Even the cryptic album title Kings Under the Sand can’t throw the listener off the scent of this one. These German jerks are talking about dead pharaohs. I mean, those are the kings buried under the sand. Thought they could fool us? Guess again, mister(s). Although, they might not have been trying to hide it when you consider the cover art. There are some pyramids there (the Egyptian ones) and also a totally rad-but-idolatrous bird/God there. And what’s she up to? Oh, just watching the tops of a few select pyramids getting beamed up into outer space. The alien overlords seem greedy as an endless line of people in chains march towards the pyramid awaiting their chance to be beamed up and probed. And let’s be honest, not everyone would be against that.
The point is, aliens can be major dickholes and they might just come down here, chain us up two-by-two and take us to another planet in the galaxy, or just probe us on their ship. The worst part? We won’t be able to rock the fuck out to bands like Pulver anymore. Unless, of course, the alien-dudes are also into sweet rock and roll. Which, let’s be honest, they must be! Why else would they have such huge eyes and colorful ships?
Judging by their photographs Pulver can’t be more than 13 years old. But they sound like seasoned veterans clad in tight denim and leather, ready to fight their battles with riffs, power chords and solos. Their vocals heralding the call to arms in a gruff, whiskey-soaked hurrah. When finished, expect these hot-pant cladded hooligans to throw a greasy, muscular leg over their best motorcycle before speeding off into a glorious eagle-specked sunset usually reserved for the likes of Bob Seger.
The German quintet was scooped up by a label quite early in their career. With only a self-titled, three-track EP under their belt, it seems early for a jump to such an accredited label but Pulver certainly have the songwriting, and solo, chops to back it up. Melodic guitar harmonies, often used to bridge two sections, call to mind early Iron Maiden while the vocals lean towards the other English greats Motörhead strapping Pulver with an NWOBHM label despite their distinctly Bavarian background. Also like the greats of old, Pulver features a drum/guitar set of brothers (Danny and Alex Oster respectively) which, despite having no sonic connection to Van Halen, is just pretty cool.
The main riffs for the title track and “Phantom Hawk” (the bands mascot) reveal just how powerful dealing in simplicity can be for Pulver. Each is constructed similarly with a palm-muted power chord bouncing around a simple blues I, IV, V. Thus, it’s the rhythm and attitude with which the guitarists (the aforementioned Alex Oster joined by Lukas Kunkel) are able to seamlessly blend their attack as one that separates Pulver from the bottomless ocean of heavy metal impersonators. The guitars appear on the same motorcycle as if riding upon the same seat. They are always together, always complimentary and absolutely never out of sync. They are like a battle-tested synchronized swimming duo ready to transition from crane position to side fishtail directly into flamingo followed by a platform lift.
Aside from their rhythmic abilities these lads can shred when necessary. The tracks referenced above both provide a ripping solo experience marked not only by skill but by emotional playfulness marked primarily by bluesy bends and rapid decay after quickly descending attacks. Their expertise lies not in quickness, trills or sweeps but rather in a two-pronged attack relying primarily on the duo’s ability to evoke bodily movement from emotion. Hips sway and necks bend into the notes as clever tension is tested before cathartic resolution.
While the guitars certainly anchor Pulver, the drum and bass combo of Danny Oster and Gabor Eichstätter are not to be shrugged off. Whether a moderately-paced tune like Qarînah, an arena-style anthem like “Blacksmith’s Lament” or the fast-paced “Phantom Hawk” the duo have no inclination of separating keeping the bottom end thick (“thicc” as Ryan would creepily say) and the rhythm thrusting. With their song format relying almost entirely on traditional rock and roll formatting it’s crucial that their rhythm section be able to not only hang but stand out when necessary, Pulver are fortunate that they can deliver.
With all that going in their favor, the shiniest part of the play thing that is Pulver is vocalist Dave Fröhlich. Without rehashing the particulars of each track, suffice it to say that Fröhlich, with the help of a little reverb cocktail, sounds like a man twice his senior. His gravelly voice slides saucily down bluesy grace notes and into the mainstream of verses. His choruses showcase a voice that uses power to make up for range in a manner that gives a simple hair-flip to any critics. But mostly, his voice is provocative drawing an emotional, physical response from the listener—a desire to get closer, perhaps inside, the music.
Pulver might have room to grow but Phantom Hawk has more than enough heft to keep you satisfied until their next effort. The quintet might think about adding more diverse pacing on their next album. Perhaps they want a bit more grit on some tracks using a more rapid fire approach to the drumming. Perhaps they want to take advantage of their vocal talent and traditional song formatting and lean into Motörhead’s more ripping later-era tracks (see “Down on Me”). Regardless of their slight variations and compositional choices for their upcoming endeavors, it’s going to be very hard for Pulver to outright fail given the vocal talent of Dave Fröhlich.