Whatever else Satellite Beaver’s second self-released EP accomplishes stylistically – and it accomplishes plenty – it shows that the Warsaw rockers are not quite as simple as they first appeared. Their debut was 2009’s Trip Outside Your Mind, a fitting entry into Poland’s burgeoning stoner scene, clearly the work of an act just getting their bearings creatively, but not by any means an uneasy listen for the converted. If anything Satellite Beaver’s show of influences on that collection set them on the right track going in to the follow-up, which I assumed would take the form of a full-length refining their sound along roughly the same creative lines. The Last Bow – somewhat foreboding in its title, though the band gives no indication they’re about to call it quits – arrives three years later and in a mere 18 minutes manages to contradict almost every expectation one might put on it while still also being a rock record. Its four songs, “Pershing,” “Urania,” “Way Before” and “Roadtrip” all stay within the four-to-five-minute range, but the sound is much fuller and more established than was Trip Outside Your Mind (review here), and Satellite Beaver sound almost too serious for their name. The guitars of Szymon (also vocals) and Tomek chug with metallic compression to match their semi-fuzzed tonality, and the whole affair has a somewhat darker, less upbeat vibe. It works for the band, but as drummer Robert works in near-blasts to the second half of “Pershing” amid a riff that’s whittled down out of the distortion blocks of Kyuss and Goatsnake as filtered through European capital ‘h’ Heavy, it’s easy to be caught off guard by the jump in aesthetic if you heard the first EP. If you didn’t hear Trip Outside Your Mind, then it’s probably not even a consideration, as The Last Bow could be seen as just as much a debut as its predecessor, for both its energy and for the potential it shows for what the band might do next.
Doubtless they’ll get around to doing an LP sooner or later – if their current listed lineup info is accurate, they’ll need a new bassist first – but in the meantime, The Last Bow justifies its delay in the move away from the band’s prior groove-based simplicity. That’s not to criticize the band for needing to work faster or put out more material – different groups work at different paces and that’s part of the fun – but it’s been three years since Trip Outside Your Mind, and to come out of it with 18 minutes of music is probably less productive than Satellite Beaver would ideally like to be. Or maybe they don’t give a shit. I won’t speculate. What matters is the progression shown in these songs, whether its “Pershing”’s metallic taste or the slower, grungy feel in the slower “Urania.” Szymon’s vocals have a kind of lower-mouth sound to them, derived from the post Alice in Chains school of band-fronting, but reverbed as they are on “Urania” and set back in the mix amid Robert’s snare march, one is more reminded of Marilyn Manson than Layne Staley. Still, his layering is effective, and when Robert lands heavy on the toms, the rush of air is palpable through the speakers. For a band without a bassist, Satellite Beaver have an awful lot of low end working for them. The central riff of “Urania” is pretty standard stoner rock fare, and that’s clearly on purpose, but the band’s presentation of it is what makes the song stand out both on the EP and in the genre in general. They’re not aligning themselves to the desert, or to outer space, or to the ocean or wherever else riffs come from ecologically. They’re aligning themselves to themselves, and that process is exciting to hear.
“Way Before” is an uptick in pace from “Urania,” Tom’s vocals keeping that post-Manson moan as he backs himself in the chorus. The verse riff is a kind of sub-shuffle, not overt in its engagement with the listener, but if you wanted to nod your head, I don’t think it would argue. It’s as memorable as any of the material on The Last Bow, perhaps less so than the opener, but still a decent outing and confirmation of the character Satellite Beaver are now able to put into their songwriting, as well as a setup for “Roadtrip,” on which the sonic largesse of the riff matches step with Robert’s drumming – that is, everything sounds big as hell. The tempo is slower — perhaps the band was thinking “faster, slower, faster, slower” when it came to ordering the songs, ending with this, the longest at 5:23, set apart more by a quiet break in the middle than by its runtime. Some light psychedelics show up in the guitar, but soon Satellite Beaver are back up to their newly-established tricks, thickly riffing and grooving the song to its finish. “Roadtrip” is arguably the most complex of the four cuts, with realized nuances and stops that the other tracks seem only to hint at, but it’s also still remarkably cohesive with its surroundings and has a solid flow of its own. The band has stated that’s the direction they want to go in – and after the shift from the last EP, the hint is most welcome – and one can easily understand why, as it’s a more individual approach than anything they’ve so far done, but still accessible to those either who’ve heard Satellite Beaver or who are able to grasp some sense of where they might be coming from musically. To give some hint of that, one might say they’re working in a stoner rock vein to write metal songs that sound like they came of age circa 1995. That doesn’t really cover the full scope of The Last Bow, but it should give some sense of a place to start – much, I hope, in the same way as ultimately this EP will only be the beginning of a longer progression on the part of this still-promising Polish outfit.
Tags: Poland, Satellite Beaver, Unsigned bands, Warsaw