Album Review of Steinar Karlsen: Destination Venus
Norway’s Steinar Karlsen knows his way around a guitar or two. He mixes a number of different styles together to create a unique brand of spacey and cinematic-based instrumental music. Picture an early Pink Floyd meets The Ventures mash-up for a taste of this super Scandinavian’s sonic vision.
All twelve tracks seem to tell a story that touch on various aspects of a journey through outer space. The album opens with “The Goodbye”’s slow and brooding minor key sounding Mediterranean blues. Right from the get-go Karlsen demonstrates impressive flamenco-sounding flourishes on electric guitar.
The fuzz-toned electric riffs of “Night Flight” blend elements of jazz and rock. It contains a meaty industrial strength-infused melody supported by spastic drums and a loose jam feel.
Karlsen shows his semi-classical side utilizing exotic modes and motifs in “The Karman Line.” Martin Langlie employs tasteful dynamics and snare-driven rhythms that really propel the piece into the band Focus territory.
“Weightless” is an interesting segue into experimentation that sets up a nice interlude for “Picnic on the Moon.” As the title suggests, this has a bright and light-hearted feel to it. The melody leans toward vintage surf rock, with modern overtones like Los Straightjackets.
The band goes on caravan for the exotic and cool “Space Camel.” The tune has a symphonic/gypsy vibe, with an obvious Middle Eastern quality.
“Monsters” swings as if Les Paul and Link Wray met and wanted to form a band. Eerie Theremin-like warbly saw sounds transport you to some bad B-movie sci-fi soundtrack music.
“The Trip” features really dense and animated drums and percussion. As the title indicates, you feel like you’re on an interstellar journey. The Farfisa-like organ gives it a cool retro feel that rips in an open and funky manner.
Another brief interlude called “Red Skies” leads into the signature track “Venus.” It’s got a catchy and danceable groove that spotlights a smooth breakdown between guitar and bass.
The mood alters slightly for the mellow “A Billion Stars.” Karlsen crafts a very lyrical and rich melody that harkens to one of Jeff Beck’s early instrumental fusion albums.
The voyage to Venus is concluded with a track called “Acid Rain.” It is an experimental Hendrix-like piece that dramatically pivots to an abrupt drum-induced finale.
Steinar Karlsen has released a successful series of guitar-oriented instrumental albums. This is certainly one of his best, with a playful and colorful blend of earnest, pop-induced melodies, thoughtful experimentation and brilliant musicianship. The perfect soundtrack for your resident billionaire’s next rocket ride through space.