Not nearly as heavy as its national heritage and industrial namesake.
The Swedish hard rock band Cement has a backstory that is impossible to live up to. The group hails from the island province of Gotland, which floats in the Baltic Sea 200 miles from mainland Sweden. The area’s native mythology goes back to 14th century tales of an underwater civilization and encompasses unbaptized ghosts and gnome-like creatures. This remote land spawned a group with two guitarists and two drummers that in 1977 released its sole album on cassette tape in a limited edition of 100. Such narrative details are a crate digger’s dream. Yet the resulting album, Utmaningen, though a competent head-banger, isn’t nearly as heavy as its national heritage and industrial namesake.
“Ormika” blasts out of the opening grooves with a whammy-prone, densely rippling lead. Guitarists Björn Jonsson and Anders Åström trade shredding lines, but neither of them is a particularly distinct player, and if founding drummers Ulf Abrahamsson and Thomas Harlevi are both on tap, it’s hard to hear these thudding rhythms as the output of two percussionists. The band has an effective bassist that can sell the straight-ahead rhythms, but with generic, nonthreatening vocals on top, you have what is essentially well-produced but mostly uninspired private-press hard rock.
The vocal-guitar interplay on the downtempo “Små Små Ord” leads to a more dramatically structured solo that beats the ruthless but monotonous forward push of the album opener. The track gets off to a slow start but winds up earning its seven-and-a-half minute runtime. The same can’t be said for the six-minute “Sankt Göran Och Draken,” launched with an ordinary boogie riff before winding in and out of an amplified dirge—which, counter-intuitively, seems to push the group to air-guitar worthy heights that escape its faster rockers.
Unlike its namesake, Cement doesn’t like to stay in place, but that can be to its detriment. “Ensamhet” starts off with a melodic riff that would have been worth developing, but the track shifts into more pedestrian headbanging that drives it away from more promising territory. Gotland’s finest take inspiration from such bands as Mountain and Grand Funk Railroad, but if Cement captures some of those bands’ cocksure attitude, it never comes up with a hook as immediate as “Mississippi Queen” or “I’m Your Captain.”
The closest the group comes to cementing an earworm is on the seven-minute title track, and again it’s thanks to a more patient tempo. The drawn-out lead guitar spends more time searing each molten note into your brain, and a vocalist with greater snarl could have made this into something more special.
If you were to pick up a tape of Utmaningen (which translates to “Champ” at the kind of Gotland gas station where the album was reportedly distributed, and popped it into your car deck, your first response might well be “Woah!” But this wonder is not sustained. This is the first vinyl release for the album, and while the digital files made available for review may not be the best format for its sound, a tube amp can’t boost personality. There are moments of inventiveness throughout the album, but perhaps the restlessness that comes from living on a remote island kept the band from focusing on a consistent musical prize.