An Airbag is a device designed to save your life or reduce injury in the event of a collision.
Can music save your life? Who knows?
But life does does bring us in to collisions with all sorts of unexpected events and we try to find ways to survive or at least lessen the impacts. From the sound and themes of Bjørn Riis’ second solo album, ‘Forever Comes to an End’ , it does seem evident that perhaps life has been impacting upon him deeply, reflected in an emotional release. Emotion is not a word usually associated with the sweeping, glacial Floydian soundscapes so beloved of Airbag, but Bjørn Riis has successfully created a more personalised album, infused with fragile feelings and delicate melodies alongside his trademark architectural sonic structures.
Bjørn Riis is the main songwriter and lead guitarist of the Norwegian Progressive rock band, Airbag, and that background is very apparent in the style of this album, although title track Forever Comes to an End does open the album in furious and heavy fashion, exploding into action immediately with Henrik Fossum of Airbag pounding out insistent driving drums. The theme of broken relationships and loss, with musings on the tension between Love and Hate are starkly focused upon in this crunching number:
‘Fear, Do you Fear, Do you feel the hate…. But I’m scared to let you go out of my life…’
Bjørn Riis contrasts the darker hard riffing passages, reminiscent of Sabbath’s Toni Iommi, with occasional lighter, less intense shafts of musical sunlight, framing impassioned pleas to stay. Vocally Riis delivers this song, and the whole album, with a sense of beautiful melancholy and yearning. This is powerful stuff in more ways than one. The brief bleak interlude soundscape of Absence atmospherically takes us to the emotive shores of The Waves, seguing with Ocean sounds as Riis intones mournfully :
‘I’ve been down for too long, I almost drowned,
There was darkness all around and it pulled me down to the deep’
In The Waves there is a fragility and emotional intensity in Riis’ voice, akin to Tim Bowness of No-Man, which gives this album a sense of honest emotion and humanity, born from personal experiences, and moves parts of this album away from the now predictable trademark Floyd style so successfully produced by Airbag on their albums. The Waves wistfully fades as the tide of the song recedes with echoes of the cinematic soundscapes of Thomas Newman film scores.
Instrumental Getaway slowly builds and builds, with layers of guitars across a sweeping canvas on synths, until a break of echoing keys and percussion is glided over by an icy guitar line. The driving rock theme returns with added wah-wah guitar, outstanding drums and riffs that more than hint at Porcupine Tree, that all add up to quite a thrilling ride. Calm shimmers with delicate beauty with a simple piano motif and acoustic guitars over lain with flute sounding keys, and then the whole piece eventually drifts away in to the distance, virtually acting as a beautiful introduction into Winter, the centrepiece of the whole album.
A gentle opening adorned with lilting acoustic guitar, over lain with subtle, tasteful electric guitar dashes in the vein of Marillion’s Steve Rothery, express the contradictory emotional forces of resentment and forgiving, hate and love…
“Now she’s gone, but I still want her here, She stole my heart and she turned it into stone…”
This remarkable piece develops with increasing intensity as Riis builds with beautiful musical textures and Sichelle Mcmeo Aksum adds a female delicacy to the vocals, alongside Riis. The inevitable Gilmour like soaring lead guitar parts are used sparingly but effectively. Riis’ guitar is the main ‘voice’ in Winter as he uses it intuitively to emotionally express probably what words sometimes cannot say about broken relationships. A lovely bass line with uncanny echoes of Porcupine Tree’s classic ‘Dark Matter’ underpins the gradual elegiac disintegration of this great song.
A simple but touching piano melody by Simen Valldal Johannessen introduces Riis’ finely judged emotional vocal in the final heart-breaking song Where Are You Now. Flute like keyboards float over a gradually building theme before Riis emotively illustrates this emotional song with a glistening, gliding guitar solo. The song and album finishes as Riis’ fragile vocals lead to the simple stark beauty of the opening piano motif. Heart break seldom sounds so beautiful.
There will be inevitable comparisons by some to later Pink Floyd, and fans of that band will find much to admire and touch them in this album. Sonically the production is perfect – this drips with feeling and atmosphere. Some of the songs would also not sound out of place on an Airbag album, which is inevitable considering Riis’ main role in that band. However, there is much more to ‘Forever Comes to an End’ than a Floyd pastiche or just an Airbag album by another name. Riis has really put his heart on the line on this release and such emotion exudes from the imaginative music and heartfelt lyrics on this intensely personal album.
Will this album save your life?
Very probably not, but like an Airbag ‘Forever Comes to an End’ may very well stop you getting a headache (!!) and will certainly help you deal with the collisions and impacts of what life throws at us.
(Photos of Bjørn by Anita Stostad)
Released 19th May 2017