I had been looking forward to hearing the self-titled debut from Dutch rockers Sungrazer for a while before it showed up. The album, which was originally released by the band before they got picked up for CD/vinyl issue through Germany’s Elektrohasch Schallplatten, is comprised of six tracks of warm, heady and definitively European psychedelia, given to regular jams among the three members and an overwhelming natural flow. They work in a few stoner rock elements – the occasional catchy chorus or heavy riff section – but Sungrazer, who formed in 2009 and are already at work on the follow up to Sungrazer stay true to the bright colors of the album art with rich, encompassing sounds, like the layered harmony vocals of “Somo” or the sax-laden explorations of “Intermezzo.”
They open with the laid back “If,” setting the tone for Sungrazer immediately with the soothing vocals of guitarist Rutger Smeets and bassist Sander Haagmans. The album inevitably falls under the heading “mostly instrumental” for its extended jam sections, but it’s worth noting that when there are vocals, as on “If” and “Somo” and the later “Zero Zero,” they come on with structure behind – actual verses and choruses, in other words. Sungrazer don’t feel by any means tied to a formula, and drummer Hans Mulders has his work cut out for him keeping the jams tied to the ground throughout the album. To his credit, he does, and even at these songs’ farthest out, there’s something for listeners to hold onto. It’s part of the overall balance that Sungrazer seem to have a natural hold of, between stoner rock, jam and psych. As “If” gives way to “Intermezzo” – which wasn’t included on the original CD issue of the album and features guest sax from Conny Schneider – the transition is smooth enough to run your hand over, and likewise “Intermezzo” into “Somo.” The sax goes away, but it’s so easy to get lost in the vibe of the album, you might miss the change from one song to the other.
“Somo” is more vocally focused, but like “If,” “Zero Zero” and closer “Mountain Dusk,” it’s also over seven minutes long, so there’s plenty of room for spaced-out jamming, Smeets and Haagmans coming back around for one last chorus and a hand-clap (!) section that leads to some of Sungrazer’s heaviest riffing to end the track. Were it not for the catchiness in the chorus of “Zero Zero,” which follows, “Somo” might be the highlight of the record, but the gradual build, apex and memorable push of “Zero Zero” (which also showed up on the excellent Cowbells and Cobwebs compilation from Planetfuzz) is a clear standout. On the back of the Elektrohasch issue, it’s switched in the track listing with “Common Believer,” but on the disc, nestled right at the start of side B, it’s perfectly placed to hook you into the second half of the album. And hook it does, with fuzzy charm and an intricate arrangement capped off with Mulders’ starts, stops and fills. It’s side B where Sungrazer shows they’re not afraid to really let loose and be heavy, but as “Zero Zero” demonstrates with Smeets’ soft noting before the five-minute mark, the band is more than aware of needing a balance in their sound. Along with the sweetness of the guitar tone and the engulfing heat of the low end, their achieving that balance stands as one of the best accomplishments Sungrazer has on offer.
It’s also impeccably mixed. “Common Believer” is a bit more straightforward in terms of its structure – or at least it starts heavy in a riffy, sunny Fu Manchu kind of way – but even there, as the vocals come more to the fore than anywhere else on Sungrazer, they’re not overbearing or dominating the guitars, bass and drums. The song splits almost at its halfway point for a Smeets-led jam, but true to form, picks back up with a reprise of the chorus to close. It’s not the first time they’ve done it, but Sungrazer are diverse enough within their sound to not sound repetitive when working in similar structures, and honestly, the build of the jam is so effective going back into the song-proper, that I don’t give a shit if it’s not the first time they’ve done it on the record. It sounds killer, and that’s most important of all. Ditto for closer “Mountain Dusk,” which among other things brings back the handclaps for one last go, and finds Mulders adding to the already formidable groove with well-timed snare hits. Guitar tremolo shows up in the midsection – a classy touch – and as the song brings Sungrazer to a close on a slow fade out, in and out again, I’m not at all surprised Elektrohasch picked Sungrazer up for the release.
Not only does the band have a considerable sonic resemblance to Colour Haze, but even in its differences, Sungrazer seems to be of kindred musical spirit. These six tracks take a lot of the weighted-jam ethic and work it into something familiar but distinctly the band’s own, and I imagine that as they grow as players and as a unit, future installments will be even more individualized. One can only hope, however, that Smeets, Haagmans and (yes, even) Mulders don’t lose sight of what they’re able to achieve tonally here. The fuzz runs deep, and if Sungrazer build on what they present on this self-titled in the right way, they could easily be a bright spot in the next generation of heavy psychedelia. After looking forward to hearing their first album, I have even higher hopes for the one.
Tags: Elektrohasch, Limburg, Sungrazer, The Netherlands