Samsara Blues Experiment, End of Forever, Germany, Electric Magic Records, EMCD 009 digipak (2020) / catalogue number unknown vinyl LP (2021)
About the time this album was released (November 2020), the Samsara Blues Experiment musicians announced they were putting the band on hold after twelve years of recording, performing and touring together. The band’s website, Bandcamp and Facebook pages were pulled as well. (Waaah!!!) At least they have left their fans this final gift, their fifth studio album, and a very fine work it is too, spanning progressive hard rock, gritty hard-hitting doom, sombre blues rock and plenty of adventurous wandering psychedelic instrumental improvisation on both guitars and keyboards. As on previous SBE albums that I’ve heard, the album formula relies on a few long songs and several shorter ones often featuring long instrumental jams.
The opening track, and the longest on the album at 11 minutes, “Second Birth” slips into its laid-back groove quickly and sails along smoothly on a river of melodic trance prog rock until the halfway point at which Christian Peters takes control with lead guitar solo and vocals and turns the song into an introspective piece with a hard rock / light doom edge. Hammond organ brings in another crumbly texture to add to the gritty guitar tone and rolling thunder drums. “Massive Passive” is on more familiar SBE ground: burning doom guitar grit with a hardcore edge, mighty percussion work and hooky riffs – and the rather ordinary singing being almost swept away by the robust and muscular music. Good as that song is, it’s quickly kicked aside by “Southern Sunset” by thumping drumming, acid-toned organ, Hans Eiselt’s energetic bass fingering and an archly electric lead guitar solo from Peters. Powerful droning doom riffs add another level of complexity – and this is all before the singing starts! While the song does settle down then, keyboard and lead guitar licks keep intruding and the song ends more peaceably and smoothly though using the same rollicking percussion thunder that it blusters in with. By contrast “Lovage Leaves” is a beautifully mellow and lush instrumental work of retro-Seventies melodic synthesiser prog rock with folky elements, even the odd mediaeval-sounding tune or two.
SBE save their best for the last two tracks, the title track and “Orchid Annie”: “End of Forever” is a sprawling work, primarily melodic retro-psychedelic doom, but issuing forth also synth-wash ambience and warm slurping frizzle, a mix of drumming both subtle and robust, and a scorching lead guitar solo soaring high into the firmament and far beyond. In its dying moments the song defiantly returns to its thundering doom roots with a chorus underlining the song’s theme of change being inevitable and all good things having to come to an end. “Orchid Annie” appears to be a song of regret, longing and the mixed emotions that come with saying a final goodbye, with the music passing back and forth between bleached-out bluesy melancholy and bursts of blazing doom fire. The band puts on one last fiery jam session and extended keyboard solo rollercoaster trip. Ahh … SBE have kindly added a bonus track “Jumbo Mumbo Jumbo”, an instrumental jam of rugged rhythms and rollicking thunder drums, of spaced-out cool ambient tone squiggle, tremulous Hammond organ and guitars flying far into space in search of new adventures.
Well yes, “End of Forever” can be very bloated, with even short songs boasting instrumental passages that go off on their own tangents and carry on as though the music exists outside time and change itself … and in a mere moment a civilisation could rise and fall over a thousand years. As this album could be SBE’s last, much of the long, lo-o-ong music can be justified, especially when it’s powered and pushed along by Vedder’s drumming. Each song is very different and packed with varying mixes of rolling doom, melodic synth lines, delicate space ambience and introspective blues rock. The album continues to improve from the middle track on towards the end and the band springs new surprises on listeners right up to the last track proper (“Orchid Annie”.) The bonus track doesn’t add much new to “End of Forever” but ends the album on a triumphant note.
SBE give everything they have on this album and it is a fitting conclusion to their time together.