Review – The Flower Kings – Islands – By John Wenlock-Smith

I have a very strange relationship with The Flower Kings, even though I have all their albums, a few live CDs, and a compilation (along with a few of Roine Stolt’s solo releases and the Anderson Stolt epic of a few years ago). Despite that body of recorded works somehow I’ve never really connected with them in the way I have with other bands. I have never really got them as a band, despite many attempts to do so on my part, I appreciate the music they make and odd tracks do resonate but, overall, it passes me by for some strange reason.

This new album, ‘Islands’, is an interesting one in that it has been put together in this strange year of lockdowns that the world struggles to come to terms with, aiming to beat and conquer and defeat this dreadful virus that has caused so much havoc, both to individuals yet also on the world’s economies. The band have used this odd time to craft a double album of predominantly shorter songs, 21 over 2 CDs with a common theme of isolation and separation. 

They had intended to follow up last years ‘Waiting For Miracles’ album in 2021 but world events made that difficult as all touring activities were curtailed so that left them free to crack on creating new music together, even if remotely. The group line-up remains predominantly the same but with Rob Townsend from Steve Hackett’s band appearing on two tracks adding sax and woodwind to the music. So, how does this one fare?

Well it has taken many listens over several weeks to get some understanding of it all, in all honesty I still have not been able to make up my mind about it all.

The album starts in typical prog style, Racing With Blinders On opening with swirls of keyboards before the ever energetic bass of Jonas Reingold kicks in, propelling the music alongside washes of synths and some very fluid guitar lines from Roine Stolt that run throughout the whole track. With many symphonic textures and soundscapes, it paints a very impressive opening track.

Second track From The Ground has a funky rhythm with a clarinet sounding keyboard and an ethereal vocal from Roine, the song is brief and very positive and uplifting with more great guitar lines flowing through the music. The musicianship on this album is off the scale, everyone is playing at the top of their game on these concise yet impressive pieces. There are no long drawn out pieces on this album and somehow this makes the music easier, almost more accessible somehow and that is a good thing.

This is a really good strong release made under difficult situations and yet it really works well as further shown by the impressive third piece, Black Swan, that has a very Brian May like guitar tone with some very tasty guitar fills from Roine.Possibly my favourite track so far, it is a really great song and, with great support from the rest of the band, it really is a statement of intent. In fact, the more I listen, the more I hear, there is a lot going on in these tracks.

Morning News is a more subdued track with a real spring in its step, a rather jolly little song that, while brief, does not overstay its welcome. It is an interesting song lyrically and the chorus is a strong one that suits the song well. Broken is another stunner with a tremendous drive to it and fabulous music and energy to match. There’s a great guitar solo from Roine and some great keyboard textures from Zach Kamins, who really flies on this song, simply glorious.

Then we are into a series of significantly shorter tracks; Goodbye Outrage, Journeyman (instrumental)and Tangerine before a real epic in the nine minutes plus of Solaris which opens with gentle keyboards setting an almost triumphant tone and Roine’s epic guitar coming into play briefly before a gentler percussive keyboard sets a base for Roine to ascend, which he does again briefly. The sound is a little denser on this song but ultimately it is another example of the undeniable talents that this band unquestionably possess, offering to the listener a fine example of modern day progressive rock. This is the best song so far and certainly shows that this album is one that you should look out for and listen to as it is a fine distillation of all the Flower Kings represent. Great song writing, superlative playing and tones, all combined to make an outstanding musical statement that is beguiling, accessible and very impressive indeed.

Heart Of the Valley follows, another gentler piece with great vocals and music working together to create something of worth and value. Man In A Two Piece Suit sounds like one of those instrumentals that Carlos Santana used to do so well, mixing both melody and taste in equal measures. This is a real tour de force of guitar tones and subtlety, all presented together to make a sublime, beautifully crafted piece of music and is a great ending to the first cd.

Disc two opens with the beauty of All I Need Is Love, its universal sentiments must appeal to many listeners who have found themselves adrift and at odds with the madness of this virus affected world. This song acts as a sort of centre of our thoughts and feeling and the realisation that all we actually do need is love in these strange discordant days in which we find ourselves. This calming track is a tonic for us all to aspire to and this is a most worthy song that reaches out to everyone. A New Species is a lengthy instrumental with highly charged moods and textures and some fine ensemble and solo passages from all, especially keyboard player Zach Kamins. His work is simply fabulous on this track as is the walking bass line of Jonas Reingold, offset against the fine guitar of Roine Stolt. Another great track, Northern Lights (not the Renaissance track!) follows with a good opening section showcasing the wordless vocals of Hasse Froberg before becoming vocalised another long song but it was a bitinconsequential song to these ears and sadly did not do anything for me really.

Hidden Angles is a brief instrumental interlude before the second song with Rob Townsend is revealed. Serpentine features Rob’s saxall over the track along with some highly effective bass lines that really add to the dynamics of this excellent little number that ends on some fine ad-libbed sax lines. Looking For Answers is a fine ensemble piece with some sterling guitar lines from Roine leading the piece. Once again I can hear Santana type guitar tones that punctuate the song, adding real emphasis and dynamics to an extraordinarily strong musical piece.

Telescope is an interesting song, very atmospheric with haunting tones used to great effect, along with more juicy guitar lines that set the music tone well. This song has a really fine fluid guitar break too, in fact, I must comment on the excellence of the guitar playing throughout this album as it really is very strong and really adds to the whole experience the album offers.

I would say for me this is one of the most accessible Flower Kings albums that it has been my experience to enjoy and this is one of the first that I have really ‘got’, as it were. There is a lot of music on the two discs but this is countered by it conciseness and its lack of sprawling tunes. For me at least this is one of their better albums and this new approach certainly seems to work as the results are remarkable. Satisfying and ultimately very enjoyable indeed, I really have no hesitation in Recommending this album to all.

Released 30th October 2020

Order from Burning Shed here:

https://burningshed.com/the-flower-kings_islands_2cd

THE FLOWER KINGS – announce October 30th as release date for new double album “Islands”

On October 30th, 2020 progressive rockers THE FLOWER KINGS will release their new double album “Islands” on InsideOutMusic, just a year after the group’s much celebrated “Waiting For Miracles”.

Due to the Covid-19-pandemic, the album comes out quite a bit sooner than originally planned as the band’s creative mastermind Roine Stolt explains:

“All shows and festivals were cancelled and the future didn’t really ‘unfold’ itself like we had hoped. To sit out the pandemic with no activities was not an option for us! We can’t be stopped by an evil virus! So, with members living in the USA, Italy, Austria and Sweden, the only way to realize this album, was to use the magic of the ‘net’, sending files around the globe and start building what now has become a mammoth-sized double album of 21 songs.”

The 92 minutes long “Islands” features artwork by legend Roger Dean (Yes, Asia, Gentle Giant, Greenslade, Uriah Heep) and all trademark sounds and melodies, the band is renowned for. From vintage keys to epic guitar solos, from odd drum patterns to symphonic elements, THE FLOWER KINGS present a dynamic and complex record that is bold, bombastic and beautiful.

Stolt reveals the following about the concept of the record:

“The theme of the album is isolation – so the title ‘Islands’ felt like a most relevant title – as much of it circulates around isolation, loss, and the fear of being disconnected. Having to face this unexpected pandemic will leave marks on each one of us for a very long time and to lose loved ones forces us to soldier on, learning and growing a stronger version of ourselves in this fragile cycle of life.

Musically; the aim has been to  create a bigger grand epic piece out of 21 songs – so they are all connected with themes that weave in and out – like the way ‘Sgt Peppers’ or ‘The Lamb’ were built on shorter songs,  but yet linked. So view it as one mega song or as 21 separate pieces, it is all  tailored to be listened to as one piece – like a cinematic 90min long ride.”

Disc One (49:40)

1 – Racing With Blinders On 4:24

2 – From The Ground 4.02

3 – Black Swan 5:53

4 – Morning News 4:01

5 – Broken 6:38

6 – Goodbye Outrage 2:19

7 – Journeyman 1:43

8 – Tangerine 3:51

9 – Solaris 9:10

10 – Heart Of The Valley 4:18

11- Man In A Two Peace Suit 3:21 

Disc Two (43:01)

1 – All I Need Is Love 5:48

2 – A New Species 5:45

3 – Northern Lights 5:43

4 – Hidden Angles 0:50

5 – Serpentine 3:52

6 – Looking For Answers 4:30

7 –Telescope 4:41

8 – Fool’s Gold 3:11

9 – Between Hope & Fear 4:29

10 – Islands 4:12

“Islands” will be available as massive Limited 3LP & 2CD box set with slipcase and 180 gram vinyl housed in two gatefolds, one single sleeve; as Limited Edition 2CD Digipak and Digital Album. Presales will start September 11th, 2020.

Line-Up:

Roine Stolt – Vocal, Ukulele, Guitars, Additional Keyboards

Hasse Fröberg – Vocal & Acoustic Guitar

Jonas Reingold – Bass, Acoustic Guitar

Zach Kamins – Pianos, Organ, Synthesizers, Mellotron, Orchestrations

Mirko DeMaio – Drums, Percussion

Guest: Rob Townsend – Soprano Saxophone

Band picture by Lilian Forsberg.

Hasse Fröberg and Musical Companion – HFMC – by Rob Fisher

Cover

As the sound of the sonorous ticking of a clock fills the room, I am transported once more to a murky Sunday night in London. Downstairs in The Underworld, the lights go down, Hasse Fröberg and Musical Companion take to the stage, and those of us who are fortunate enough to be gathered there are treated to an experience of such exquisite virtuosity, passionate commitment and joyful dedication to musical expression that I doubt (and most sincerely hope) that it will ever be forgotten.

The ticking of the clock belongs to Seconds, the opening track of Fröberg’s third studio album ‘HMFC’ and signals a beguiling, measured beginning to what quickly turns out to be a frenetic, dramatic and occasionally theatrical romp through a variety of diverse styles, tempos, sounds and even genres. No less than on stage, the album is a shining testament to music which bristles with life, with energy, with a creative vitality which is utterly infectious and happily uplifting.

After a brief flirtation with a simple, airy yet enticing melodic keyboard intro, the music suddenly explodes into life as it abruptly segues into Can’t Stop the Clock (Track 2) which not only serves as a microcosm of the sheer diversity and variety which is to follow but also sets the theme which unfolds throughout the album and is reflected in or hinted at by the track titles. Time. Life time, a life lived in and through time. Though it is not a concept album per se, the theme which acts as a common thread throughout is our perceptions of time and our experiences of time.

The clock may tick a steady measured beat but the music uses this as a point of departure. Across 7.24 minutes, Can’t Stop the Clock sports numerous changes to tempo, shifting and unexpected chord progressions, grand changes in keys accompanied by stylistic flourishes and symphonic arrangements. These are magnified and explored further with no less than 3 gloriously epic tracks lasting in excess of 10 minutes each: Pages (Track 4, 15.22), In the Warmth of the Evening (Track 6, 10.42) and the magnificent Someone Else’s Fault (Track 8, 10.13) which push the boundaries of experimentation further, stutter stepping from various incarnations of melodic and symphonic rock, to jazz, to blues, to a harder rock, to almost heavy pop – effortlessly playing, literally, with time and shifting between time signatures.

Band2

Yet, despite what can almost feel like a breathless and relentless pace, the album never overwhelms. There are delicate moments of gentle subtlety and simple beauty which clearly speak of personal reflection, of pausing for thought, of the hindsight which comes with the passing of time and maybe even a hint or two of personal biography. Genius (Track 5), in particular, is profoundly moving, tributed to the life and memory of Freddie Mercury and laden with poignant sadness, fondness and appreciation. If you enjoy Queen, check out the wonderfully clever patchwork of lyrics; thoughtful, intelligent and full of care.

The band are uncompromising in what they bring to the music. Formed in 2008 with Fröberg on a break from his duties with The Flower Kings, they are impeccably tight, blending some of the highest technical precision I have ever heard with delightful touches and expressive flourishes that are at times jaw-dropping. They are a superbly tight unit who work so very well together.

Kjell Haraldsson on keyboards is an ever creative presence who provides the perfect backdrop and foil for the exceptional and inspirational lead guitar work of Anton Lindsjö. Both are indebted to the often spell-binding lines provided by Thomas Thomsson on bass who brings a delicious complexity and depth which is a delight to discern among the many musical layers. The foundations are supplied by the outstanding work of Ola Strandberg on drums, immaculate in being so aware of the mood and tone of what the others are doing and bringing just the right combination of touch and power to proceedings.

Band 3 Calle Lind

(Photo by Calle Lind)

Fröberg’s majestic guitar work binds them all together, enables the others to be so expansive whilst firmly remaining the shining light which permeates every moment of the album. His distinctive vocals are the icing on the cake, a perfect fit for the diverse array of lyrical sentiments which are in turn matched by the character and sound of the band.

Yet, even at the end, when the band have blown themselves out, when the force and energy of the music are expended, the ticking of the clock emerges again from the background and is the last thing we hear in the final track, Minutes. The implication seems to be it has been there all along. We cannot escape it; we cannot change it. We can play with and within it, but we can never step outside of it nor hope to escape it. It will always be there as the constant horizon against which life is lived.

‘HFMC’ is, to my mind at least, a stunning exemple of musical excellence and showcases how it is possible to have serious levels of fun creating progressive music which pulsates with ideas, flows with passion and demonstrates astounding levels of musicianship. Possibly one of the top releases of 2015, it quickly becomes one those albums with which you positively look forward to becoming immersed again and again. Highly recommended.

Released 13th February 2015

Buy HFMC from Glassville Records at Burning Shed