Sweden's Saturn took listening audiences and critics by surprise with their 2014 debut, Ascending: Live in Space. While dozens of acts imitate the musical terrain carved out by Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, Saturn went deeper and wider, adding the stylistic inspirations of UFO, Rainbow, Deep Purple, early Judas Priest, and the NWOBHM. Calling their sound "heavy metal space music," they sought not only the vibe of the earlier music, but its warm, live sound. That first album was cut in analog, live-in-studio, with only an organ overdubbed sparingly on some tracks. As steeped as it was in the past, it sounded fantastic. Beyond Spectra follows the same basic template with some key differences: The songwriting is much tighter, but rather than get slicker, the approach is loose, sometimes sloppy. It's also bluesier and more psychedelic. This band is clearly seeking a sound of its own without rejecting hero worship, and it's a tough line to walk.
On opener "Orbital Command," guitarists Robin Tidebrink and Linkan Lindgren adopt a twin razor-wire approach that weds the one found on the first three Blue Öyster Cult albums and Judas Priest's on Sin After Sin. Singer/bassist Oscar Pehrson is no Rob Halford, but he badly wants to be. The music alternates between a mysterious, dark, silvery dirge and a charging, double-timed chug fury driven by Ted Carlsen's kick drum and snare. While "Wolfsson" pursues the trademark UFO boogie, it expands to embrace spacy psychedelic elements in the bridge while delivering enough fuzz to make Geezer Butler smile wide. The shocker here is "Still Young." It staggers between early Foghat boogie and Tygers of Pan Tang crunch without going off the rails, adds some wonderful harmonic developments between the guitar riffs and bassline (à la Diamond Head), and finds Pehrson delivering his best vocal performance.
Some experiments here don't work: "Electrosaurus Sex" is just plain dumb. Pehrson's singing is off-key throughout and the guitars can't figure out what they want to play -- even Carlsen gets lost. The corny lyrics and long balladic bridge in "Force of the North" blunt the impact of its bookend sections and killer twin-guitar ripping. Pehrson tries to reach Halford's high register but it's almost painful. "Helmet Man" and "Silvertape" both feel like half-baked ideas, not fully conceived songs. The grooves and chops are there, but the editing sense isn't. Closer "Sensor Data" is a scorching return to form with a hard-charging, metal-flavored hard rock boogie and stops on a dime.
Beyond Spectra is a sophomore date by a young band. They have everything they need to develop into an amazing outfit. The rough spots are endearing because their sincerity is not debatable. You root for them even when they fail. Beyond Spectra is flawed for sure, but it's a blast to listen to -- on repeat.