CASABLANCA – Miskatonic Graffiti

Casablanca Miskatonic Graffiti (LP) -1339702317When I first got a hold of Casablanca’s 2012 debut album, the Chris Laney produced Apocalyptic Youth (reviewed here), I was completely blown away by their power pop with both hard rock and sleaze influences. The album is a real gem and I still hold it very dearly. The fact that this supergroup – singer Anders Ljung (Space Age Baby Jane), guitarists Ryan Roxie (Alice Cooper, Roxie 77, Electric Angels) and Erik Stenemo (Melody Club), bass player Mats Rubarth (formerly a football – ok, soccer if you’re American – player for the wonderful team AIK) and one of this planet’s coolest drummers, ex- Sahara Hotnights, Josephine Forsman – didn’t set the world alight and became huge with that record is a mystery. See, they should have had this world been a fair place. In 2014 they released the follow-up, the darker and not as direct, but still brilliant Riding A Black Swan (reviewed here), but they didn’t manage to take the world by storm with that one either. But again, they should have. Then things got quiet. Then the word got out that Roxie had gotten the job as one of Alice Cooper’s three guitarists again and that Erik Stenemo had left to pursue a full-time job as a guitar tech for bigger acts such as Europe. Well, the hard truth is that bills must be paid and as a newly appointed father money must be made and I can guarantee that Casablanca didn’t bring in the hard dough. And once again, they should have. I wasn’t sure if Casablanca even existed before I ran into Ljung at Sweden Rock Festival and he told me that they had a big project on the way, a concept album was ready and done and they just needed to find someone to release the thing. Then quiet again. For a long time. Then all of a sudden, the word got out that Casablanca was about to release their new album, this time as a four-piece without Roxie and Stenemo, but with Erik Almström (Bullet) as the sole guitarist. This was, of course, good news for a fan like me and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy. And Ljung had been telling me the truth that day at SRF because Casablanca has really released a concept album. The album is based on a story written by horror writer H.P. Lovecraft (1890 – 1937). Based on a twist of Chuthulu mythology, where Lovecraft says that before man the Earth was ruled by The Old Ones. However, in Casablanca’s story, before The Old Ones ruled, The Original human being of The Golden Void were the rulers of the Earth. The Originals were creatures who lived by the word of knowledge, sex, enlightenment and rock ‘n’ roll with no outside disturbance from religion and such trivial things. However, The Old Ones decided to rear their ugly heads and kick The Originals into another dimension, a fate The Old Ones were about to share with the Originals. But The Old Ones had other plans, see, they were planning on a return to destroy modern man and once again take over, something The Originals were determined to not let happen. The Originals were planning on their return to Earth to warn mankind for what was coming to make sure the Earth wouldn’t turn into darkness once more. Sounds intriguing? Oh yes, almost forgot, the album’s title comes from the Miskantopic University, a pivotal character for many of Lovecraft’s stories. Now, forward to the music.

The record opens with a huge, epic, monumental and progressive 10-minute thing called “Enter The Mountains”. The song starts out slow and soft, like The Doors with a MC5 melody. There is also something in here that reminds me of Ghost. But the song soon turns into a heavy and dark piece that holds a passage that makes me think of 60’s rock music. The song keeps its slower pace throughout the whole song and the way this song is arranged, it feels more like an album closer than an opener. So, brave move, but it works. It’s a brilliant song and I never lose interest once during the 10 minutes. “Closer” is the first single from the record and I wonder if Ryan Roxie had a lot to do with this song because it has a very big “School’s Out” Alice Cooper influence and an “old” sound. But there’s also a Deep Purple meets The Doors vibe all over it. It’s a bit dark, but this is a very catchy tune with an intense melody. “This Is Tomorrow” sports a very 1960’s pop-rock feel and a catchy, but not very radio-friendly (as in cheesy) melody and the groove is very much Casablanca. “My Shadow Out Of Time” comes in a little heavier direction and it also has a bit of darkness over it. Both verses and chorus is very, very catchy and memorable – and I love the big, fat organ that fattens the sound. The jazzy feel also makes it a stand-out track. “RE: Old Money” is plain great. It is pure pop but with a darker edge, very minor-y and almost depressive sounding. “Sister” is its predecessor’s antithesis, this is a catchy rock song, straight forward, up-beat and happy – great stuff! “Name Rank Serial Killer” is great, a faster rocker that reminds me of the last record’s catchier moments. The title track is one of the best songs here. A catchier than Hell power pop song reminiscent of their brilliant debut in sound. This must be the next single.  “She Was The One” is an amazing ballad with a “floating” sound and both a big blues and pop feel, although not cheesy at all. I also fell deeply in love with the guitar sound here. The closing track is called “Exit The Mountains” and is, of course, also a big, epic piece of music, however this one is “only” seven minutes long and this one goes through several different motions. It’s power pop here, hard rock there, Iron Maiden influenced metal here, an acoustic passage there – very progressive stuff. But it still has a distinct melody that makes the song very catchy and memorable, reminiscent of the debut’s sound.

For the third time, Casablanca has recorded one helluva record. There was some talk that this record was supposed to go in a very pop direction, but I don’t agree at all. Sure, the pop is always there, that’s Casablanca’s signum, but this album holds some very progressive arrangements. I would like to stick my neck out and say that this album has less pop and more depth. Even though the pop influences are all over the album, it is a bit tougher to get into, it’s not as direct as the previous albums, but get into it you will, this album happens to be a grower, that’s all. No matter if you’re a fan of the band or not, if you have never heard of them before, I would recommend you to give this a shot. It works just as good to digest this album as an album full of good songs and not think about the concept as it works to play the record back to back as a movie. A movie that is “Ziggy Stardust meets Lovecraft in Twin Peaks”, according to the band. Damn, I’d go see that movie. There is no such movie, but you have the soundtrack right here. Get it!

8/10

Tracklist:

1. Enter The Mountains
2. Closer
3. This Is Tomorrow
4. My Shadow Out Of Time
5. RE: Old Money
6. Sister
7. Name Rank Serial Killer
8. Miskatonic Graffiti
9. She Was The One
10. Exit The Mountains

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