Review – Lars Fredrik Frøislie – Fire Fortellinger

‘Fire Fortellinger’ is the debut solo album from Wobbler’s Lars Fredrik Frøislie. Fitting perfectly into the 70s prog-rock tradition where the keyboardist makes a solo album between the band albums, this is music Frøislie has been doing, mostly alone, during the pandemic.

Had it not been for the pandemic, much of the material would probably have ended up on a new Wobbler album – but then run through the Wobbler grinder and with English lyrics. In other words, this is unpeeled and raw, as spontaneous as possible without going through too many rounds of processing.

Trying to preserve the impulsive – much of what you hear is improvised, and one-takes (preferably with playing errors and piano strings that break and the like). Trying to preserve the human aspect to a large extent, avoiding click tracks, auto-tune, MIDI or too much technology. Expect lots of old analogue keyboards such as cembalo, Mellotron, MiniMoog, Yamaha CP70 and Hammond organ.

Well, when that cover (marvellous isn’t it?) and that PR blurb arrived in my inbox I was immediately drawn to this album and just had to listen to it. I am so glad I did because this is one of the best releases of 2023 so far, let me tell you why I think so…

Aimed at fans of Wobbler, Yes, Gentle Giant, Jordsjø, Tusmørke and the like, ‘Fire Fortellinger’ is the like the best 70’s scandi-prog album that was never made in that decade. The simply fabulous keyboards, synths, Mellotron and Hammond organ combine to deliver a complete masterpiece of music. Does it matter that I don’t understand a word being said? Not at all, to me, that is what makes this a brilliant record. It was conceived and sung in Norwegian and singing the songs in any other language would take away that immediacy and originality and, to be honest, I love a Scandinavian lilt myself.

Four tunes, four stories, perfectly realised by Lars, this album delivers on every level, not only for the progressive rock fan but for any music fan in the world. The musicianship of Lars, aided and abetted by Nikolai Hængsle on bass, has to be heard to be believed, the music is sumptuous and lush, intense and dark in places but just sublime overall.

The first song, Rytter av dommedag, is themed around Ragnarok, when King Rakne awakens in his large burial mound outside Romerike and, together with the old gods, creates real mischief. This grand, awe-inspiring track opens majestically with an enduring keyboard motif that is all encompassing before opening up into a simply magnificent keyboard-fest where Lars just seems to let everything go and just enjoy himself. It contains moments of reflection and insight, mainly from the precise vocals and delicate piano but, ultimately, this is progressive rock as pomp and circumstance, seventeen minutes of deliciously overblown grandeur, and is even better for it, I just love it! Et sted under himmelhvelvet is dreamy, possibly set in a Renaissance garden near Florence or Arcadia. But in principle it can be anywhere where it feels good to be. It is partly about travelling to a place and feeling that you have been there before – only to find out that you had ancestors who lived there long ago. An almost hushed and wistful opening calms the soul as the lush string-like synths soar high. Once again, a wonderful, haunting motif runs throughout this dramatic, profound piece of music given it gravitas and solemnity and Lars is given free reign again to showcase his remarkable talents during a scintillating, free-form, synth and keyboard section where Nikolai’s base ably supports him. The wondrous music just simply keeps on coming as the song fades out with the outstanding motif.

Jærtegn opens in a frenzy, with a horse and cart speeding through the forest. The wagon overturns at the same time as there is a solar eclipse, and the riders become eternal wanderers in the dark forest, only visible to us now and then like the northern lights, as they vainly stretch their arms towards the sun in the hope of finding their way home. A hectic, chaotic rollercoaster ride of intelligent music that never lets you sit still, this track is like being inside the mind of a genius but one who cannot contain all the schemes in his head. Madcap, sparkling and dazzling at the same time, it certainly put a smile on my face. The travellers seem to find a calm oasis halfway into the song and the vocals take on a calming, almost hypnotic style before Lars goes all John Lord on us, the keyboards having more than a hint of 70’s classic rock allowing this superb track to close out in style.

The final song, and second epic, Naturens Katedral, is a depiction of the Norwegian mountains in winter where the cold is bitter, and blizzards and avalanches abound. It is also a search for bygone times when life was more basic out in the wilderness. It is dark and obsidian at its core with the swirling keyboards and dominant vocals imposing in manner and bringing to mind other Scandinavian prog artists with perhaps a less sunnier disposition like Änglagård and Anekdoten. The music seems to be holding back and building, leaving an anticipatory atmosphere which is only increased by the great vocals. Lars certainly knows how to get a hypnotic keyboard riff/motif into a song and does it again to give an irrepressible, tumultuous feel to this dynamic track. Like all great epic tracks, Naturens Katedral is split into parts and in the middle the music takes over with cinematic charm that totally invokes the harsh reality of a Norwegian winter. As this musical saga comes to a close it almost strays into the land of jazz/prog fusion with a touch of dark humour and leaves me with a knowing smile on my face.

To say I was not expecting how bloody good this album was going to be is an utter understatement. It may be presented as musical musings during lockdown but what Lars Fredrik Frøislie has created is one of the best 70’s influenced prog-rock keyboard albums of recent years. ‘Fire Fortellinger’ is that good that it will have you growing your hair, wearing flares and wondering why there are more than three channels on the TV. 2023 is proving to be yet another fantastic year for music and this record could just prove to be the best of the lot.

Released 2nd June, 2023.

Order from Karisma here:

KAR253 – Lars Fredrik Frøislie – Fire Fortellinger | Karisma Records

Review – Wobbler – From Silence To Somewhere – by Emma Roebuck

Wobbler, a Norwegian band formed in 1999 near Hønefoss; no, I had no idea until I looked either; release their fourth album.

Who are Wobbler?

Lars Fredrik Frøislie – keyboards, backing vocals, Kristian Karl Hultgren – bass, bass clarinet, bass recorder, Martin Nordrum Kneppen – drums, percussion, recorder, Andreas Wettergreen Strømman Prestmo – vocals, guitar, glockenspiel, percussion, Geir Marius Bergom Halleland – lead guitar, backing vocals.

It is a 4 track album with 3 tracks between 10 and 20 minutes and one that comes in at 3 minutes. On my first play through I am going to own up to having some immediate judgements on the band and the music they make. I am new to them and have not heard any of their music, I am though a fan of Trevor Pinnock and his work creating authentic music on the instruments in the classical field and I see something of this in the music of Wobbler and their desire to create the authentic sound of the bands of the “golden age” of progressive rock. They also have channeled the bands of the time as key influences of creative process.

From Silence to Somewhere is the opener and at 21 minutes is indicative of the desire to be the wormhole to the late 60s and early 70s. Musically it carries the spirit of the 70s but is recorded in an analogue way through digital technology. We then have a quandary because sonically this is better than their heroes, or at least those they seem to witch to emulate. Mellotrons, time changes, light and shade abound with woodwind of the medieval instruments and flute dropping in left right and centre. The harmonies are well constructed and the jigsaw puzzle of the music fits together inch perfect, well nanometre perfect. It is very slick.

Rendered In shades of Green is a simpler beast., piano and strings with light percussion that lifts from a requiem overture to something with more of a lightness of touch.

That is light relief for Fermented Hours hits like a steam hammer through a polystyrene wall. Over 10 minutes of more rapidly changing musical sound scapes than may actually be good for the health.

Finally Foxlight, pastoral in its introduction and lightness, is a relief after the previous track. Harmonies and a very acoustic drive to it give the listener a memory of laying in a hay meadow by the moon light in a balmy summers evening. Well at least for the first 3 minutes before they crash into a full-on-band-beast; Harpsichord flute bass and drums dance around each other for supremacy with Andreas’ vocals bouncing along the track to narrate the storyline.

I am going to be honest, I have no idea what the songs are about and I am not trying to get inside the heads of the writers. They are obviously passionate about what they do and are focused on creating music that is a reflection and wear the musical influences like a heart on their collective sleeves. They draw directly from the source and you can hear it. Fans of King Crimson, PFM, Gentle Giant, Jethro Tull, Gryphon, The Tangent and Big Big Train will find something in this album worth listening to and enjoying. There is a market for their music and, after being done over by the visa department by the good old USA this summer, some recompense is due to them.

Released 20th October 2017

Buy ‘From Silence To Somewhere’ from bandcamp



Review – White Willow – Future Hopes – by Emma Roebuck

I shall be brutally honest: I had forgotten that White Willow was still running as a functioning band. Maybe The Hedvig Mollestad project has made me think that way? The lack of any profile in the last few years or output had put them well in the back of my musical memory. I was at HRH V Prog talking to old friends about the forthcoming album when it occurred to me how important profile is in the Biz we call ‘show.’ Therefore, essentially, I have come to this as if it’s a fresh band out of the box.

Sporting a cover courtesy of Roger Dean himself, this is a product that has set its sights on being a truly prog album in the classical sense but it is also a real challenge for the band themselves to achieve the aspiration worthy of such a historically artistic cover. Have they achieved it? We shall see by the end of the review.

White Willow are Venke Knutson (vocals), Jacob Holm-Lupo (guitars, synthesizers, keyboards, backing vocals), Mattias Olsson )drums, percussion, e-bow, sounds & noises), Lars Fredrik Frøislie (synthesizers, keyboards), Ketil Vestrum Einarsen (wind controller, flute) and Ellen Andrea Wang (bass guitar), Hedvig Mollestad (guitar), David Krakauer (clarinet), Ole Øvstedal (guitar) and Kjersti Løken (trumpet).

(Band photos by Dagfinn Hobæk)

By producing a seven track album (including the two bonus tracks) the band have not fallen into the trap of needing to fill a CD’s worth of material for the sake of it but, instead, have focused on the quality of the product rather than blitzing it with a ton of excessive material that could swamp the real calibre of the music.

Future Hopes, the eponymous title track, opens with booming bass pedals and a lilting melody with a melancholic vocal. The guitar and keyboards come in and the whole thing has an analog feel to it, but decidedly not old fashioned. The music has a crisp clean sound, nothing muddy or thick here. Complex harmonies and rhythms wind through the track, twisting between the possibly positive or negative world that we have to look forward to right now. It’s a fine opener and sets the bar high for the rest of the album

Silver and Gold is very folk-like in style with an acoustic introduction and almost a duet between guitar and voice that has a poetry all of its own. There’s also a very Moogy keyboard subtly coming into the background followed by a doom laden drum instrumental middle 8 then back to the guitar and voice. This has hidden depths and would make an outstanding live track for atmosphere and melancholy.

In Dim Days jumps straight up a gear and has a sonic landscape that is the total opposite of the previous track. You get distorted guitar and phasing through and through, it has a real symphonic feel to it reminiscent of Floyd in the Division Bell period. There is an open fullness to the track, if that makes sense at all? It has an epicness to it that allows a really effective exploration of the theme musically and lyrically without having to fill every second up with a million notes that swamp the listener. It’s definitely a high point of the album and this alone makes it a worthwhile purchase.

Venke Knutson is the new vocalist on this album and a stable back line from Opium Cartel . She provides a great vehicle for the lyrics and slots well into the line up. Now these guys have evolved over the last 21 years from a very folk base line to a band that has mature song writing and looks at adult themes. White Willow have placed their colours very firmly in the Traditional Prog territory but have retained a definitive identity of their own. I often do a sounds-a-like for reference in my reviews but not for the sake of “do they do a good … insert band name…” but mainly so you can have a point of reference as to whether this is going to be my cup of tea or not.

White Willow have a very firm identity of their own but sit very firmly in the atmospheric open grouping of bands that allow the music to breath and express itself. If Pink Floyd merged with Yes and Steve Wilson then recruited a female vocalist and then listened to Steeleye Span for a month before going into the studio, you may be close but it sounds nothing like any of the component parts.

There is an interesting version of Animal Magnetism By The Scorpions as one of the bonus tracks that shows a great sense of musical history and humour.  Fans of the band won’t be disappointed by this album and it will also attract new listeners. It does not bring down the walls of innovation but it does a sterling job of improving on White Willow’s reputation.

Gig with this album guys and gals. Your classmates Anekdoten and Anglagard seem to have been far more in the fore-front recently. This album has amended that and set a line your turn to deliver!

Released 31st March 2017

Buy ‘Future Hopes’ from Laser’s Edge (US)

Buy ‘Future Hopes’ from cd-services (UK)