Somewhere around the peak of the first UK pandemic lockdown, Gramma Vedetta released their second EP. More than just another short collection of rock tracks, the London based outfit’s ‘A.C.I.D. Compliant’ actually acted as a snapshot in time, with the brilliant ‘Lucid Dream’ providing a musical diary of those tumultuous days in a very direct fashion. Backing up that obvious highlight, listeners were also reminded of their psychedelic and stoner influences, leading to a short but very effective listen.
Two years on, the longer format of their ‘Hum of The Machine’ album sometimes makes the Vedetta sound seem a little less direct, but the broader sonic palate allows the band time for some interesting musical experiments. In addition, its lyrical themes – often centring around a fascination with 70s sci-fi – paint audio scenarios which genuinely suit so many of their trippy, fuzzed out riffs.
A very strong opener, ‘A Chance To Win The Orb’ fades in slowly with drones and feedback, sets up a heartbeat for an early rhythm, and then hits upon a very 90s groove. The combination of bass and drums almost seems to suggest a dub reggae influence, as heard through a prism of an old alt-rock band. The core of the track never quite capitalises on this, but instead steers through a guitar heavy, mid-tempo rocker that calls back to the once popular sounds of Spacehog, tempered with a light stoner vibe. With clean vocals present throughout, it retains a perfect balance between heaviness and melody. That approach, of course, is perfect for both re-introducing people to the band and also demonstrating how their sound has expanded. Almost as cool, ‘Starlight Portal Show’ adds more of a funky blues groove, with riffs that wind through a carnival-like weirdness and into a crashing soundscape that sounds like a hybrid of Monster Magnet and an early Alice Cooper band workout, whilst retaining a few of the very natural retro sounds that sat at the heart of the previous EP. Despite the multi-layered vocals being half buried beneath a wall of guitars, there’s a hook and melody here that promises to be huge, and the instrumental break midway is a prime example of the band’s ever twisting and inventive sound. Best of all, complex bass lines dance, and elements of feedback are used for extra instrumentation in a really cool way that further fleshes out a really adventurous stoner rock sound.
For those who’ve previously enjoyed more of Gramma’s atmospheric side, ‘Transmission’s On’ (released as a digital single ahead of the album) could well be a highlight, since it opens with slow, droning sounds underscored with heavy toms. It would’ve been too easy to turn in yet another variant of ‘Planet Caravan’, so this strange, mangled hybrid of early Blue Oyster Cult and Hawkwind supplies a brilliant twist on something familiar, before a heavy lop-sided riff and almost robotic vocals create an unsettling climax. Moving back into the disquieting, droning melodies, the heavily treated vocals take centre stage further showing how this band are keen to take psych and space rock into new, almost inhuman places, and there’s plenty about the trippy, sub-nightmarish set up that does that with ease. A final round of heavier riffs unleashes a great, crunchy melody that’s equal part 70s and 90s, but the highlight here – again – is definitely the bass playing. As before, it’s half buried, but the warm notes pierce through from time to time with a genuine confidence; their lead sound is almost funky, yet without being intrusive. Eventually, a typical Sabbath-esque coda crushes everything in its path, leaving nothing but silence in its wake. It might revert to type, but that final, uncompromising set of monolithic chords ensures this seven minute epic has featured something to please almost every stoner and space rock fan.
The intro for ‘The Future of The Past’, meanwhile, threatens to derail everything with a tuneless workout where off key vocals and howling guitars are used deliberately to throw the listener off track. Luckily, as the tune settles in, the hazy stoner vibes start to take over, and despite not being one of the album’s better tracks, some very smart bass work and a big hook eventually do their best to show off some of the band’s heavier traits. It’s the kind of track that the less demanding stoner rock fan will enjoy, but as already demonstrated, this band are capable of so much better. ‘Robots For War’, meanwhile, supplies another immediate highlight by twisting something that sounds like Black Sabbath’s ‘The Wizard’ into something even funkier. The interplay between the bass and drums is terrific throughout, with the bottom end four strings filling spaces almost as if the rhythm is deep within a call and response; the quiet lead guitar parts suggest a love of deeply fuzzy blues rock, and eventually a heavy chorus riff sounds like an old Gramma tune reinterpreted by 20 Watt Tombstone. There isn’t anything here that’s new for the genre, but between some really cool riffs and a massive vocal, this becomes the album’s most lovable and accessible track.
Changing the mood, the short and quiet ‘A Broken Time Machine’ mixes wind noises, quiet drones, and semi acoustic riffs in a way that sounds like a direct throwback to the earliest Hawkwind recordings. As always, though, this isn’t just a direct rip: the multi-layered vocals bring a more modern twist to this space rock interlude, and smooth, descending bass runs accentuate a more complex arrangement than most stoner bands would consider necessary. Although it is very much a slow burner of a song, it has an important role in reminding everyone that Gramma Vedetta are about far, far more than heavy riffs and basic Sabbath-isms. Nestled at the end of the album, ‘I Feel The Comfort’ opens with a really long, almost ambient riff, drawing from prog and desert rock moods in equal measure, before exploding into a heavy workout that mixes traces of Deftones with heavy blues, and although the first few minutes of the heavier sounds might lead you to believe it’s just another stoner jam, a last twist into groove heavy blues rock underscored by more carny keys and a slow, aching melody shows a desire to take the core sound somewhere new one last time, ending an already enjoyable LP on a high. It’s more about moods than hooks, but if you came looking for a cool riff or two, this certainly won’t sell you short.
This is a great album – far better and more inventive than any previous Gramma Vedetta recordings ever suggested. Whether its a few Sabbath oriented riffs cutting through the layers of sound that floats your boat, or the hazy and heavy moods that take elements of mid 70s Hawkwind and classic Monster Magnet into new musical climes that end up catching your ear, it’s always clear that this band are able to take obvious and retro influences and make them their own. The familiar elements sound fresh and quirky at almost every step along a long and winding journey through this sci-fi imaginarium, leading to an album that has something to discover on each successive play. If you’re constantly on the lookout for an accessible components of stoner and space rock, then this is definitely a recommended listen.