When Norway's Motorpsycho released the sprawling double-length The Tower in 2017, it was a major event. Recorded at Rancho de Luna studios in Joshua Tree with new drummer Tomas Järmyr, it swerved through progressive rock, psych, and vanguard metal riffage. By the accounts of most fans and critics, it was among the most ambitious and successful recordings in Motorpsycho's three-decade career. After a single listen, it's obvious that The Crucible, co-produced by Andrew Scheps and Deathprod, is a sequel: it begins where the last offering ended, but contains its own unique flavor and aesthetic. While only half its predecessor's length, the album is denser and more focused in all areas. Recorded in Wales and several studios in Norway -- Deathprod's Audio Virus Lab among them -- its three extended tracks range between eight-and-a-half and 20 minutes. Two cuts here -- "Lux Aeterna" and the title track -- are actually multi-part suites cutting across multiple genres, time signatures, keys, dynamics, and textures. The most prominent references in the music here are Black Sabbath, King Crimson (especially with the abundant use of Mellotrons), and Yes, with abundant nods elsewhere. Motorpsycho use these references not for the sake of cleverness but to frame new compositional architectures and musical structures. These guys aren't motivated by commercial success -- they could care less if punters like it or not -- they set their own rules. Opener "Psychotzar" is closest to classic "psycho rock." Its nasty bass and guitar riffs recall Sabbath and it's drenched in stoner rock, complete with Hans Magnus Ryan's two squalling guitar solos. After the second one, it downshifts into a doomy, opaque power ballad with Bent Sæther and Ryan sharing harmony vocals until it all falls into a drone. "Lux Aeterna" is the most beautiful track here. Over ten-minutes long, its labyrinthine construction is introduced by acoustic guitars, Mellotron, and vocals that recall CSN (Susanna Wallumrød guests in the three-part harmony) before a filthy overcharged bassline, crashing, rolling drums, punched-up Mellotrons, and Lars Horntveth's reeds enter regally, opening the entire tune up into a Crimson-esque jam that wouldn't have been out of place on In the Wake of Poseidon. It changes shape again for chaotic, deep prog, improvisation, and psychedelia before building to a sublime, wonderfully assonant conclusion. In many ways, the 20-minute title piece feels like a suite that bridges the previous two numbers as it contains elements of both, though it goes beyond either in reach and expression. During this long journey, Motorpsycho quotes from Crimson's "Larks Tongues in Aspic, Pt. 2," and "Red" approaches Yes' Tales from Topographic Oceans and Gentle Giant's Octopus, but it also moves through noise rock, stoner metal, European free jazz, Thin Lizzy, late Beatles, and more. It constantly changes shape and dynamic, electric and acoustic, as it moves to an opaque horizon. Easily as satisfying as The Tower, The Crucible builds on its predecessor's achievement with brilliant composition, inspired performance, and consummate musicianship. It is an excellent example of how to mine rock's past in order to discover its future.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek