Compared to the synth hooks and snappy rhythms that gave Der Blutharsch’s previous album, The Cosmic Trigger, an almost conventional sound, Joyride is overall a more restrained, pensive affair that embraces mood and texture over conventional songwriting. While in no way a return to their initial (pre-Infinite Church of the Leading Hand moniker) sound, the overall feel of Joyride is less upbeat, but a stronger embracing of the 60’s psychedelia that has become so integral to their current sound, with a hint of Albin Julius’ more experimental past.
While The Cosmic Trigger had big guitars and frolicking drums, the guitars of “Sea of Love” have a buried, muffled quality to them that blends well with the melodic bass counterpoint. Julius’ composing here is full of restraint: a taut mass of instruments and pulsing keyboards all sound ready to burst out on their own, but are kept in check and below Marthynna’s lead vocals, mixed close to the front.
The rock tendencies of the previous records appear with a bit more prominence on “Falling Out of Time” as a serpentine mass of guitar soloing and rhythmic chugging, underscored by a simple bassline that is eventually paired with a hushed, almost hidden percussion track. The shuffling beat and vintage organ line that opens “Reach the Stars” heralds the arrival of a more conventional 60’s rock structure, but with an overall otherworldly sense that keeps it from being too predictable for the genre.
The odder moments are also abundant on Joyride, which is anything but a surprise coming from a project that encourages consciousness-altering substances as part of the listening regimen. “Cold Freedom” is a peculiar hybrid of sleazy lounge rock with hints of folk music, all presented in a wah-wah-drenched guitar sound that sounds on the verge of going out of control at any time. The rapid synth pulse and forceful guitar of “Mighty Might” just screams late-70’s funk rock, but its intentionally muffled, AM-radio production makes it just off-kilter enough to be unsettling in the best possible way.
A song such as “Innocent” fits less into a genre or era descriptor, but is full of bombast and drama with melodic bass and leading synths placed atop a bed of understated guitar and electronics. The concluding “Immolate My Dreams” may be the most specific nod to Der Blutharsch’s first incarnation with its martial drumming and throbbing bass-heavy rhythm section. An expansive organ and rich, ambient layer of guitar keep the piece in more modern realms, as Marthynna’s icy vocals channel Nico more than any other song on the album.
That fuzzy, muddled production I mentioned on “Mighty Might” appears on all of the songs that make up Joyride at varying levels of severity. While I appreciate it and the mood that it sets throughout, I would have also loved to have been able to hear these songs with a more conventional production approach because, as it stands, the mood outshines the musicality at different times. It may be a notable side-step from the pop sounds of The Cosmic Trigger, but Joyride captures the singular feel and mood that Julius has injected throughout Der Blutharsch’s history. I found the record to be captivating as a whole, but with just the right amount of discomfort and ambiguity to make it a disconcerting yet beautiful work.
01) Drive Me Far
02) Sea of Love
03) Falling Out of Time
04) Cold Freedom
05) Mighty Might
08) Reach the Stars
09) Not Quite Evil
10) Immolate My Dreams