Seven Planets – Explorer Review

Seven Planets - Explorer 01Not everyone will agree with this statement but, for me, there is definitely a place for instrumental records. Sometimes, I just want to put on an album and get lost in the music, undisturbed by vocals. Sometimes, vocals — however good they may be — detract, or at least distract, from really listening to the moods the music is conjuring. This is how I feel about, for example, the instrumental records that accompany releases from The Ocean — while I typically listen to the full version, every now and again I will put on the instrumental version and float away. While West Virginia’s Seven Planets are a very different beast from that Berlin-based collective, their brand of instrumental rock, rooted in blues and groove, also aims to carry you away. Explorer is their first record in eight years. Have they sought out strange new worlds or merely got lost along the highway?

The follow up to 2012’s self-titled sophomore record, Explorer follows a difficult period for the members of Seven Planets, which included one of the guitarists, Leonard Hanks, battling — and thankfully beating — cancer, as well as the departure of bassist Mike Williams. Although the eight-year hiatus has resulted in a record that is, at least in some places, more direct than previous outings, Explorer pretty much picks up where debut album, Flight of the Ostrich, and the self-titled follow-up left off. This is a tight, groove-laden slab of blues-rock, in the vein of Clutch, particularly in their Jam Room and From Beale Street to Oblivion incarnations (or the back-end of “The Dragonfly” on Elephant Riders). While tracks like “Vanguard” and “206” are short, punchy bass-led numbers, that get your foot tapping and your head nodding, bluesier cuts like the excellently-titled “Plain Truth in a Homespun Dress” and “Seven Seas” are much more contemplative in the mood.

Channeling Monster Magnet’s Dopes to Infinity (“Explorer”) as much as Brant Bjork (“Great Attractor”), Seven Planets move up and down through the gears, with the double guitars of Hanks and Jim Way weaving and soaring their way through Explorer’s pleasingly concise 36-minute runtime. The drumming has a slightly upbeat jazz feel to it, particularly on the languid “Grissom,” and works well to avoid the record simply sounding like a really good jam session. Throughout, Seven Planets feel confident and sure in what they’re doing. Each song has its own identity and it never feels like the band is simply rehashing the same tricks.

Seven Planets - Explorer 02

While the guitars sound lush and full and have a really nice tone to them, the record is loud. I don’t dislike the overall sound as such but a little more subtlety in the mastering could have lent Seven Planets significantly more impact in what they were trying to achieve with this record. What Explorer also perhaps lacks is a sense of narrative, the absence of which will likely stop it being too memorable for me. Of course, the narrative is always going to be harder for instrumental bands than those employing vocals but I don’t get the sense of progression or journeying, for example, that one might expect from an album titled Explorer. In a similar vein, I also can’t help but think that album closer, “The Buzzard,” is a weak track to round out the album. That’s not to say it’s a weak track in and of itself but, as one of the rockier, more straightforward tracks along the lines of opener “Vanguard,” it doesn’t feel like the right place for this journey to end.

Like its two predecessors, I enjoyed Explorer while listening to it. It’s a solid half-hour-plus change of instrumental blues rock that I could happily work to or, indeed, just settle back and listen, and enjoy. But I think Seven Planets’ efforts fall slightly short in conveying that sense of adventure and exploration, which might have transformed this from the enjoyable into the memorable. I also kept coming back to the undeniable Clutch-comparisons and thinking to myself, wouldn’t this be just a little bit better with Neil Fallon on board?

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Small Stone Records
Websites: sevenplanets/ |
Release Date: February 7th, 2020

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