White Manna’s previous album Come Down Safari was an almost lilting psychedelic trip to the outer reaches, like a 1968 Nepalese bhang shop of lysergic loveliness that wasn’t a million miles a way from bands like Lamp Of The Universe in its recreation of bedroom Ganges travelling. What White Manna have delivered with Pan, though, is a totally different beast.If Come Down Safari was a George Harrison-style trip to inner consciousness, then Pan is the Rolling Stones’ Altamont gig delivered via the cosmic brain of Hawkwind. The title track starts the album with a swirl of space rock rocket madness that also has a greasy trucker’s smell of gasoline about it. The riff and the rolling steady beat and fluttering synths give the track a Space Ritual sound, but somehow has a more earthy feel. It is pure and simple cosmic rock played with the volume turned to eleven. “Dunes I” has the kind of kick-arse Stooges ’69 sound that menaces from the streets. However, here the vocals are swathed in oceans of reverb as the pounding chords hurtle towards their racetrack finish line. The sound wraps itself around your speakers in a mush that’s so thick you could almost wade through it. The guitar solo is drenched in echo and the overall feel reminded me of early Thee Hypnotics records from the late ’80s. This is psychomania music kicked into gear and hurtling towards you, and as the vocals pick up pace and begin to scream you know your’e heading for a head on collision guitar solo.
“Dunes II”’ starts off more restful in a desert blues kind of way, its drums rolling over lone highway guitars while “Planet Caravan”-style vocals intone over the top. The song starts to head out towards its destination like a drug-drenched biker off to The Devil’s Hole to help start the apocalypse. It’s a masterful slice of stoned-out blues that makes you think of clear blue skies and the drifting dunes. All this and a wonderful guitar solo keep you drifting down the lost road to nowheresville.“Evil” is a prime, punked-up Detroit ’69 rocker. Like The MC5 going kerb crawling with The Stones, it’s a dirty street straight from the heart of city. The riff is somewhat monumental in its basic raw-edged form that makes it become almost trance-like at times; this is kicking your heels on the sidewalk, dope runs at midnight kind of music. The vocals chant right out of the garbage dumpster that belongs to The Church of Satan. It’s a wonderful track and the kind of song you want to berate yourself for not having the balls to write.
“Beta Travellers” starts with warbling synth over a tribal beat as the guitar moves slowly in to give us some jagged-sounding chords. Here the vocals have a hint of menace to them; the track creepy-crawls around your room and moves furniture; its riff pounds around your speakers as a feeling of dread slowly takes over everything. From what I thought was going to be a straight-ahead space rocker at the beginning, the track moves into something with haunted undertones as it ends on a sinister tone.“E Shra” begins with the sound like waves lapping on a beach put through some kind of psychedelic filter. The guitar flutters around notes and there’s a feel of “Set The Controls”-style Pink Floyd. This brings the mood of the album down to a less frenetic pace for a while. When the drums start their steady beat and the bass rumbles around, you know we are going to start heading out on the cosmic motorway; the guitar plays massive chords and the beat falls into more of motorik vibe. Again echo and wibbling space synths flood out in a wash over the listener as they are transported deep within their mind’s eye to a drifting planet of multi-coloured madness. It’s the kind of sound that wouldn’t be out of place on an Ash Ra Tempel album from the early Seventies and a nice change of atmosphere to end the album — although there are two extra tracks on the CD and download versions, including a live cover of Hawkwind’s “Master of the Universe”.
White Manna are certainly one of those bands to keep an eye on. They push their sound in different directions with each new release (and sometimes even on the same album) and that’s certainly to be commended. Yes, they are freaked out fuzz stoner mayhem, but they are also a lot more besides.