Mental Overdrive: Cycls
That the street date for Per Martinsen's ninth Mental Overdrive album is December 21, 2013 isn't a random detail: he purposefully chose the date for being the so-called “one year anniversary of the end of the world,” with December 21, 2012 having been identified as the “Mayan end date.” His choice of title, then, can be read as his desire to emphasize the cyclical nature of existence, that despite historical determinations of end dates, the universe defiantly carries on, seemingly indifferent to any and all projected deadlines.
Such a wizened perspective might be expected from someone who's spent a good many years on the planet, and the currently Tromsø-based Martinsen assuredly qualifies. His first release under the Mental Overdrive moniker, specifically the 12000 AD EP for R&S Records, appeared all the way back in 1990. In the years since, he's issued material on Smalltown Supersound, Prins Thomas's Full Pupp, and his own Love OD Communications, on which Cycls appears.
With some awareness of the forty-two-minute album's conceptual background at hand, it becomes easier to make sense of the opening track's tone and title. “A fireball, it is red, the sky looks black about it” certainly tells a story on its own terms, but musically its militaristic character clearly conveys an apocalyptic vibe as well. Dread-fueled synth patterns darken the sky and martial drums hammer out merciless fills in this bleak soundtrack for the end of the world. But Cycls is by no means an unremittingly gloomy affair; if anything, it picks itself up and dusts itself off the moment the opener's finished to then shift its attention to a clubby series of grooving house tunes.
“Trollhunter” exudes a bit of gleeful, goblin-esque cheek in its snappy strut and synth melodies, the latter of which almost sound like they're laughing, as if to mock those foolish enough to fall for any end-of-the-world scenario. The hellacious house anthem “Sunstorm,” on the other hand, roars with a jubilant spirit whose message seems to be that if the final curtain is going to be drawn, we might as well spend our last moments in a state of joyful abandon.
There's no shortage of top-notch material on offer, including “Damascus,” a lovely and heavily emotive slice of melancholy house whose haunting melodies ooze a slight Once Upon a Time in the West flavour, and for contrast, there's the seizure-gripped writhings of “Quarks” and the bleepy techno chatter and hot-wired lurch of “Systems.” As if to ensure that a message of affirmation is the one the listener takes away from the album, Martinsen follows the synthesizer-heavy requiem for “Liverpool Street” with “Beaches,” a harmonious end-piece whose synth chords and jacking bounce radiate positivity.