Thursday, June 19, 2008

A Destination Unknown

It's been a long time coming, but here it is...


Kebnekajse - Resa mot okänt mål, 1971


Gunnar Andersson - Chorus
Pelle Ekman - Drums
Mats Glenngård - Chorus
Kenny Håkansson - Guitar, Vocals
Pelle Lindström - Chorus
Bella Linnarson - Bass
Tomas Netzler - Chorus
Rolf Scherrer - Guitar

Where on earth do I begin to describe this album? I suppose I'll start somewhere near the beginning. Resa mot okänt mål (roughly translating to "A Journey to a Destination Unknown") was the first Kebnekajse record I owned, which is fitting seeing as it's their first.

Named after the tallest mountain in Sweden, Kebnekajse had its roots in the seminal Mecki Mark Men, which Kenny, Bella, and Pelle were three fourths of. The Men played a more English-styled psych rock with heavy doses of organ and Cream - an influence clearly evident, though a bit more subtle, on Resa mot okänt mål. This more than adequate first album has been described as straddling a no-man's land, so to speak, with one foot firmly rooted in the psych rock of Mecki Mark Men while the other is searching for a foothold in the more adventurous and progressive avenue of later Kebnekajse output. Later albums ventured from this hybrid, to prog folk, jazz rock, and African music. I have the first three: RMOM, II, III (the latter two being excellent progressive folk albums), and in the three or so years since I've had them, the first has remained the best.

The album is striking before it even starts: the electric, undeniably psychedelic cover art immediately grabbed my attention. The colors are crisp and the concept simple. Most importantly, it is psychedelic without the usual trappings (kaleidoscopic imagery, neon colors, flowers, etc). The music contained in this artful package continues to hold my attention for the full 39 minutes, that's the important thing.

"Tänk livet" opens with a trademark of Swedish psychedelia - quite possibly the warmest guitar sound put to tape. Warm doesn't do justice to a sound that can be both dissonant and affectionately warm, while at the same time forcing a smile of tranquility lasting the length of the album. Not a particularly "special" song in the way of breaking any new ground, it's like the cover in that you know it's psychedelic, but there is something separating in from, say, The Pretty Things. In my own closeted world of the Northeastern United States, I'd have to say the immediate thing setting it apart was the vocals/song titles. Being Swedish, they added an exotic aura to a style of music previously dominated in my record collection by Anglo or US groups (or continental groups singing in English).

Besides things like the album cover and whatever exoticism (whether real or purposely created), it's the music itself that strikes me as a little "off." Not in a negative sense, but in the same way the Cirith Ungol or Manilla Road transcend the standard fare of heavy metal, so Kebnekajse transcends the standard psychedelic fare. This, without question, makes it more appealing to me and my own outsider personality. I like a lot of psychedelia, and even more metal, but it's the bizarre ones that stand out and warrant "top album" nominations. Resa mot okänt mål is one of those albums. The opener is just so damn catchy, and Håkansson's extended solo gets my head in a hypnotic trance, setting the mood and preparing my mind for the rest of the album.

"Orientens Express" features even more whirlpool guitars over a rhythm that's a cross between blues and a weird railroad worker polka or something. This lighter track is a fitting introduction to the title track, definitely the darkest on the album...probably the only one I'd use the term "dark" in describing. It has a subtle heaviness, especially in the rhythm guitar and how it plays off the lead. The last couple of minutes of the 7+ track are the highlight for me, featuring a steady, yet at the same time frantic rhythm section. For some reason, I don't even find myself hating the truly fucked up Alvin and the Chipmunk vocals on display throughout. They only serve to add to the already established quirkiness of the album.

In "Förberedelser till fest" you have what is, quite possibly, one of my favorite songs of all time. At different junctures it's everything from surf rock, Eastern, freak out, to mind-boggling guitar work that I can't even begin to do justice to. A true masterpiece of Swedish psychedelia that must be heard to be appreciated. The title translates to "Preparation for a Party" and if this tune is any indication as to the atmosphere of said party, I sure as hell want to be there.

The final track is a bit underwhelming, especially following the aural ecstasy of its predecessor, and judging by some of the song titles ("I love the summer" for instance) the lyrics are probably not up my alley, but these don't keep Resa mot okänt mål from being a beautiful listening experience standing apart from much of their Swedish peers...from the more droning sounds of Träd, Gräs och Stenar/Harvester/etc, the pop sensibility of Pugh Rogefeldt, or the hard rock of November and Shaggy. The closest thing to the Kebnekajse debut I've heard is the self-titled Råg I Ryggen album from 1975 (a great album in its own right).


In the not too distant future look for an essay about the summer and extreme metal (which will most likely be heavily laden with some of my philosophies on life), a review (possibly the Eternal Darkness compilation), and a maybe collaborative "best demo" list. There would have to be some sort of qualifier though, best death metal demos, best US demos, etc to keep it to a reasonable number.