by Dutch blues rockers Brainbox, Aqualung by Jethro Tull and Deep Purple In Rock. I heard the phrase “Aren’t you a little young for that?” so often in conversation, hearing it on the street didn’t even surprise me when someone caught me whistling “Stairway to Heaven” or wearing a Deep Purple shirt. That love laid the foundations for where I am in music today, and it never went away. But while a lot of bands these days harken back to the age of hippies and vinyl, not many of them manage to truly nail the sound. Swedish rockers Saturn are among the minority.
Opener “Orbital Command” demonstrates why within the first minute. The production on this album is wonderfully crisp and clear and it’s infused with a warm fuzz that adds four decades to the music in the best way. If I didn’t know better, I’d estimate Beyond Spectra to have been recorded in 1973 in a good London studio, possibly with The Rolling Stones or The Who jamming next door. The band accomplished this by using old-school analog recording and evidently did not tamper with or compress the result too much. While the drop in loudness from ordinary modern music means you have to crank up your set a bit to get the full dosage, it’s well worth doing so. The only thing that would have improved this aspect further is a more prominent bass. The body lies lower in the mix than I would have preferred, and as such the bass is felt more than heard. However, putting too much stock into that blemish would be like returning a gift because the wrapping paper isn’t pretty.
The music is far from shabby as well. There’s an ease and looseness in the guitars, not focused on playing tight and technical but pushing fun and energy to the foreground. This doesn’t mean sloppiness, however; the riffs are excellent and playful, the solos even better. Of special note are the extended midsection of old-school Judas Priest ersatz “Helmet Man” and the energetic opener. The entertaining boogie rhythm on “Wolfsson” might have come from Foghat and “Electrosaurus Sex” contains a cheeky goose-stepping chorus that glanced at the blueprints for Blue Öyster Cult‘s “Godzilla.” Easily the best song here is the snappy “Still Young” which bounces through its Deep Purple slash Status Quo rock ‘n roll at such a high speed it threatens to fly off the rails. While all this name dropping makes the band sound derivative, it comes across more as a loving tribute to that age of rock and early heavy metal, injecting little homages into a style wholly their own.
A few drawbacks keep the album from being listed among its inspirations, however. While the vocals have a pleasant timbre and enunciate with an engaging drawl, they trip up on the falsettos, missing notes and shaking unevenly. It’s the one thing that keeps me from fully engaging with “Helmet Man” which is laden with them. Furthermore, the tail of the album doesn’t keep up with the rest, with the final two tracks simply lacking the hooks to hang around. It’s the only tracks I can’t recall even with effort, which is the opposite of what a hook-reliant album is supposed to accomplish. It makes for a disappointing climax to an otherwise entirely satisfying spin.
But these quibbles don’t come near to breaking the album. Saturn have crafted a loving tribute to the seventies without becoming a glorified cover band. Their passion shines through loud and clear, not in the least thanks to the wonderfully dynamic and classic production. Too many bands play retro music and slap a modern mix and master onto it, but these Swedish younglings demonstrate how to live and breathe retro in every aspect of your music. The demerits mean it’s not going to be spinning in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame anytime soon, but if you grew up with the classics, Beyond Spectra is a lovely throwback.