“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
― Clare Boothe Luce
Progressive music does seem to favour the long form when it comes to song writing, you know the 25-30 minute epics that sometimes seem to go on forever. I’m as guilty as the next man for listening to, and promoting, these types of tracks but they can become interminably boring if overplayed.
Every now and then it is really good and refreshing to have an album full of shorter tracks, even sub four minute ones, where the brevity is at the heart of what makes them good songs.
Swedish prog legends Änglagård are well known for their extended instrumental pieces so it did come as something of a surprise when I heard that band member Linus Kåse was releasing a solo album that concentrated on the art of the song, and short songs at that!
Now I know Linus and he does have a sunny disposition to be fair, I asked him about this solo release and this is what he had to say:
“The album includes a bunch of originals that I wrote and recorded a few years back and I decided to spend the last couple of months to finish it up. I think it’s a fun album, that’s the intention anyway. I believe it is mainly influenced by some of my favorite artists of the 60’s and 70’s pop/rock era so you will find some Beatles, Procol Harum and even Barry Manilow in there. To me the album is a labour of love for sure. If it wasn’t I would never release it to the world.”
Linus plays grand piano, saxophone, keyboards and guitars, provides the vocals and produced and mixed the album, which is no mean feat but he did have some help. Kristofer Eng Radjabi (bass, Guitars) and Daniel Kåse (drums) were heavily involved and there are guest appearances fromLasse Bjurhäll (guitars), Rickard Andrinsson (guitars), Benjamin Quigley (double bass) and Maria Kvist (backing vocals).
Just a few bars into opener Smile and you know you are in for a treat, a Creedence Clearwater Revival influenced track that just screams uplifting, feel good music at you. There’s a carefree attitude to the bouncing melody and to Linus’ sunny vocals. The jangling guitars and clear-cut precision of the rhythm section give a real 60’s/early 70’s atmosphere and you will find yourself smiling, job done methinks! Mary has a beautifully wistful tone to it and a nostalgic, sepia tinged joy at its heart. The song has a real summer of love, hippy feel throughout and is almost hypnotic in its delivery. Linus really does have a great voice and its used to superb effect on this track and you can hear the Manilow influence. There’s a great piano introduction to Winter Season, almost labyrinthian in its five minute length. A more serious overtone is at the core and it sounds like Wings heavily influenced the song. The pared back chorus is a gem and Linus is starting to prove he really is a talented songwriter when he can produce great rock tracks like this.
The singer/songwriter comes to the fore on the lilting piano-led Above The Line, another nod to the mercurial Mr Manilow. Quirky and idiosyncratic, it’s a real delight and a song where you find your head nodding and your foot tapping along to the excellent melody. In fact, you probably will find yourself singing along at the top of the voice, if you’re anything like me that is! A jazzy and funky piece of music, Do You Believe sees Linus’ voice on top form, surrounded by some rather stylish musicians. The organ and piano are the main components but that rhythm section is really proving to be the driving force behind the songs, the drums and bass are classy and polished and give this Supertramp feeling song a real edge. Fast paced and a bit left-field, All That Could Go Wrong is another three minute gem of a track, a catchy piece of music that never outstays its welcome and showcases the art of writing a short track to a tee. It’s almost like planting the early Beatles right in the middle of the 70’s with its combination of snappy chorus, elegant swathes of organ and short but sweet guitar solo.
(Photo by Kenth Wanglev)
The next five tracks all form the E minor suite, Fisherman’s Song is a laid back two minute instrumental with a large nod to the organ sound of Procul Harem. It’s a great piece of music that really gets under your skin, leaving a mark that stays long in the memory, the soaring music is quite inspirational at times. The track segues straight into the wonderful Modern Times which, to my ears, sounds like Linus’ audition to write a new Bond theme! I love its urgent and upbeat drive with the great backing vocals from Maria Kvist. Edgy, funky guitars and a ferocious drum beat dominate proceedings at a break neck speed leaving you breathless in admiration. Another segue into The Boat Is Sinking which is a forty-six second reprise of the melody from Fisherman’s Song. The piano driven brilliance of Egomania is my favourite track on the album and is a fantastic piece of songwriting that is synonymous with Scandinavian songwriters of modern times. If you’ve heard the latest Rikard Sjöblom album then you’ll know what I mean. An upbeat melody along with great lyrics are the heart of the song and Linus’ vocal delivery is, once again, perfect. It’s a piece of songwriting that just makes me smile with its inventiveness. The last part of the E minor suite is Fisherman’s End, a soaring close out that again reprises the earlier melody and finishes everything on a high note.
The album closes out with Linus farewell to the listener, Goodbye For Now. It’s a song that makes you feel you’ve been part of something and it feels like a wonderfully warm goodbye from this excellent musician and songwriter. Those of you who remember Gilbert O’Sullivan will hear him in the vocals. There’s almost an upmarket cabaret feel to the song and I can imagine myself in a great theatre somewhere in the world as Linus closes out his show with this memorable track and you feel a lump in your throat and moisture in your eyes as everything comes to an end.
One of the most surprising and impressive releases of the year and one that will leave a huge smile on your face. Linus Kåse has virtually reinvented the four minute song with this new album and ‘I’ is as impressive a listening experience as anything else you will hear in a long time.
IT’S TIME! After many months of non-stop work, Legendary Swedish symphonic progressive rock band ÄNGLAGÅRD are proud to present their first ever professionally filmed concert, set to be released worldwide on February 10th, 2017. Entitled “ÄNGLAGÅRDLIVE: MADE IN NORWAY”, pre-orders are open now.
Check out the promotional video below:
“Live: Made in Norway” was captured at Musikkflekken, Sandvika, Norway on February 21, 2015, marking the band’s return to Norway stages after 23 years of absence.
Edited by Martin Gustafsson, with audio production and mixing by world renowned audio engineer Alar Suurna, and art design and production by long-time collaborator Joel Barrios, the two-hour performance is a stellar capturing of live art through and through; a perfect testimony of Änglagård‘s unique take on progressive rock, showcasing their swirling, angular crescendos along with frenetic rhythms and howling mellotron, blended with truly emotional sudden softer passages.
A sonic rollercoaster of aggressive music in odd meter, subtle parts and melancholic beauty, building suspense and abrupt stops, with a wondrous interplay of sounds, this visual presentation is definitely not for the faint-hearted. Änglagård‘s extreme level of delicacy in phrasing and dynamic is a tough match to beat in progressive music and should hold up even in the face of the snootiest of music connoisseurs.
“Music is the art of thinking with sounds, it is philosophy…..
Every chord, every word tells a story. If you listen, you will know its meaning…..”
Take a minute to read that quote and let it sink in, understand its very meaning. Even some of the music that is on popular radio and in the charts has a narrative at its heart, it is not all bubblegum pop (well, the majority of it is to be fair).
In the musical world that I inhabit the writers of the songs are musical bards, they tell stories of love and happiness and of loss and sadness and these affect the listener deep to their core. It is a skill that few have but it can take over your world and move you to a different place where all that matters is the song.
It isn’t just the words either, the music itself can take on a life of its own and affect you in just the same manner. The beauty inherent in an amazing piece of music can make you laugh, smile or cry in much the same way that a well written novel or piece of prose can.
I have oft written about how a new piece of music can come from out of nowhere and really move me. I think that those that are least expected are quite often the best surprises and, like misfortunes, they seldom come alone…
It was due to my friendship with Linus Kåse of Swedish progressive giants Änglagård that I first heard about Methexis, the progressive rock project of Greek musician Nikitas Kissonas and discovered the two albums that have so far been released by this talented and eclectic musician. Who is he? I hear you ask well, let’s find out….
Nikitas Kissonas was born in 1980 and he is a graduated guitarist and composer. He works as a music teacher and has collaborated with many groups and in many and diverse performances. As well as the Methexisproject, in which he expresses his agony in the rock genre, he also composes contemporary acoustic music and he is hoping to succeed in marrying the two into something truly progressive.
The Methexis project was created by Nikitas in 2011 following his need to record material he had gathered throughout the years while being a member of alternative Greek bands such as Verbal Delirium andYianneis.
The debut album “The Fall Of Bliss” was released at the same year and Nikitas played most of the instruments except for the drums (Nikos Miras) and the piano on ‘Lines On A Bust’ (Jargon).
February 2015 saw the release of ‘Suiciety’, A concept album about the exterior influences a human gets from his childhood, the interior research for a guiding instrument, the exposition on a suicidal society that doesn’t listen to the clear warnings and the unavoidable collapse.
The album features members of The Enid, Änglagård, Birds & Buildings, Agentsof Mercy and Yianneis.
‘Fall of Bliss’ – the review
A laconic introduction starts Eradicated Will, a coruscating guitar note ambling along before a slightly laid back, sardonic vocal begins. Very much in the vein of traditional progressive rock, there is also a dramatic edge to the song. Nikitas has a powerful voice with a slight affectation that adds to the drama. The keyboards add a sinister note to the track as it meanders thoughtfully through your mind, the delicate acoustic guitar adding a subliminal note that is lighter than the rest of the track. When the chorus erupts it does so with a forceful edge that adds to the theatrics, an excellent start to the album. Poetic Mirrors Wound Heroes has an introduction that is all Muse to my ears with harmonised vocals and a classical edge before a strong bass line drags it along. The vocal section that follows is different, almost sounding like a computerised harmony but it works really well. Keyboards and bass are key in this track that really does run like a storyline as it glides along with its graceful demeanour. The intricate instrumental bridge is very 70’s prog and adds precision to the finesse of this engaging song.
Those Howling Wolves sees Nikitas take on a more theatrical persona with the emphasised and enunciated vocals taking flight and becoming central to the performance. The music is more of a back up on this acoustical treat. Its benign and genial feel lulls you into a form of stasis as the keyboards run with a mysterious note in the background. You could quite imagine this being from a musical stage production with Nikitas central to the performance, almost musical method acting. As we get deeper into the track there is more substance added as the story fleshes out, the vocals become fuller and the music takes less of a back seat, joining as a fully paid up member of the cast. It becomes thought provoking with quite an intensive edge and the jazzy guitar solo is brilliant in its smoky meandering brilliance as it builds to the close. A seriously impressive track indeed. The piano introduction to Lines on a Bust is intricate and soulful, the vocals again giving the impression of musical theatre, Nikitas has a great vocal range and uses it notably here. You could imagine this being sung in a West-End show. It is full of fervor and zeal, having a rapturous appeal.
Drums and bass are the dominant forces at the beginning of Track the Saviours before an edgy guitar riff takes us into the heart of the heaviest track on the album. One that has a diversive, chaotic note at it’s heart. Running along like a gleeful mad man with the histrionic vocals that teeter on the edge of sanity with an aura of dark humour. I like the slightly off-centre feel of the song, as if it has been allowed to run its own course, good or bad. The corrosive instrumental section is clever and adds to the feeling of not knowing what the hell is happening. Like a mirror image The Aftermath is a slow motion track with an initial sombre, restrained note to the vocals, guitar and keyboards. The vocals take on a more compelling note on the chorus, if still a little mournful. It is a song that has a central forlorn and dolent edge to it, a fragility that still has a dark beauty to it.
The final track is the four part title track The Fall of Bliss which begins with the Intro which is a gentle acoustic guitar overlaying birdsong. Ethereal and gossamer like, it is charming and charismatic and leads you into Part I where the atmosphere darkens, pressing in to give a suspenseful feel. It erupts with a hard edged riff, powered along by the drums to give a turbulent edge before settling down into a more harmonised note. There is a slight supernatural ambience to the music, a semblance of the unknown as the vocals begin in a haunting fashion. Almost like a Gregorian Chant, they have a spiritual echo to them, enhanced by the disturbing organ note. The gloomy feel is all pervasive as we segue into Interlude, a low, slightly remote keyboard, reminiscent of a bassoon insinuates itself into your psyche. There is an organic nature to the music, it feels alive, as if it has its own intelligence and agenda. The guitar influenced passage that follows is vivid and forceful and that pseudo-bassoon runs into the final chapter, Part II. Demonstrative and profound, it is the crescendo that the whole track has been leading up to with heartfelt, passionate vocals and a wall of sound that washes over you leaving you numb in a profound manner. A discursive instrumental section follows, all distorted and erratic, like a lonely walk haunted by memories of the past. Almost painfully acute in parts it holds your attention as it runs on inexorably to the close.
So, Methexis’ first album really grabs you, it is enlightened in a weighty and thorough kind of way and asks questions that you may not be able to answer. Darkly exquisite in places, ‘Suiciety’ will have to go some to top this consummate release.
‘Suiciety’ – the review
After his brilliant multi-tasking performance with ‘Fall of Bliss’ Nikitas Kissonas turned to some of progressive music’s luminaries for the follow up ‘Suiciety’.
Whilst dealing with the music, lyrics and guitars himself he is joined by the enigmatic Joe Payne (The Enid) on vocals, Linus Kåse (Änglagård) on keyboards, Nikos Zades (Yianneis) sound design, Walle Wahlgren (Agents ofMercy) on drums and Brett d’Anon (Birds and Buildings) on bass.
Going the wrong way round, it was ‘Suiciety’ that I heard before ‘Fall of Bliss’ thanks to a heads up from Linus and that led me onto the debut album. You’ve read my thoughts on that, now it’s time for the latest release….
Chapter IV – Ruins opens the album with a transcendental feel of spaced out music, like wind chimes in a breeze, ambient yet with an intelligence at its core. It is an eerie beginning, as if you are in stasis waiting for something to happen. This opens up with a synth sound that washes over you in waves, almost hypnotic in its delivery. Joe’s breathy voice lies just under the surface, barely audible at first before its unmistakeable expressive quality builds into something more substantial. It stays just out of your conscious reach as the track comes to a close. The five parts of Chapter I (exterior) begin with Remember fear’s a relic, a briskly strummed acoustic guitar heralds an upbeat, jazz infused track that springs along at a brisk pace. A sharp electric guitar leading into some really funky keyboards from Linus before Joe lets lose with his inherent theatrical manner. Mr Payne has a persona that can dominate but here he holds back a tad, still the effusive, energetic front man we know from The Enid but moulding his performance to fit the music. I really like Joe’s expressive vocal work, he takes what is best of the theatrical world and blends it perfectly with progressive rock music. The rest of the band appear to be having a blast on this energetic,slightly manic piece of music, like a free-form jazz session with added absurdity.
The windows’ cracking sound is like a short interlude, a slightly off-kilter and disturbing piece of music which never lets you settle as it segues into Who can it be with its heraldic introduction which immediately grabs you. I love the feel it gives this song before it becomes all mysterious and dark. Joe’s vocal low down, is almost a whisper as he takes up the tale. There is a dark humour deep at the heart of this song, it leaves you with an itch you just can’t scratch. The flamenco style guitar section is neat and precise yet still sends a shiver down your spine, playing with forces unknown. Joe is giving a performance worthy of the stage, there is more than just a vocalist at work here, he is acting as well. It is a story to be told in music, in a dark disturbing, yet highly enjoyable way. That outspoken heraldic tone is at the heart of everything adding a lustre and wildness to this part as it comes to a slightly disturbing close.
The Origin of Blame is where all bets are off and the sluice gates are opened. Joe is at the centre of this delightfully manic song, aided and abetted by the simple piano notes delivered by Linus. This track could have been written for the stage and Joe Payne’s ebullient character. He delivers an excited display of eccentric brilliance and musical drama that just makes you smile. The segue into Prey’s Prayer is neat andprecise and the striking guitar work of Nikitas takes over with an undulating delivery that just bleeds emotion and remorse. The bass play is calm and collected and adds gravitas to this serious piece of music. A quite beguiling instrumental that seems to have a tender yet melancholic soul to it.
The three parts of Chapter II (interior) begin with Sunlight and its wild-west tinged introduction, all Duane Eddy guitars and atmosphere before the guitar takes on a classical note and Joe’s tender vocal interjects, waxing and waning in compliment to the gently played guitar. It has a lightness and airiness to it which is enhanced by the seductive strings. Around the middle of the track it takes on a pure 1970’s progressive feel with guitar and bass work that Steve Howe and Chris Squire would have been proud of. Linus adds in his inimitable skills with the ivories and you end up looking for the floor length capes and Mellotrons to arrive. It is quite a compelling piece of music, gripping and riveting that leaves you slightly non-plussed as it comes to a close. The next part, The Relic is, in my mind, the best track on the album, if not the best song that Nikitas has written full stop. A low key introduction of a subdued guitar leads in an emotional vocal backed by sumptuous strings that just left me mesmerised. The piano then adds a subtle grace to this imperious song. It builds, layer upon layer, becoming more intensely exquisite with each note that is played and each line that is sung. Joe gives his most polished performance yet one which is also his most restrained and it fits the guileless, sincere feel of the song perfectly. A crescendo like instrumental interlude threatens to break the calm before it is gently brought back by the simple charm of the acoustic guitar and piano. They are joined by a searching violin note that really fills you full of emotion and then leads you to the closure of this stunning song.
Chapter III – Suiciety is the final song on the album and begins like an industrial dance track, a song in the style of The Prodigy. To be honest it feels out of place at first after the charm of the previous track but, give it time, and you come to appreciate its intricate, complex rhythms, eventually breaking out into a darkly mysterious piece of music. The strings add that note of warning before the brass section delivers a really chilling yet exciting part of the song that has an icy determination to it. It becomes quite a spine-tingling piece of classical music that has you hanging on every note with its basic raw feel.
He pulls no punches does Nikitas Kissonas and he is an extremely talented musician. I thought it would take something special to improve on ‘Fall of Bliss’ and he has delivered something quite marvellous. Aided by some superb musicians and a vocalist who has the skill and inherent ability to deliver everything needed, what we actually have here is an outstanding musical release that is up there with the best of them…..
Pictures of Nikitas courtesy of Artemis Schubert.
Artwork for ‘Fall of Bliss’ by Dimitra Papadimitriou.
Artwork for ‘Suiciety’ by Artemis Schubert and Nikitas Kissonas.