Invoking as one’s band name one of the vaunted Soviet cosmonauts, and the first man to venture into space, the nomenclature Yuri Gagarin conjures up an immediate image of what their music is going to contain, a picture that this band certainly satisfies. Ethereal, thick, and weighty, these Swedes play a jam-oriented brand of stoner doom that incorporates elements of psychedelic rock, blues, and classic rock for a sound that is as simultaneously vacuous and heavy, as mindbogglingly empty and impossibly full, as the depths of space itself. Although they certainly tangle themselves in the usual trappings of stoner rock, these guys stand out because of their earworm hooks and truly spacey feel.
Even from the beginning of the group’s newest release, the full-length At The Center Of All Infinity, it’s obvious that these guys know exactly what they’re doing. Spending the first 5 and a half minutes of the song rocking out on a single riff, solos dance like solar flares over pounding drums and rumbling bass, and chimes twinkle in the background to add a sense of quasi-spiritual lightness to the whole affair. Every track has a slightly different personality: “In The Abyss” is dark and moody, bringing to mind images of imperious thunderclouds over broiling seas, the aforementioned opener, “The New Order,” hypnotizes the listener with its intense, percussive repetition, and the final track, “Oblivion,” is a suitably epic ride over mountains of reverberating guitar and driving bass, rising above vast, earthy soundscapes in flight, until, by the end of the track, the earth is long, long gone and the totality of existence is in view; the listener looks down at the marvels of the entire universe.
It’s hard for a band, especially of the doomy variety, to be this grand at the same time as being fun to listen to: there are those that manage one or the other suitably, but Yuri Gagarin is somehow both. These guys aren’t complex, and they certainly aren’t particularly subtle, but they know exactly what they want their music to be, and damned if they don’t do a fantastic job of making it so.