New Keepers of the Water Towers, Infernal Machine: A Work in Texture (Plus Track Premiere)

new keepers of the water towers infernal machine

[Click play above to hear the premiere of “Tachyon Deep” from New Keepers of the Water Towers’ Infernal Machine, out April 1 on Listenable Records. Enjoy.]

Stockholm five-piece New Keepers of the Water Towers issue their fourth album, Infernal Machine, April 1 via Listenable Records. It is easily their most textured and expansive work yet. The band have been on an outward push since 2011’s The Calydonian Hunt (review here) followed their rawer 2009 debut, Chronicles (review here), but along with aligning themselves to Listenable in 2013 for the release of their third LP, The Cosmic Child (review here), the band also took a corresponding stylistic leap into progressive psychedelia, basking in Floydian contemplations and spacious heft, and Infernal Machine is very much born of that same tradition. The difference is in the amount of the cosmos that the lineup of vocalist/guitarist Rasmus Booberg, drummer/vocalist Tor Sjödén, guitarist/vocalist Victor Berg, bassist Björn Andersson and keyboardist Adam Forsgren cover over the seven-track/45-minute span of Infernal Machine, and in the precise manner by which they control the linear flow between and throughout the songs.

Clearly intended to be taken in its entirety, Infernal Machine has standout moments, but each one of them feeds into an overarching impression of the whole, and New Keepers of the Water Towers make themselves at home working in such a grand scope, beginning with the 11-minute opener and longest track (immediate points) “The Forever War” — also the name of the book on which the album is based — which eases the listener into the soundscapes they’ll inhabit as they make the journey from front to back, some alarming textures and wide-open guitar and keys gradually taking shape over a marching drum beat and howling tones.

Like a lot of Infernal Machine, “The Forever War” isn’t without some structure, but mood and atmosphere are for more central to the listening experience than hooks or anything of the sort. By its halfway point, “The Forever War” has locked into a kosmiche groove, but the band departs from there to go back to more spacious fare, guitar leading to an instrumental build that feels like it’s going to be grandiose but never actually goes overboard, quieting down as it makes ready to shift into “Tracks over Carcosa,” which swells initially like the monolith scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey and patiently transitions into more pulsing space rock. Patience is a virtue throughout Infernal Machine, something New Keepers of the Water Towers have learned over time, and something they use exceptionally well here.

The second cut morphs into kind of a surf rock if you were surfing on Titan, but the immersion that “The Forever War” began holds firm, and they pull back from the instrumental push to end the last minute-plus of “Tracks over Carcosa” on an ambient note before mellotron sounds set a peaceful beginning of “Tachyon Deep,” from which a standout rhythm will emerge along a contained linear build led by keyboard textures in a deceptively complex pastoral atmosphere. There’s just a hint of tension beneath to betray the insistence that will come as thicker tones enter the fray in the song’s back half, winding lead guitar echoing over the percussion and bassline in a way that recalls Ancestors‘ “First Light” — not a comparison I make lightly — before crashing to a finish that even with six minutes leading up to it feels somewhat sudden. Given the obvious intent shown in everything else on Infernal Machine and the song’s position right before centerpiece/likely-side-B-intro “Misantropin Kallar,” one has to imagine that’s on purpose, a cold ending following 20-plus minutes of graceful flow to toss a bucket of water on the audience before they flip the platter to its second half.

new keepers of the water towers

Either way, the effect is palpable even on the digital version, though its worth noting that the quiet fade-in of “Misantropin Kallar” makes for a cinematic reentry into the band’s cosmic sphere, bringing to mind Goblin‘s soundtrack work and even including a bit of spoken word dialogue, in Swedish, to highlight the point. A noisy wash comes to the fore in the last seconds of “Misantropin Kallar,” but drops out as “Escape Aleph Minor” begins its more immediate space rock push. The pattern of the drums is pure Hawkwind, but much to their credit, New Keepers of the Water Towers do about as much as anyone could to make such a recognizable element their own, surrounding the push with lush tones, manic rhythm guitar, piano/key lines and soaring vocals in the first half of the song and pushing through to a psych-jazz freakout in the second before bringing everything to a swirling head and crashing out to let the keys end on a subdued-into-silent note, from which “Jorden Wave” emerges, slowly crashing but eminently spacious.

Shorter, but mirroring the instrumental “Tracks over Carcosa,” its breadth works through in the melodies brought to bear over a simple rhythm, lumbering and made melancholy through mellotron, but still unremittingly progressive. There is a foreboding thud, crash and ring-out in the midsection — is that V’ger? — but they never let go of the restraint, and the tension crafted in the droning finish of “Jorden Wave” is all the more effective for the payoff the band refuses to give it. Silence — used here the way many bands use volume — leads into the closing semi-title-track “This Infernal Machine,” also the second-longest cut at 8:46, which, also instrumental, sets out to expand on the interplay of mellotron and lead guitar and cascading sweeps of “Tachyon Deep” as the moment of resolution to which the whole of Infernal Machine has been traveling. There’s even a bit of bounce in the keys à la “Misantropin Kallar,” so not only does it summarize the band’s stylistic accomplishments across the record, but bookends side B as well before it enters into its final build and caps, suitably, on a long tonal wash fadeout.

Those who caught wind of New Keepers of the Water Towers through The Cosmic Child will find that Infernal Machine is a more coherent representation of similar progressive sonic ideals, but the real triumph of the new record is how masterfully the band guide their audience through it and how smoothly it seems to flow. Patient, but heavy, Infernal Machine acts like a classic concept record in that it devotes more time to telling its story than to being impressed with itself for telling a story at all. That’s not to say there aren’t self-indulgent moments — there would have to be, or it wouldn’t be making its point — but that where their last time out, New Keepers of the Water Towers were making a foray into uncharted ground, this time they’ve made that ground their home and proven themselves able to remake it to suit their creative will.

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2 Responses to “New Keepers of the Water Towers, Infernal Machine: A Work in Texture (Plus Track Premiere)”

  1. Gaia says:

    I got into NKOTWTs back with Chronicles and tbh found The Cosmic Child to be disappointing fare. This track premier sounds well-developed and purposeful, but I can’t help but reminisce over what was on The Calydonian Hunt.

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