Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

SBB
2 - Nowy Horyzont


Released 1975 on Muza
Reviewed by achuma, 05/07/2006ce


This second album by Poland’s SBB is another cracker, although it’s quite different to the first. It doesn’t have the same violent peaks – though it still rocks effectively – and the feel is spacier and more futuristic if you will due to greater (and great) use of the mini-Moog. The range of sounds is diverse, alternating more ethereal textures with pumping warpdrive tunnel swoops. Any Mahavishnu Orchestra influences detected embryonically on the first album are amplified here, though as I try to describe below, they go about it in their own unique way rather than copying anything. Again, the sound quality is uniquely mid-70’s Polish, in other words, pretty special and unusual, and with a big rounded bass end.
Unfortunately, the Polskie Nagrania/Muza CD reissue combines this and the third album on one disc (as ‘2 & 3’), and in order to do this, they’ve lopped off part of the second album from what would have been side 2 of the original LP. A real shame – I’d prefer if they had reissued the albums separately, or as a 2-CD set, to do each full justice, especially after their great expanded reissue of the first album. So, I have never heard the missing portion of this album, and the review here is based on the parts of the album that are on the CD reissue.

‘Na Pierwszy Ogieñ’ [4:23] begins with slow distant steps in the back of a wooden room, before a gong strike opens a mystical portal of hovering Moog, drums and bass kick into a solid, steady, steamy groove like a bare-bones Man beefed up with extra meat on the bass guitar and driving into space, synth soloing over the top. Then ominous chord changes herald a shift of gear, proceedings step up a notch and guitar takes the lead role for another space boogie stretch. The ominous chords return again to bring it all down grindingly, petering out into a melodious, mellow piano interlude, seguing straight into ‘B³ysk’ [3:28] with wailing guitar and crushing doom organ chords, before the space boogie resumes, now shifted near into hyperdrive, guitar weaving spindly clusterbombs and swapping licks with riotous Moog solos, the temperature rising though still with a vaccum-of-space coldness permeating all, this baby just keeps kicking and upping the ante. The drum breaks are stampeding and precise, virtuosic without being too fiddly-pants, but keeping a simple rawness, something that can be said for all the players here. This is like an evil, doom-laden Mahavishnu Orchestra on fire but played by ham-fisted trolls from another galaxy rather than by McLaughlin & co. At least, until this too subsides to another mellow piano interlude, the final hanging note leading into the next track in this continuing saga, ‘Nowy Horyzont’ [8:27], stomping along with fat-ass bass and inquisitive Moog lines, before dripping into a more psychedelic and ghostly atmosphere, gentle guitar intricacies hovering in the middle as backward-echoed-sounding vocals seep in and out of the shadows in the corners of the room. Soon weird stabs of bass ooze into the picture like those long glass beads that look like giant frozen rain drops, Moog adds to the mysterious mood, and the whole slides along on air like a bulbous ship of the nocturnal clouds, slowly growing more and more feverish and building to a clamour of riffs and a drawn-out false-ending, like one of those what’s-gonna-happen next moments on Silberbart’s ‘Brain Brain’ (except with Moog), before all jump back into the fat bass’n’Moog riff beast that began this track, and proceed to pump it out to the full complete with wheezing dual synth lines, before a jittery jumble of piano breaks it up and leads into another interlude, fading out portentously into ‘Ballada O Piêciu G³odnych’ [3:56], all unsettling droning synth hum and distant threatening clangs and rumbles reverberating through a psychedelic haze. Right now it’s making me feel in my mind’s eye as though I’m coming to consciousness out of an amnesiac ketamine trip (and I’ve never taken ketamine), finding myself in a dingy shack under a humming, glaring light globe as some Mexican secret agent brainwashes me in Polish (there’s a monologue I can’t understand a word of being intoned dramatically but conversationally through the ghostly music).
‘Wolnoœæ Z Nami’ [13:20] begins what would be side 2 in a happier mood, woven by piano and faded-in guitar strokes along with what sounds like bowed acoustic bass, soon receding into a subtle drone as Moog solos jubilantly and bass wanders as though holding up a Grateful Dead jam. It’s all very nice, and the kind of thing you might expect at the very end of the album, as if to say “what a trip this record has been, now it’s going to be over soon, come back and listen to us again, won’t y’all?”, but there is more to come. This fades seamlessly into a watery cascade of piano, feminine wordless vocals and other hard-to-place sounds swimming in a cosmic earth stew. What seem to be bird sounds emerge peeping, but they turn out to be synth-grown not egg-hatched, locking into a repeated loop as atmospheric sounds creak out of the ether, before a buzzing growl grows threateningly out of the strange beauty, wrenching it with the grace of a literal spanner-in-the-works into an entirely different groove, drums pumping away relentlessly on a simple but unstoppably nimble 2/4 beat as guitar and Moog trade off wailing solo licks like the evil barbarian dumbo Mahavishnu mirror-image hinted at earlier. After they’ve had their say doomy chords take over and the band unite to drive it home, before pulling it back and letting the same theme ooze out with a quieter cyborg menace, more space between the molecules, but that means more nothingness, more cosmic dread, not more room to breathe, until a dramatic, quasi-classical piano interlude takes away some of the psychic weight, but without turning the lights on – this is still in a gloomy mood, the kind of thing a bereaved widow might play on her husband’s funeral day when she thinks no one’s listening, but it’s still beautiful, unless you hate piano, you philistine brute!

Following this, SBB unfortunately mellowed out severely, and made numerous albums of much softer introspective music, returning to their soul and blues roots in their own way. The third album, ‘Pamiêæ’ (included in full on the ‘2 & 3’ CD), contains much music in this vein but still with a ghost of exploration present. Some of it I find a bit painful, like the occasional soulful piano’n’singing bits I mentioned on the first album, but a lot of it does feature fascinating, subtle sound texturing that makes it more interesting. The spacey sidelong track in particular is a highlight that justifies the album for me, with a second half that goes into quite futuristic music probably unprecedented at the time. I won’t attempt the difficult feat of describing it, but if you buy the CD to hear the above reviewed album, you’ll get to check out this too, more or less for free!

[I have to apologise that some of the Polish characters didn't translate properly from Word, so some of those song titles look screwy]


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