Gleefully derivative of any number of psychedelic bands.
Shadoks Music has reissued heavy and psychedelic sounds from nearly all of the seven continents, and its fall docket included a pair of albums from two different Scandinavian hard rockers. Cement’s Utmaningen, originally recorded in 1977 and released in a 100-cassette edition, has a great backstory but may have been one of the more uninspired selections from the label’s curators. On the other hand, Shadoks’ other Nordic offering of the season, Alrune Rod’s Hej Du, is far more impressive musically.
Originally released in 1971, Hej Du (Hey You) is the second album from a Danish group that is gleefully derivative of any number of psychedelic bands, from The Grateful Dead to Pink Floyd. Nevertheless, Alrune Rod makes something inventive and fresh out of its sources and delivers most of its material with a surplus of personality and passion–and would you believe, soul?
“Du Taler Og Siger“ introduces the album with a swell of feedback and about a minute of freak out before a hooky lead riff and ensemble vocals come in. According to Julien Cope, who once named Hej Du Unsung Album of the Month on his Head Heritage blog, the song tells the story of two long-haired friends walking down the street in Copenhagen, one goading the other in this time of increased freedom if he could truly handle real freedom? At just under eight minutes, it’s by far the album’s shortest song, and is practically a hit single, if you can imagine a prog “Hey Jude” that doesn’t waste time on an “In-a-Gadda-da-Vida” length drum solo.
The title track opens with a rhythm that sounds like it’s going to launch into “Marquee Moon” but turns into a kind of boogie band experiment, blue-eyed soul organ suggesting something the Spencer Davis Group might have put together if they went prog and kept a song going for over 15 minutes. Alrune Rod completely pulls off a track that almost imperceptibly alternates Nordic R&B to mind-expanding psych. Singer Leif Roden is no Steve Marriott, but he has the power and chops to create drama out of conventional melodies. And when he leads the band into a raucous jam, he invokes Robert Plant without resorting to mere histrionics, keeping the track grounded even when it’s ready to take off into space.
The nearly 22-minute “Perlesøen” fills side B with a suite that seamlessly morphs from organ dirge to pulsing rock. The Hammond organ pulls double duty as funereal instrument to a more sinister timbre as the track devolves into a darkly atmospheric swirl that would be perfect for a haunted house soundtrack. The album frankly flags here as its longueurs threaten to become mere background—still, it’s well-textured background, and drummer Claus From (who subtly guides the title track through its subgenre shifts) is the unexpected MVP, judiciously timed cymbals sustaining interest even as his band mates slow to an amplified crawl.
That homely gingerbread man on the album’s cover is the source of the band’s name, taken from the Danish term for the mandrake root. More specifically, Alrune Rod was inspired by an odd folkloric tale in which a virgin cares for a root that grew from the spot where a Robin Hood-like character is hanged and emits his final issue on the ground. As fertile as the band is with its hooks, you might wish Alrune Rod could have cranked out a few more. Yet the key to its music may lie in that mythology, its seed cultivated with great care and discretion.