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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Litmus

Aurora

Review by Mike Korn

For several decades now, the unquestioned masters of the esoteric art of "space rock" have been Hawkwind. Well, now the torch is ready to be passed to some fresh new cosmonauts known as Litmus. These voyagers upon the musical paths of the infinite made a huge impression with their last effort Planetfall and with renowned label Metal Blade now handling their newest Aurora, the time is right for Litmus to ascend the interstellar throne.

The sound these guys purvey is a powerful one and at times, more than heavy enough to appeal to metal fans. It's based on strong riffing and long, expansive jams filled with tons of acidic lead guitar. In keeping with the space rock tradition, there's loads of space noises on hand and in fact, you'll probably never hear another band that utilizes synthesizer "swooshes" as much. The vocals are robotic and very British sounding, but somehow, it fits what Litmus is trying to achieve. The band can lock into a groove with laser-like precision but there are times when the repetition becomes very wearying. Fortunately, those times are rare. On Aurora, there's more of a poppy feeling and more restrained moments than on the high-adrenaline Planetfall, but believe me, there's also a galaxy full of crunchy guitar and pacey drumming.

Whether you've been soaring the spacelanes since the 70's or are new to the phenomena of space rock, Litmus are now clearly the standard-bearers of this esoteric art form.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2009  Volume 5 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Beyond The Sun
Hawkwind comparisons are obvious from the start as the record kicks off with this pounding, guitar driven epic of space rock. This ten minute plus epic is full of those spacy "whooshes," analog synth tones and some great guitar jamming. The vocals have that unique "British" feel to them. This is the hard and heavy side of space rock, and Litmus nail the sound.
In The Burning Light
The pace is fast and intense here, giving this tune a bit of a nervous, anxious feel. This is one of the heavier tunes the guys have done and it reminds me of very early Motorhead or even 70's Britpunk with its rawness. For space fans, there's still plenty of cosmic noodling and synthesizer bleeps going on in the background. The tune is not as long as "Beyond The Sun" but it's not short, either and there's some more extended jamming featuring soaring keys.
Eos
Here things slow way down. This is the gentlest, most mellow Litmus tune I've yet heard, definitely more focused on blissful synth and keyboard work. A lot of the tones here remind of what you'd hear on old sci-fi movies and TV shows. It's not a stretch to say this is the New Age side of the band at work. There are no vocals on this cut.
Miles Away
This is an upbeat and rocking tune with a relentlessly cheerful feeling to it. Even though the guitar riffs are cranking away, it is a very poppy tune and reminds me of the heyday of British 60's pop. I am reminded of the Moody Blues by this song, especially due to those unusual monotone vocals. The rocking guitar solo here is great....it's a very "retro" sounding song.
Stars
Scifi noises start this one off, but it soon morphs into a pounding, crunching blast of metal mayhem. This is Litmus at their heaviest. At only four minutes, this wastes no time and shows that not every cut needs to be a long-winded ride through the galaxy. "It's what you wanted...it's what you get!"
Kings of Infinite Space
This is a gently unfolding, restrained number that's very much on the prog rock side of the fence. Of course, Hawkwind in their more restrained moments come to mind, but there are also parts that remind me of Floyd, Yes and more obscure stuff like Nektar. There's so much synthesizer effects and space sound coming at you during this one, you feel like you're in a planetarium. This must be an absolute trip on headphones. The pace picks up gradually, building and building to a powerful climax, but the overall effect is trippy and poppy at the same time.
Ma55on_Rift
That’s a weird freakin' title for a weird freakin' song. It sure has its moments but overall, I don't like the tone of this one. The first two thirds are ominous, creepy synth noises that drone and drift...too much for my taste. A quick drum beat injects some energy but the tune continues to meander until it finally explodes into a chunky, powerful riff. But whatever effectiveness this has is quickly neutered by a nauseatingly repeated chant of "Something insane, something insane" that made me want to block my ears. These guys use repetition often to good effect but not this time. The killer acid guitar solo almost saves it.
Red Skies
The album ends as it began, with a strong extended rocker based on another classic Litmus riff. It's so simple, it borders on idiocy, but the way this stuff worms into your brain is insidious. I really loved the soaring, epic chorus backed with those regal, cosmic synths. Needless to say, the solo is killer. They almost kill it with another endlessly repeated chorus, but not quite.
 
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