(Ván Records, March 2016)
This effortlessly smart and original doom-rock from Greece has more ups and downs than a game of snakes and ladders. On their fourth album, Universe 217 sound more vibrant than ever, as if Monster Magnet, 4 Non Blondes, Acid King, Mastodon and Foo Fighters all jumped into a jacuzzi together. The band have been busy since 2007 and all that activity has seen them reach a very healthy place musically and conceptually.
If heaviness is all you crave, then look elsewhere. Generally, Universe 217 are about as heavy as a hamster’s hiccup. But for thoughtful and interesting songwriting, as well as some serious doom-rock chops, this is the place to be.
The female vocals are big and brash. Tanya’s reverberating holler is not always beautiful but its power rips the air apart. The band’s adventurous spirit sees them unafraid to flit across boundaries, and their time signature switches and creative freedom always feel organic rather than deliberate or forced.
You can forgive the moments of post-blah vagueness – it seems to be par for the course to include some boring bits these days (maybe record labels actually insist on it…) because elsewhere there are moments of magic.
Demonstrating the band’s ability to keep the listener guessing – but never feeling too uncomfortable – is the track ‘Rest Here’, which sounds uncannily like Solitude Aeturnus, channeling Robert Lowe to create a doom-laden feast. Ironically, the song ‘Burn’ is slightly under-cooked, taking an age to wake up, then vanishing without trace. ‘Call’ is an effective tension-builder (before another sudden ending), while the 12-minute title track features a stop-start arrangement to keep everyone guessing.
‘Change’ is an appropriately-titled album that is consistently unpredictable. Some parts work better than others, but on this release Universe 217 have built up a fascinating alternative reality where anything goes.