The sonic adventure of Samsara Blues Experiment continues on their third full-length, Waiting for the Flood. Released by the German heavy psych foursome through guitarist/vocalist Christian Peters‘ own Electric Magic Records in cooperation with World in Sound, the new album makes yet another surprising turn for a band that seems increasingly unwilling to be pinned down by expectation. Their last outing was 2011’s righteously moving Revelation and Mystery (review here), which broke from the path that their 2008 demo (review here) and subsequent 2009 debut, Long Distance Trip (review here), appeared to have set, moving away from some — not all — of the exploratory, jam-it-out feel and toward a more traditional, classically heavy rocking approach, toying with motoring riffs and straightforward grooves more than they had to that point while holding onto the basic psychedelic roots that on Waiting for the Flood seem to have returned to the fore. Certainly middle cuts “Waiting for the Flood” and “Don’t Belong” particularly have their driving moments, but the feel of the LP overall and even the manner of its presentation feed into a psych ideal. Waiting for the Flood is comprised of four extended tracks:
1. “Shringara” (13:32)
2. “Waiting for the Flood” (10:38)
3. “Don’t Belong” (11:58)
4. “Brahmin’s Lament” (12:25)
And each track showcases some measure of personality separate from the others while also keeping an exceedingly well-honed full-length flow for the total 49-minute duration. Because one can put Waiting for the Flood into a narrative of re-emerging psychedelic vibe, it would be easy to look at it as a return to the band’s beginnings, but as they showed on earlier-2013’s Rockpalast live album (review here), those elements were never completely out of their sound. Things in the real world are never as cut and dry as “they were doing one thing now they’re doing another,” and though Waiting for the Flood, which was recorded by Samsara Blues Experiment bassist Richard Behrens at Big Snuff Studio in Berlin, doesn’t lack for otherworldly sensibilities, it’s more of a shift in how varying elements are blended than a radical turn in overall approach.
Those who’ve encountered Samsara Blues Experiment before will likely rejoice at the Eastern-style sonics that Waiting for the Flood is quick to bask in and the immediate meditative feel of “Shringara,” which gracefully unfolds its beginnings as though waking up and having a stretch. Not tentative, but not rushing. Behind Peters‘ vocals, a light wash of sitar drone, layers of his and Hans Eiselt‘s guitar interweave with a steady bassline from Behrens and the consistently fluid drumming of Thomas Vedder, who’s proven adaptable to whatever changes Peters and company might call forth, both moment to moment and over the course of their overarching creative progression. “Shringara,” which is the longest song on the record (immediate points), is sweetly toned and lyrically rich, the opening line, “Hey come my lady won’t you move a little closer to me,” does little to give a full notion of the sonic breadth or even that of the lyrical concepts at work, the song’s title being derived from the Hindu demonstration of romantic love in the arts. A fitting title for what arises in the varied and increasingly intense verses, and the music mirrors as well, an early jam rising to a thickened peak by the halfway point only to gradually step down and hit into a kind of stoner semi-shuffle as prelude to the last verse and capstone solo. The opener is less based around verse/chorus tradeoffs than “Don’t Belong” or the finale of “Brahmin’s Lament,” but it sets the tone well so that the jazzy, key-laden intro to the title-track comes in smooth and serene amid the warm rhythm and engages the listener rather than repels as self-indulgent or noodling for its own sake. Almost three minutes have passed in that jam before Peters enters for the first verse of “Waiting for the Flood,” but the groove is its own excuse for being, and one would hardly ask anything else of Samsara Blues Experiment, whose strengths are just as likely to come forward in the chemistry of those explorations as in the crispness of a memorable hook.
Less lyrically-centered than its predecessor and the shortest of the four inclusions on the long-player bearing its name, “Waiting for the Flood” is open and its build comes in two cycles that rise toward the end of each half of the song, but for me, the appeal of the track is less about how heavy it gets than the interplay among Peters and Eiselt and Behrens and Vedder, the two guitars metering out solos and quieter melodic riffs while the rhythm section drives the progression forward. It’s a classic — that’s not to say “familiar” — dynamic for a band to have, but Samsara Blues Experiment are all the more switched on in these subdued stretches, and it’s just when “Waiting for the Flood” is at its most trance-enducing that the song turns to carry you downstream with it. Near the 6:30 mark, Behrens sets a foundational bassline with Vedder while the guitars space out in swells and effects, and it’s abundantly clear that, three albums in, Samsara Blues Experiment have mastered the heavy psych form. They pick up and top a friendly bit of boogie with a howler of a solo and wah swirl threatens to consume, but instead they jump into the thicker fuzz of a final verse, coming to a full and complete stop (one imagines the break in vinyl sides or maybe even LPs between the songs) before “Don’t Belong” signals its entry with a continuation of the dense tonality. Atmospherically, “Don’t Belong” feels more laid back in its early going, but there’s an underlying urgency that arises as the shuffling midsection gives way to increasingly fervent push, the shift centered and given consistency through an especially satisfying punctuation in Vedder‘s snare, which seems higher in the mix while the guitars have stepped further back. Right as “Don’t Belong” hits its halfway point, the bass leads the way back into a chorus that’s an instant reminder of itself, all the while a build is playing out that, following a series of hits before eight minutes in, rides out a rolling groove before quieting down for a final verse, the lyrics revealing the title as a declaration — “I don’t belong” — in addition to the chorus’ “…you don’t belong to me” while last-minute thud wraps up the track en route to Waiting for the Flood‘s closer, “Brahmin’s Lament.”
It’s been a hell of a trip already — they started out Long Distance, if you’ll recall, and haven’t gotten any less fond of sonic travel along the way — but the arrival at “Brahmin’s Lament” makes sense as a destination, with a two-part chorus that might be Peters‘ most confident performance to date as he carries a big-sounding echo and conveys grandeur to match that of the music swirling around. A departure from the linear form that shows up elsewhere on Waiting for the Flood ties together this album with Revelation and Mystery, but the sound of the song itself still has no shortage of jam in it — a blues harmonica comes caked in echo to give a kind of drawling ethereal presence to the bass rumble and riff undulations — and sitar backed by drums seems to answer “Shringara” even as the return to the chorus looms imminent throughout the subsequent echoing solo. That return is not sudden, but executed with a gradual mindset that’s there before you even realize it. A crash before nine minutes in seems to signal the end of the song, but Samsara Blues Experiment take the last three-plus minutes to revel in psychedelic noise and feedback, varying drones and fading elements out in pieces, working Waiting for the Flood down one step at a time to finish with a gradual fade that, if you’re listening to the album on CD — it comes in a six-panel gatefold with the lyrics inside and the gorgeous Zdzislaw Bekinski artwork complemented by the lyrics in white on a brown background with some from the closer transcribed on one panel over a live shot of Peters — you might not even realize it’s ended when it’s over, such is both the trance of wash and the ease with which they move out of it. Three albums in, Samsara Blues Experiment have crafted their most accomplished work yet, with a seamless and flowing blend of heavy rock and psychedelia, an individual personality and an overarching sense of purpose to each and every one of the parts on the four extended tracks. Taken as a whole, Waiting for the Flood stands as a shining example of what’s best about modern heavy psych — the forward thoughts of classical minds.