If stoner and psychedelic music are your jam, then ASTRAL BAZAAR is a local band you might need to check out. The band released their last full-length, “Pictures Unrelated,” in 2018 and now it’s time for something new! On March 26th, 2021, the band released “A Sudden Realization” via Inverse Records, promising a new psychedelic concept album to tease our senses. Having just enjoyed their set at Helsinki Psych Fest (online) 2021, it was imperative that we give this album a spin.
Can we take a moment to appreciate this artwork? If you’re a psychedelic band, you need some psychedelic art, and this beautiful ’70s hippy style is done to perfection. There’s so much to see and look at. This is the kind of art I’d hang on my wall… but we’re not here to fawn over the art, so let’s talk music!
First of all, I fully confess that despite being the “concept album guy” at Tuonela, I haven’t looked into this album’s concept… yet (I may get into it another time). So today we’re just looking at the music, and the music is good. Yes, the album opens with “Food for Thought,” which I actually find is a pretty brilliant way to name the opener of an album… or a concept for that matter. This first track opens on creative guitar lines that are quickly joined by vocals, while the rhythms and ambience gently sneak in, creating a spectacular build-up into what ends up being a really laid-back, groovy track. Certainly not what I’m used to in heavy metal, where the energy usually kicks up at that point, but this is a welcome change of pace for my ears. Boasting stylish bass, wonderfully psychedelic echoey guitars, a variety of fun drum fills, and relaxing vocals, this is a winner of an opener. Many psych bands are plagued by outright bad vocalists, yet ASTRAL BAZAAR clearly chose well with Ville Manninen, as his dreamy qualities suit the music perfectly.
Moving on to the shorter and peppier “Lungs of Modern Times,” the band steer into their near-ever-present eastern influences, adding a lot of wonderful atmosphere to the music. These first two tracks show off an impressive variety already, as the first is more progressive while the second is more hooky. You can’t deny that the solos in the latter are great, but I couldn’t tell you exactly what instrument is performing them.
“Vincent’s Dream” is a darker, almost AYREON-like interlude, lasting only a minute and a half, but acts as an interesting diversion before “The Y10K Problem.” A peppy beat immediately opens this track, as some groovy elements are added in while it progresses. “The Girl With the Purple Hair” is yet another smooth yet flavorful track, a bit on the softer side. The saxophone is a real draw to this piece – finding the right balance of sexy without sounding like a ’70s porno soundtrack.
“Cops & Thieves” opens on a more instrumental note than most of its predecessors, allowing the band to jam a while before the vocal melodies start. Another nice twist is “Dwellin’ in the Apocalypse,” which has an almost THE MAMAS AND THE PAPAS meets THE BEATLES vibe to it, opening on a very wavy-ambient feel and taking the listener on a bit of a rollercoaster of a ride.
Penultimate “Embrace the Reverb” should already be familiar to fans as the first single from 8 months ago. It’s also one of the album highlights and a great choice of songs for the band to show off. It opens on a mellow jam for the first minute or two before the vocals join the slow-swaying groove, that bounces up a bit here and there to keep your attention from straying. The whole 6 minutes of it are a psychedelic trip you can’t help but relax and enjoy.
The album then finishes up with the funky and groovy, upbeat and danceable “Behind the Narrow Door,” ultimately ending the album on a very strong note thanks to the sheer catchiness of the wah-wah riffing and general wonky wonders of the soundscape. This 11-minute psychedelic prog adventure is full of enough twists and turns and interesting little tidbits sprinkled here and there for flavor that it almost feels as though it came straight out of the mushroom era of the hippy era. It’s a totally healthy psychedelic musical trip.
After seeing them “live,” ASTRAL BAZAAR certainly caught our attention. “A Sudden Realization” is a gentle blaze of an album, easily enjoyable as atmospheric background music or as active danceable/groovable listening. If psychedelic stoner bands like INFECTED MUSRHOOM or OZRIC TENTACLES are up your alley, or even local bands like FROM GROTTO, you should definitely give these guys a chance to catch your ear as well.
- Food for Thought
- Lungs of Modern Times
- Vincent’s Dream
- The Y10K Problem
- The Girl with the Purple Hair
- Cops & Thieves
- Dwellin’ in the Apocalypse
- Embrace the Reverb
- Behind the Narrow Door
– Ville Manninen / vocals, percussion
– Lauri Loikkanen / guitar, backing vocals
– Pekka Lehtelä / guitar
– Mikael Laaksonen / guitar, saxophone, backing vocals
– Jukka Sainio / bass
– Eetu Peltoluhta / drums