The self-titled debut from Norwegian trio Black Moon Circle makes little effort to mask its intent. It is a space rock record, built around three heavy jams split effectively onto two vinyl sides, and for all its sense of exploration, improvisation and general farouttery, there’s an encouraging lack of pretense. Based in Trondheim, which on the average December day will see roughly five hours of sunshine — in June, that goes to over 20 hours per day — the core three-piece of vocalist/bassist Øyvin Engan, guitarist/vocalist Vemund Engan and drummer Per Andreas Gulbrandsen teamed up with none other than Øresund Space Collective swirlmaster and friend of the site Scott “Dr. Space” Heller for the recording of Black Moon Circle, and Heller‘s noisemaking and matter/energy disruptors contribute much to the open feel and heavy psych feel of the release. He’s proved ready to jam under most circumstances — this year’s Roadburn had him paired with Carlton Melton and Øresund Space Collective have a collaboration forthcoming with Damo Suzuki of Can — so that he’d be malleable to Black Moon Circle‘s “Enigmatic SuperBandit” is relatively expected, though how well the fit works winds up a pleasant surprise, as Black Moon Circle retain some of the roots of structured songwriting amid their propensity for jamming out into the stellar reaches across “Plains” (8:22), “American Eagle” (5:28) and the side-B-consuming “Enigmatic SuperBandit” (14:24). Their debut feels quick at a little over 28 minutes, but it is an engaging single-LP nonetheless that is able to pull together a cohesive vibe with apparent ease in that time. You won’t hear me complain.
And of course, calling in Dr. Space to add nebulas of effects to the songs isn’t going to hurt either, but Black Moon Circle distinguish themselves even apart from that partnership, with a languid rolling groove on “Plains” that sets up the flow to play out over the subsequent two pieces. Each song has plenty of room to jam, and the Engans and Gulbrandsen use that time well, but both “Plains” and “American Eagle” — presumably not named after the clothing company, though one never knows — make an impression with their verses and choruses as well, a laid back sense of structure emerging that moves well into and through wah-soaked spaces. It’s telling when they bring back the chorus of “Plains” after an extended guitar solo to finish out the song with a proper bookend, showing commitment to songwriting as well as to instrumental exploration, and that balance serves Black Moon Circle over the course of “American Eagle” and even “Enigmatic SuperBandit” as well. It’s a mood and dreamy feel not so unlike what New York heavy psych jammers Sun Voyager have concocted in their early going, and some post-shoegaze vocal similarity can be heard too, but that seems most likely to be a case of shared root influences and sonic coincidence, and one can just as likely hear some early 2000s Swedish heavy rock — Dozer, Lowrider — at work underneath “American Eagle” as anything more recent. Either way, Black Moon Circle do well taking these elements and beginning to carve out their own feel from them, “American Eagle” breaking cleanly at about 3:30 in to shift into a bluesy, open-sounding build of a solo before also returning to its central hook, no less encompassing than that of the opener.
One imagines a clean break in changing the vinyl sides between “American Eagle” and “Enigmatic SuperBandit,” but it’s worth noting that the extended closer flows smoothly from the middle cut in a linear format (digital — I don’t think they’ve pressed the songs to CD) as well, a Hendrixian swagger in the opening riff tying together with the aforementioned late-arriving solo in “American Eagle” to convey a heavy ’70s awareness while also avoiding directly retro posturing. The finale unfolds gracefully from that initial riff, and while its lengthier runtime is a dead giveaway for “this is where they really jam out,” the stoner roll that begins the song is a satisfying complement to that, Dr. Space arriving early to enrich the bounce with a cascade of swirl, and the journey satisfies, telegraphed or not. Still, it should go without saying that the ending cut of Black Moon Circle is the jammiest vibing of the band’s three inclusions, the guitar noisy doling out fuzz leads over the psychedelic haze of Dr. Space‘s contributions and steady groove of the bass and drums. It’s a long instrumental push, but duly hypnotic and a rich showcase for the dynamic at work between the players in Black Moon Circle, as well as the band’s with Heller. There are some light Beatles-style vocals included around nine minutes in that help pave the way back, but it’s still several more before they turn “Enigmatic SuperBandit” completely on its head and finish in the same fashion as the other two songs, this time going back to the first verse before shifting into the chorus — a cap that’s all the more accomplished for the distance their jam has ranged up to that point. It’s an encouraging sign from the Norwegian trio that they’re so conscious of the balance between craft and bodes exceedingly well for what they might get up to once they’ve further established they know the rules and decide which ones they want to break. Until then, as introductions go, their self-titled seems to be an all-too-brief trip beyond the stratosphere, though doubtless it will serve as the foundation for future explorations to come.