Monday, May 27, 2013

SLITE CEMENT a.k.a. CEMENT – Utmaningen (private release, 1977)

International relevance: ***
Swedish vocals

Ranked #7 on the blog's Top 25 list

UPDATE In September 2017, German label Shadoks graced "Utmaningen" with its first ever vinyl edition (400 copies), shortening the band name to Cement. The reissue comes in a heavy duty sleeve with new cover art shown below, and is pressed in thick vinyl. The reissue is very well done, and most important true to the sound of the original 1977 recording. It also comes with an insert with pics of the band and mewly written liner notes by Tobias Petterson, author of progg bible "The Encyclopedia of Swedish Progressive Music". Petterson sheds some biographical light on the band, tracing their origins back to 1973 when the fledgling band (with a different line-up) rehearsed in an abandoned girls' school in Visby, ”capital” of the Gotland island. It wasn't until 1975 that the band took it a higher level of seriousity, with singer and lead guitarist Björn Jonsson began showing his extraordinary songwriting skills, coming up with songs that easily outdid the cover songs they started out with. They played several gigs locally, including one in support of Samla Mammas Manna. ”Utmaningen” was recorded and mixed over a weekend, with tapes of the sessions sent to mainland record companies. Failing to secure a proper label deal, the band issued the MC themselves in an edition of 100 copies. The self-produced tape was sold in grocery stores and gas stations, and cost 600 SEK to make, a hefty sum back in the day. While the recordings were made in 1977, the cassette wasn't released until 1980, as shown by the picture below. (Special thanks to drummer Thomas Harlevi for providing photos of the original tape!)

 


When creative force Jonsson decided to leave, Cement disbanded soon after.

Below is the review I wrote of "Utmaningen" in 2013, years before the renewed interest in the band. Instead of re-writing it, I've decided to leave it as it was originally published.


Everybody loves a good mystery, and mysteries rarely come any better, or more frustrating for that matter, than this.

For me, it all started that day when I was browsing Youtube for Swedish progg rarities. Most of the time, it's the well known stuff that gets repeated outings. People who remember their youth in the 70's share their favourite symph rock och leftwing rememberances from their youth, with sound pictures to boot. It's all very nice, and every once in a while you can add some tidbits of information from folks who experienced it first hand. But it's rare that something entirely unknown surfaces among the numerous Youtube channels. That day, when I was digging through crates of wellknown material, it suddenly happened.

Someone had uploaded a whole album's worth of material by a band called Slite Cement (pronounced slee-teh), The most amazing thing was that not only one or two tracks by this mysterious outfit were good. They were all mindblowlingly fantastic! One track after the other revealed a band that was every bit as good as November or Life, or any of your favourite heavy Swedish 70's band you care to mention. How on earth could a band such as this has remained completely unknown almost four decades? I immediately went on a research path.

Only to throw myself into a labyrinth of dead ends.

I began thinking that maybe this was a hoax. The vocals were great. The guitars soared like monsters. The sound quality was top-notch. Everything was in its perfect place. Could this be recent day put-on by some jokers with a need to fabrciate a myth and a ”rarity”?

The name of one of the band members was T. Harlevi. With Harlevi being a less than common name in Sweden, I began googling for the guy, without knowing his first name. I figured Slite Cement came from Gotland, Sweden's biggest island, since Slite is a small city on Gotland. Tracks lead to Visby, the main city of Gotland, and one Thomas Harlevi, now drummer in a band called Lampljussymfonikerna. Could it be I was on my way debunking the mystery) I got hold of an email adress to one of the other members in Lampljussymfonikerna. I wrote him, and waited for a reply. And waited. And waited. And waited. Nothing happened. Obviously, it was just another dead end.

I kept googling, and in the mean time, I played Slite Cement to various people. All of them were surprised by the amazing quality of the music. Some of them are progg diehards themselves, but none of them had heard the name of the group, let alone the group itself.

Months go by, and all of a sudden, a short rather recent article comes my way, published in a local paper. I learnt that Slite Cement was quite popular locally, and that they had briefly reformed at one time. Could this be a breakthrough? I did another hunt for members on Facebook. I emailed one Anders Åström, but it seems that my message went unread. Given the information I found regarding Lampskensorkstern, Thomas Harlevi was ill, so I didn't want to bother him with his past, not knowing how he was doing.

I tried another Facebook-search for ”Slite Cement”, and since my last hunt for the truth, a Facebook group had been established, dedicated to the band; ”Cement (Slite)”! Despite the slightly anomalous
name for this Facebook group, it was obvious I had finally come to the right place. The group is administrated by Robin Johansson, the grandson of Cement member Björn Johansson, who sadly passed on years ago.

However, Robin couldn't help me with more specific details, but I learnt that ”Utmaningen” was recorded at local radio station Radio Gotland. Robin encouraged me to in fact email Thomas Harlevi, and I had a brief reply from him, telling me that he and bassist Stig Hjellström were the ones who released the recordings as a cassette tape. Then, our contact abruptly ended. According to an article published in the late 70's, also posted in the Facebook group, the original plan actually was releasing ”Utmaningen” on vinyl. Much later, they made CD-R copies of the recordings (possibly only to friends). No traces of a proper vinyl release, though. I haven't been able to confirm how many copies were made of the original release, but given that Slite Cement was a local act, not too many may have been made. Perhaps Hjellström and Harlevi made all the copies at home?

The Facebook page isn't that rich with information on the band, but reading an old paper clipping published in the Facebook group, the band came to life in 1973. The same article mentions 1977, the date of the recordings, as the band's high point, but they also say that the tracks recorded are ”tight, but rather uneven”. (I couldn't disagree more!) Members mentioned are Thomas Harlevi, drums; Stig Hjellström, bas; Tomas Jönsson, congas, and Björn Jansson vocals and guitar. The articles also says that Jansson could have used some better vocal technique, and they also slag him for writing lyrics that are too universal. Furthermore, the article do acknowledge Jansson's guitar playing, but adds that his solos are too long. Anyone who listens to the album can prove the writer wrong on all accounts.

Instrumentally, ”Utmaningen” is a tour de force, every bit as excellent as any of the better known heavy rock album from the Swedish 70's. Jansson is, at that, a better singer than many of his peers, with a powerful yet not overwrought delivery. As far as the songs go, there's not one single weak track in this collection. Had ”Utmaningen” been released as an LP in 1977, it would have fetched four digit sums today, counting in euros and dollars. The album is a true masterpiece, and it's a criminal shame that it's been kept in obscurity for all those decades. If there is one album deserving a proper reissue, then this is the one. It's unspeakably unfair that people must either go all Sherlock, or stumble upon by some weird chance to find out about it. It seems that ”Utmaningen” is stuck in an eternal loop of obscurity.



4 comments:

  1. Very nice! You´re right! They were very good and the sound is marvelous for its time! As good as anything from that period. Thanks for posting those songs.

    cheers

    Tarcísio Moura
    Belo Horizonte - MG - Brazil

    ReplyDelete
  2. I put the band in touch with Transubstans Records years ago, when I first heard them. They started discussions, but unfortunately nothing came out of it. Not sure why.

    ReplyDelete
  3. The 8 songs listed above will be released on vinyl in Sept-2017.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Its out now .limited to 400 ex on vinyl at shadok musik.

    ReplyDelete