Space has always been a popular subject among stoner rock and metal, probably number three, after deserts and pot. No wonder, as the universe is also an oft-explored subject amongst pseudo-philosophers when they’re high as a kite. In recent times, we’ve had several naked space ladies adorning stoner covers, one of them cuddling an astronaut that reappeared on a third, more psychedelic interpretation. Spacetrucker pay homage to Deep Purple with their name, their favorite weed-smoking mood with album title Smooth Orbit, and a curious combination of Scooby Doo and the far reaches of the cosmos with their album art. Let’s find out whether their music is as dank as their kush.
Though hailing from Missouri rather than California, the Midwestern trio doesn’t tread far from the foundations of Kyuss and Fu Manchu. Sounding more earthen than spacious, Smooth Orbit leans heavily on the riffs, and there is plenty to enjoy on that front. The guitars are thick, fuzzy and frayed at the edges in the best of ways. They carry the cheeky, bouncy “Hotbox Airlock”1 with ease, before lending a solid weight to “Vanishing Point” with riffs both heavy and catchy. In the latter, the bass is allowed to take the spotlight in the midsection, a role to which it returns on lengthy closer “Lost in the Sauce,” which reminds me of Clutch’s epic “Spacegrass.” The four strings are textured nicely as well, a thick and roughshod sound serving as the perfect foil for the guitars.
But despite the good riffs (which are, of course, the central tenet of stoner metal), not all is wonderful in the world(s?) of Spacetrucker. In terms of raw power, the vocals don’t stack up to the music. Part of the blame for this lies with the production, which confines the voice to a cramped tunnel with a minor sheen of megaphone over it. Without room to spread their wings, the vocals can’t stack up to the stronger and more vibrant instrumentation. On the other hand, whenever the singer exerts extra effort, the execution lags further behind his ambition, which doesn’t inspire trust that production is the sole issue here.
Though the riffs, warm bass, and adequate drumming alleviate the lukewarm vocal execution, the end result is an album that may be too familiar to stand out. Superficially, it’s catchy enough, heavy enough, and contains just the right amount of cheek, but there’s not that much truly memorable about Smooth Orbit. Even the profile of strong and weak points overlaps with the stoner metal average on all accounts. In that sense, it may not be much of a surprise that my receptiveness to the album tilts positive or negative entirely with my mood for stoner in general. It seems that stoner is one of the genres most impervious to change, and Spacetrucker do very little to break that mold.
If you have a deep love for stoner metal, you likely love stoner fairly indiscriminately. The homogenization of the genre is pretty much entire, and it has to be pretty dire to chase seasoned listeners of the desert scenes away. For those readers, Smooth Orbit is a fun album, with plenty of head-bobbing riffs and enticing fuzz, and a couple of tracks a cut above the rest. If you are of the more selective type, someone whose ears are closed to all but the best stoner, Spacetrucker isn’t likely to jump your fence. It’s not a bad record by any means, from songwriting to execution to production, but unfortunately, it rarely transcends adequate.