Review – Bjørn Riis – Coming Home – by Progradar

Haunting and Melancholic are two words that can definitely be used to describe the songs that Norwegian musician Bjørn Riis has delivered on his last two solo releases, ‘Lullabies In A Car Crash’ and ‘Forever Comes To An End’. There is a fragile beauty and poignancy to Bjørn’s songwriting that gives it a captivating, hypnotic attraction.

Airbag co-founder, songwriter and lead guitarist, Bjørn will release his new mini album titled ‘Coming Home’ next month on Karisma Records. His unique guitar playing has a centre role, with soaring leads and beautiful textures.

“I’ve always felt that the guitar is an extension of me and a more comfortable and natural way of expressing myself musically” – Bjørn explains.

“I’m really happy and proud of the vocals this time and the duet with me and (Norwegian singer) Sichelle on Drowning is very emotional” – Bjørn continues.

Lyrically, ‘Coming Home’ deals with the fear and insecurity of being forgotten by the people around you. You imagine all these dramatic scenes and wonder if you’ll ever be missed if something really was to happen.

‘Coming Home’ also features a newly recorded semi-acoustic version of the title track of Bjørn’s 2014 solo debut, ‘Lullabies in a Car Crash’ (Karisma Records). “Lullabies just fit right into the mood and theme of this album. It’s almost become a new song. It’s very honest and moving” – Bjørn explains. The track features Airbag and Bjørn Riis Band touring guitarist Ole Michael Bjørndal on lead guitar.

‘Coming Home’ is almost like a story where the scene is set by the brooding and darkly hued opening instrumental track Daybreak. A real slow burner, it takes a while to get moving with just a building sound that reminds you of a bleak and windswept vista before the deliberate, musing guitar fills the soundscape with a contemplative feel.

A sparse acoustic guitar washes over at the start of title track Coming Home, Bjørn’s slightly faltering vocal is full of emotion as this elegant track continues to gently lull you with its charms. A more laid back feel than the previous album emanates from every note and word as the music seems to meander towards an unseen destination. There’s a slight pause before Bjørn delivers a superb, note perfect guitar solo filled with passion and longing, one that soars high and free as a bird. As the song comes to a close I feel some kind of nostalgic yearning that I just can’t explain.

The wistful, contemplative tone continues with the fantastic Drowning, a song filled with feelings of loss and recrimination but one that still has a sense of wonder about it. The calm and serenity of the guitar and Bjørn’s vocal that open the track can’t shake an underlying aura of foreboding. Sichelle’s vocals add a fragile grace to the harmonies and the music gains added intensity, the guitar giving urgency and desperation to proceedings until it breaks like waves on immovable rocks. Sichelle takes us towards the end with a voice full of regret, the guitar adding a somber accompaniment as we come to a close.

Tonight’s The Night is a haunting (there you go, I told you!) instrumental that has you on the edge of your seat from the first note with its insistent piano and tense , ill at ease mood. There is no let up from beginning to end and I found myself visibly relaxing as the song came to an end.

The acoustic version of ‘Lullabies in a Car Crash’ unsurprisingly has a lighter tone to the other songs, a sepia-tinged piece of music underpinned by a wonderful acoustic guitar. The vocals are gossamer light giving the whole song a 70’s carefree spirit before a subtly powerful guitar solo gets under your skin and takes you to a place of utmost calm and reflection, without a care in the world. A remarkably honest reworking of the original track, it really is like a completely new song.

‘Coming Home’ feels like a very personal collection of songs, full of emotion, haunting and charismatic yet sparser and darker than Bjørn’s previous solo releases. Like all the best music, it needs to be listened to with little or no distractions to enjoy it in all its highly impressive glory. Bjørn Riis is one of those musicians who just gets better and better with each release, highly recommended.

Released 23rd February 2018

Pre-orders open soon at  Bjørn’s website below:

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Review – Bjørn Riis – Forever Comes To An End – by Leo Trimming

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

Order ‘Forever Comes To An End direct from the artist (Europe)

Order ‘Forever Comes To AN End from Burning Shed (UK)

Review – Airbag – Disconnected – by Progradar

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“To send light into the darkness of men’s hearts – such is the duty of the artist.” – Robert Schumann

“Mournful and yet grand is the destiny of the artist.” – Franz Liszt

I like music that is written with love and dedication, not music that is written for the sole purpose of making some fat cats rich. I love music that has meaning, substance and aspiration, that has come from deep in the heart and soul of the artists creating it.

Music moves me, succors me and mirrors my life through good and bad. I would be fair to say that, if it wasn’t for music, I wouldn’t be the rounded person I am today (no sniggering at the back thank you!).

There are certain bands that have delivered a new piece of wonder at exactly the right time, just when I need it to get through a difficult period. One of those was the Norwegian progressive rock band Airbag when they released their 2013 album ‘The Greatest Show On Earth’.

Their music is perhaps best described as scenic, epic rock or, as legendary Classic Rock Magazine said: “Reminiscent of a late-nite, laid-back Pink Floyd”. However you look at it, that record helped me immensely and I went on to say in my review:

“My life’s journey through the world of music has often been enjoyable and I have ploughed many depths and crested many rises over the years whilst searching for the music I love. I can honestly say that it is not often where  I am moved to call a piece of music near perfection or feel that it has had an actual impact on my life but, in Airbag’s The Greatest Show on Earth, both those statements ring very true.”

So, it won’t be difficult for you to imagine my interest being exceedingly piqued when I was notified of a new album coming from this amazing band in 2016…

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Airbag was formed in 2004 by 5 class mates from Oslo, Bjørn Riis (lead guitar), Asle Tostrup (lead vocals & rhythm guitar), Jørgen Hagen (keyboards), Anders Hovdan (bass) and Henrik Fossum (drums). The band released 3 EPs over the next 4 years before 2009 saw the release of ‘Identity’, the album consisting, mainly, of tracks released on 2 of the EPs.

The further release of 2011’s ‘All Rights Removed’ saw the band gain a solid following and reputation among both fans and the press which was cemented by their most successful release to date, the previously mentioned ‘Greatest Show On Earth’. Airbag has also become a solid live-act playing at several major festivals and as support and in double-bills with bands like Marillion, Anathema, Pineapple Thief, Riverside, RPWL and Gazpacho.

Of the new album the band said:

“‘Disconnected’ features six songs reflecting on the theme of alienation between the individual and society, what society expects from us as individuals, and our resultant failure to live up to those expectations. Each of the six compositions depicts the state of feeling on ‘the outside’ and out of touch with oneself and those around us.

Musically, we’ve explored new sounds and ventured deeper into creating soundscapes, textures and dramatic arrangements.”

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(Photo by Anne-Marie Forker.)

Opening track Killer sounds very U2 like with the chiming guitar riff and metronomic drums driving it along, illusive keyboards adding a sophisticated backdrop. Bjørn Riis’ guitar is subtle in its delivery, stylish and urbane before Asle Tostrup’s instantly recognisable voice takes up the story. Full of emotion and sentiment, it washes over you with its velveteen aura. I find myself immediately drawn into this smart and urbane soundscape, enticed by the smooth brilliance of the music. Bjørn delivers a gorgeous solo, full of pent up passion and elation, that makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck before the track segues into an instrumental section of depth and empathy that transfixes you on the spot.  Anders Hovdan and Henrik Fossum provide a rhythm section par-excellence, unobtrusive and yet paramount to Airbag’s signature sound and the dynamic and powerful close to the track is superb with Bjørn’s spine tingling guitar hypnotising you.

Bjorn

Broken begins in a much more subdued fashion, a lonely acoustic guitar providing the plaintive, sparse soundtrack. It is quite mesmerising and that feeling intensifies as Asle’s wistfully mournful voice joins the fray. A wandering guitar note and delicate drums join with Jørgen’s ghostly keyboards to paint a refined scene before you. The tempo increases and the guitar seems to cry a lament before the vocals add a real heartfelt timbre to this rarefied song. I sat myself down in near darkness with my headphones on and a glass of red wine to listen to this track and it suited the mood perfectly, sombre and contemplative. The unhurried grace and delicate wonder that this track imbues leaves you caught in a moment, unable and unwilling to move on, as Bjørn’s dreamy yet mournful and meditative guitar takes centre stage. Seven minutes of pure grace comes to a somber close and you let the silence envelop you, secure in your solitude.

Asle

Darkly mysterious sounds open Slave in an enigmatic and cryptic fashion. A slow building and slow burning introduction that puts you on edge before Asle’s vocals add an even more secretive edge to proceedings. A deliciously cabalistic guitar tone from Bjørn sets your teeth on edge and the slow, monotonous nature of the drums does nothing to calm the nerves. Like a supine irresistible force this song continues to seduce your darker side and drag you into its open arms, enslaving your body and soul. The deviant wandering guitar spirals around your mind, indoctrinating you with its hidden mantra leaving you unsettled and yet oddly satisfied. You wouldn’t willingly invite it into your embrace but are strangely comforted when you do.

Anders

A nostalgic and nomadic tone envelops the opening to Sleepwalker, unhurried and stress free, the delicate acoustic guitar and lush keys add to the artful drums and bass to provide a perfect backing to Asle’s humble and unpretentious voice to enshroud everything with a feeling of calm and composed serenity. Periodically the song blossoms with the power of the understated guitar adding sheen to the earnest vocals, a perfect counterpoint. Once again Bjørn lavishes a truly emotive guitar solo upon us, one that seems to flood your very being with its passion and fervour and the track closes out with a composed and unruffled ending.

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Disconnected is the longest track on the album and this title track is full of complexity, elegance and composure. The introduction leaves an aura of anticipation before the tentative vocals increase the expectancy. A compelling and persuasive chorus adds a further note of desire and hunger as this deeply perceptive and profound song reveals its hidden depths and convoluted layers. Every musician is on top form but Bjørn seems to give his guitar a life of its own as it entrances and entices with its rapturous delights. This marvelous musical mosaic takes you on a journey of enlightenment and discovery where you find something new and different at every turn. The final guitar solo is bewitching and addictive with every note and you are left with a massive feeling of fulfillment when this stunning song finally comes to a close.

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The final track on the album, Returned, seems to take Steven Wilson at his best and improve on it. A really beautiful melody with jangling guitars and a dreamlike aura, it has an inherent nostalgic finesse and celestial allure to it. The vocals are heartfelt and sincere and the music just seems to wash over you to leave you in a state of hushed tranquility and peacefulness. This is songwriting that moves you and affects your very being and is a wonderful way to close out this outstanding musical release.

Once again Airbag have produced a collection of songs that have moved me to my very core. Every word they write has an inherent meaning and every note is in the perfect place. This is music for the soul that has come from the soul and, as such, will stay with you forever. A complex, absorbing and enthralling fifty minutes that you must have in your life as it will be so better for it.

Released 10th June 2016.

Pre-order ‘Disconnected’ from Airbag