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
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