‘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: