It’s nice to know someone out there took it to heart when Ian Gillan invited them to go space trucking. German riffonauts Black Space Riders mention to space in each of the 13 titles on their self-titled Sound Guerilla debut full-length, from opener “Spacebomb” right through to the end with “Space Trilogy Part III: Space Collision,” it’s basically the theme they’re working with, and from the sound of things, they’re having a good time with it. Cuts like “Lonely Space Trucking Man” and my personal favorite, “Stoned Bikers in Space,” show that it’s not about prog posturing for Black Space Riders or about who can noodle their way into the outer reaches of the cosmos, but about being a little silly, enjoying yourself and riffing out. If you’ve got to have a formula, this one’s certainly proven effective.
Black Space Riders starts off with a collection of straightforward and catchy biker space rock numbers, beginning with the aforementioned “Spacebomb” and moving after the interlude “Black Part I: Blackspacing” to the memorable call and response of “Black Part II: Space is Black” before epitomizing the genre in which it dwells with “Stoned Bikers in Space.” Granted, it’s hard to take something called “Stoned Bikers in Space” completely seriously, but in addition to having fun with riffs and grooves, Black Space Riders work in a number of stoner elements from acts as wide ranging as Orange Goblin (on that track) to Brant Bjork (“Black Book of Cosmic Salvation Part II: I, Black Space Messiah”), the guitars of JE and SLI, the former who also handles vocals, more than adaptable to either furious riffing, laid back grooves or even – who would have guessed? – the moody deep space affectations of “Hide from the Spacelight.”
On that song, the lyrics issue a request to be covered in hair and blood in succession, and that provides a quizzical moment on Black Space Riders – a kind of “huh?” double-take – but the record’s second ambient interlude, “Black Book of Cosmic Salvation Part I: A Short Mess(i)age from the Black Space Rider,” leads into the second part of that series and Black Space Riders take an appropriate moment to let both the song and the album breathe. Tonally, “Black Book of Cosmic Salvation Part II: I, Black Space Messiah” is probably the most satisfying work on Black Space Riders – I still wouldn’t call it an album highlight over “Stoned Bikers in Space,” if only for the novelty of that song – but it’s right in line with a whole league of heavy neo-psych, from Colour Haze to 35007. Contrasting it with the brash howling punk of “Voodoo Spaceship,” on which bassist SAQ provides backing vocals to JE, and drummer CRIP has no trouble finding and exploiting the downbeat, is a smart move, as it snaps the listener out of the induced psychedelic trance of the song before, setting up the return to the catchy heavy rock-ness that comes on with “Ride on, Black Space Rider” and “Lonely Space Trucking Man.”
A closing three-track salvo arrives in the form of the aptly-named “Space Trilogy.” Though it’s arguable that these three songs aren’t any more joined musically than the rest of the album – that is, they flow well together but don’t boast the same movements or riffs – one assumes it’s the narrative expression of Black Space Riders’ star-centric themes behind the titular union. “Space Trilogy Part I: Black is the Colour of Space” has one of Black Space Riders’ most satisfying builds, JE and SAQ offering more aggressive but still clean vocals as they remind listeners of what “Black Part II: Space is Black” first informed, finding room for the album’s best guitar solo in the process. “Space Trilogy Part II: About Life in Space (Thoughts of a Reflective Robot)” is no less engaging in its gradual ascent, but the payoff doesn’t last as long as its immediate predecessor, as it seems to be more directly linked with part three of the trilogy than it was to part one. “Space Trilogy Part III: Space Collision” gains momentum with start-stop riffing and finally culminates in psych swirls and spine-tingling high notes before even that chaos succumbs to the outer reaches of an anti-gravity realm and Black Space Riders, well, rides off… into space… which is black. You get the idea.
My initial impression of the album was less than favorable, and I thought at 59:59 that Black Space Riders was too long for its own good, but with repeat listens and actually sitting down with it on a track-by-track basis — though I still might drop a song like “Ride on, Black Space Rider” for tightness’ sake — the charm of the record overall more than wins out. It’s not every band that could pull off a song like “Stoned Bikers in Space” and come out of it sounding no more ridiculous than intended, and for their efforts, Black Space Riders get a hearty recommendation from me for anyone looking to have a little fun along the way on a familiar trip. Black Space Riders won’t revolutionize your concept of either space or stoner rocks, but if you’ve ever enjoyed either, there are plenty of moments here bound to bring a smile to your face.
Tags: Black Space Riders, Germany, Sound Guerilla