Superior Venus by Blown OutRelease date: March 24, 2017
Label: Riot Season Records
It’s nice to have things you can count on in this world. Especially right now, when long held orthodoxies are being flipped upside down like tables in a Western bar brawl on a seemingly weekly basis, any source of reliability is to be cherished. If the hippie stereotypes attached to psychedelic rock were to believed the likes of Blown Out would be the last people you’d expect to provide consistency, but they, along with the various other noisy outfits associated with them in the small but insanely productive North East scene (like Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs, Khunnt, Haikai No Ku, BONG and 11Paranoias to name but a few), release music with almost clockwork efficiency. Given the demands of just keeping a DIY band together the quantity of their output is impressive. That the quality never slips below outstanding is nothing short of miraculous.
Given the improvised nature of their work it’s perhaps easier to quality control than composed work. Either way these dudes may be workhorses, but there’s nothing workmanlike about their recordings. For the uninitiated the Newcastle trio play psych rock heavily indebted to Hendrix at his most freak-out happy, and which owes more to the Japanese tradition of psychedelia than the British – they practically live in the red zones most avoid. Whilst there are a good few bands that play similar stuff, on paper at least, Blown Out have the rare distinction of being a jam band you couldn’t mistake in a line up. Whilst you could be forgiven for getting, say, Earthless and Yuri Gagarin mixed up once in a while, you’d never mistake a Blown Out jam for someone else. A short blast of Mike Vest’s distinctive guitar tones let you know exactly who you’re dealing with.
In the art of psych-rock warfare Blown Out eschew the full frontal assault, the shock and awe tactics many of their erstwhile peers go for. Vest doesn’t often get his head down and riff while in Blown Out mode – he sets straight off into the cosmos. ‘Impious Oppressor’, the first of two tracks on Superior Venus, has barely had time to creak into gear before Vest sets his controls for the heart of the sun, bringing his trademark ‘maximalist guitar’ approach to bear, an impossibly massive sound that sounds so elementally imposing you’d think it was seeping out of Ark of the Covenant. Any nearby Nazi’s are at serious risk of a severe face melting. That leaves the act of giving the song a sense of momentum, of impetus, entirely down to the rhythm section, which John-Michael Hedley and Matthew Baty do with aplomb, with a bass line that’s both filthy and lithe and a behind-the-kit performance full of fire, brimstone, piss and vinegar. For 15 minutes it reigns, unrelenting, sitting just on the right side of overwhelming without ever toppling over.
The second half is a more sedate affair. ‘Superior Venus’ cruises at a much slower pace, with Vest playing more ponderous than usual, repeating a few eerie refrains and leaving more space than we’re used to. It’s not as immediately thrilling as it’s predecessor but as with all Vest’s work their are nuances that leap out at you every time you hear it. It’s not music meant for intense concentration but for contemplation – giving the listener space to mentally wander off and notice something new whenever they click back into it. It’s like a musical Rorschach test that looks different every time you look at it. Their work always brings to mind the cosmic – something no doubt helped by the consistently uncanny covers designed by artist Anthony Downie – and this one is more of a slow orbit around a gas giant, watching the ever raging storms whirl slowly below.
At this point Blown Out sort of defy criticism. Beyond goofing off writing cosmic nonsense while in its grip it’s hard to know how to critique it. Is Superior Venus objectively better than New Cruiser? Does the moment ‘Impious Oppressor’ peaks, when it feels like being sucked into a black hole backwards while watching a chorus of neon stars collapse into themselves, better than the peak of, say, ‘Transcending Deep Infinity’? Does it matter? That’s the trouble with consistency – when it’s all so good it renders reviewers like me redundant. All I can do is keep on crowing about how great they are in the hope that someone is listening. The other problem with consistency is that it can breed complacency – you might feel you can ignore a Blown Out record or two as you’re never more than a few months away from the next one. Hell, they’ve literally released two live albums in the time it’s taken me to write this review. But let’s take a moment to celebrate Blown Out now, shall we? After all – even the most reliable of things doesn’t last forever. Fuck only knowing what you’ve got when it’s gone. Know it now, while they’re still at their peak, regularly blowing out speakers, minds and eardrums.