River Cuts Through Rock

Two vinyl items here jointly issued by the labels Twisted Flowers (from Greece) and Psychedelic Source Records (from Hungary). From the 50 or so releases already published on the Bandcamp page, these two documents might be examples of “The Hungarian psychedelic rock collective” and a growing number of bands in that part of the world who aim to give the mobsters in Kentucky and Massachusetts a run for their dollars. Both from 13 December 2021.

When River Flows Reverse (TWISTED FLOWERS TF001) gives us eight songs of acid-drenched melodic instrumentals and songs from a combo named River Flows Reverse. Most of the instruments are played by local hero Ambrus Bence (who also produced the set), joined by the singers Kriszti Benus from Lemurian Folk Songs and Lorinc Sántha from Indeed. Tibor Kovács, from Strong Deformity, adds drums. There’s also the guest trumpet player Nico Delmas from Hold Station. Guitarist Bence happens to be in several not-unrelated bands, such as Liquidacid, Satorinaut, Slight Layers, Predictions, and the already-noted Lemurian Folk Songs, and has been appearing on records since 2017.

So far one might be expecting a Hungarian take on The Bevis Frond (one-man band, heavy psychedelic influence), but Bence and crew have their own distinct voice. A track like ‘At the Gates of The Perennial’ impresses with its clarity and simplicity; the guitar tone is clear, no excessive pedal effects, and though it’s an instrumental it’s by no means an empty, meandering “jamming” session. Bence picks his notes with care, performing with calm focus over the sort of determined steady shuffle figure you might associate with Opal, Can, or even Wooden Shjips. There’s also ‘El Sendero II & III’, another long-ish piece which allows our man to stretch out into an epic “cinematic” sweep on the lines of ‘Kashmir’ replete with exotic aural touches, without feeling the need to resort to Page-Plant histrionics or bombast; on the contrary, much of the melodic topline here is “suggested” rather than stated, by combining guitar strums, percussion, and minimal lead electric guitar stabs (as fine as a knitting needle). It’s probably the banjo of Lorinc and the trumpet of Delmas here that make me think I’m hearing a reimagined soundtrack of a very dark revisionist Western movie, one where all the cowboys are skeletons and the county jail is a nuclear bunker full of toxic waste.

We should also mention the two vocalists, heard notably on ‘Leaving Shades Ahead’ and on the minor-key ‘Final Run’ with their chilly harmonies; the latter song is very like meeting Nico on her way to give a slap in the face to Grace Slick. River Flows Reverse tell us the record was made in a cold shed in the middle of a muddy forest, and seems to have been a response to the lockdown situation when all gigs were cancelled, the band members felt bored, and just started playing this music; “this is a masterpiece of our curfew recordings,” reads the press release. It is something of a relief, after a series of lockdown records being used as platforms for a pious lecture or some quasi-philosophical drivel, to hear someone honestly admit that they were simply “bored”. Tamás Tóth did the cover art, with its imaginary geography and adding to the sense this this whole LP is a travelogue, winding us down rivers and across terrains with its stately wagon-driven pace. I shan’t say that every track is essential, or even that it needs to be a double-LP, but there are enough strong examples of the band’s instrumental craft to make this a worthwhile visit.

Diviner Blues Sessions (TWISTED FLOWERS TF002), credited to Slight Layers, Predictions, also a double LP, is the more conventional of the two – a document of 12-bar blues sessions, and showcasing the lead guitar work of David Nagy; Ambrus Bence is here again, now playing bass guitar, and Mate Varga is on drums. The album was recorded in the “underground” rehearsal space used by other Hungarian bands – Satorinaut, Lemurian Folk Songs, Pilot Voyager – and more, which I mention as further evidence of this thriving psychedelic rock culture in Hungary.

Unlike Bence above, Nagy has his own more florid and discursive approach to lead guitar, quite some way from the refined guitar minimalism displayed above, and he’s not afraid of letting rip with blues-based riffing, whammy bar action, and the sort of trippy non-stop marathon playing that is so loved by fans of Jerry Garcia. However, much to his credit David Nagy doesn’t overdo it with the pedals or amplifier distortion, although there may be some wah-wah and other effects on occasion, and if you like a good clean guitar tone you should tune in to ‘Vital Verifications’ on Side D. On ‘Subconscious Takes’, the band reveal a talent for group dynamics and a reasonably well-worked-out melody that sustains a 23-minute workout, even if it’s arguable we’re not hearing much musical progress from Jeff Beck, Cream, or the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Indeed as the record continues, we start to sense that here’s a rock music culture that’s been largely untroubled by significant musical developments like punk rock or post-punk; even the harsh atonalities of Sonic Youth offer no temptations to our Hungarian lads. Unlike their psychedelic heroes though, this is a band that largely seems incapable of freaking out or transcending the form, and they stick doggedly and efficiently to the execution of the chosen task.

Enfin, competent and professional blues rock jams are the bill of fare, despite whatever esoteric strangeness and unknown journeys the cover art imagery may promise us.