Anyone with an ear to the European heavy underground knows the name Lowrider. The hype language for the Swedish quartet’s years-in-the-making sophomore album Refractions dramatically states: “Before Monolord, Graveyard, Greenleaf, and Truckfighters, one band stood at the dawn of Sweden's Kyuss-inspired desert rock movement.” Indeed, while Lowrider followed in the dusty footsteps laid by America’s desert rock progenitors Kyuss, they were laying an important foundation for the European underground all their own with their debut album Ode to Io released at the turn of the millennium. Now, 20 years later, Lowrider has at last dropped the follow-up to what is considered a stone-cold desert rock classic, and in Refractions, they further solidify their status as total legends of the genre.
As the opening hook of “Red River” rumbles through crackle and the band – comprised of bassist/vocalist Peder Bergstrand, lead guitarist/vocalist Ola Hellquist, guitarist Niclas Stålfors and drummer Andreas Eriksson – locks into a deep, swinging groove, it’s as if that 20-year gap between albums didn’t happen. Lowrider picks up on Refractions right where Ode to Io left off, and it is glorious. The fuzz-soaked guitar leads demand a pair of aviators and an open desert highway – you can almost feel the dry heat resonating through them. The soaring lead vocals of Bergstrand waft through the air like a summer heat wave and wash over in the best way possible. It’s evident over the course of the album that Lowrider are absolute masters of their craft, as exemplified by the exquisite song craft on display throughout.
Yes, as with Ode to Io, the Kyuss and Queens of the Stone Age comparisons are apparent, but make no mistake: Lowrider are progenitors of their own movement in Europe, one that arguably spawned an even larger contingent of bands of this style than here in the States. There’s a distinct warmth that bubbles to the surface on Refractions that makes it such an easy and engaging listen, even when compared to other albums in the same ilk. If you’re an audiophile, this album checks all the right boxes with a silky-smooth production and completely organic tones –– the drums especially are just so natural sounding. Kudos are owed to the band and Karl Daniel Lidén (Katatonia, Crippled Black Phoenix, Greenleaf) for making such a great sounding record. Spin it on wax if you have the chance.
Two of the album’s six cuts are updated versions of songs that appeared on Ode to Io, “Ol’ Mule Pepe” and “Sun Devil,” the latter of which was originally a short acoustic interlude. It speaks to the passion and talent of this Lowrider that they not only paid homage to their past with these two songs but also took the time to expand upon a 20-year-old idea and turn it into a full-fledged jam. Refractions comes to a close all-too-soon with “Pipe Rider,” a nearly 12-minute cosmic odyssey of pure groove, fuzz and riffs. Eriksson carries this song with a powerful money beat groove that channels the spirit of the great Bonzo of Led Zeppelin, while the track’s main vocal hook is reminiscent of something Dave Grohl would write. A spacey guitar solo courtesy of Hellquist leads into synth-laden break that highlights the introspectiveness of the song’s main melody. Again, Lowrider display complete mastery of their craft.
It would’ve been more than enough for Ode to Io to have been Lowrider’s legacy, but thankfully, they have bestowed upon the world a new desert rock gem in the form of Refractions. They pay homage to their roots while simultaneously looking ahead to a bright, bright future. It’s best time we grab those aviators – as long as Lowrider are around, we’re going to need them.