Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Norway’

TRACKLISTING:
1. Hawks Circle The Mountain (7:09)
2. Snowswept (4:12)
3. Kansas Regrets (4:39)
4. Red Leaves (8.39)
5. Floor 67 (9:53)
6. Natasha of the Burning Woods (6:28)
7. Searise (13:10)
8. A Rumour of Twilight (2:33)
9. The Howling Wind (5:28) (bonus track)

LINEUP:
Jacob Holm-Lupo – guitars
Lars Fredrik Frøislie – keyboards
Sylvia Skjellestad – vocals
Mattias Olsson – drums
Ketil Vestrum Einarsen – flutes, woodwinds
Ellen Andrea Wang – bass

With:
Tim Bowness – vocals (3)
David Lundberg – Fender Rhodes and Wurlitzer (3), orchestration (2)
Michael S Judge – guitar solo (1)

In the early Nineties, Norwegian outfit White Willow was among the contingent of Scandinavian bands that spearheaded a revival of progressive rock that in the next two decades would spread to the rest of the world. After almost 20 years of activity, appearances at high-profile festivals such as NEARfest, Crescendo and Summer’s End,  and the release of 6 studio album, they have established themselves as one of the most important modern prog acts. Led by multi-instrumentalist and composer Jacob Holm-Lupo (owner of Termo Records together with keyboardist Lars Fredrik Frøislie), the band have gone through numerous line-up changes, and the release of their fifth album, Signal To Noise (2006) was followed by a six-year hiatus. Now down to a quintet, with only Holm-Lupo remaining of the band that had debuted in 1995 with the acclaimed Ignis Fatuus, White Willow have made their long-awaited comeback with the return of original vocalist Sylvia Erichsen (now Skjellestad), as well as two new entries  – bassist Ellen Andrea Wang (of Norwegian avant-garde outfit SynKoke) and drummer Mattias Olsson (known for his work with Änglagård and Pär Lindh Project).

Before Terminal Twilight, White Willow were one of the (unfortunately) many bands with whose name and reputation I was acquainted – without, however, having ever heard any of their music. Being familiar with the “big two” names of the Scandinavian prog renaissance, and having read reviews of the band’s previous albums, I was expecting something along the lines of Änglagård or Anekdoten’s output, a  riveting mixture of melody and angularity tinged with sadness, though never gratuitously depressing. My first taste of Terminal Twilight was, however, quite different, as some of the songs (especially those in the first half of the album) featured catchy, almost upbeat elements typical of successful “crossovers” between conventional progressive rock modes and more mainstream genres. Sylvia Skjellestad occasionally sounded like a gentler, less quirky version of Björk, and a few times I was reminded of Celtic/New Age artists such as Clannad or Loreena McKennitt.

It took me a number of listens before the many layers of the album began to unfold, revealing the sheer eclecticism of the band. While the album is not tainted with the blatant derivativeness that seems to be common currency nowadays, I was able to detect quite a few diverse influences while listening to Terminal Twilight. At first,  the mainstream component (mainly conveyed by the vocals) seemed to prevail, but with successive listens the complexity of the compositions began to emerge. The classic symphonic component, represented by Frøislie’s impressive array of vintage keyboards, is at times cleverly concealed, and will often surface when least expected. With a line-up that reads like a “who’s who” of Scandinavian prog (besides Olsson’s past associations, Frøislie is also involved with Wobbler and In Lingua Mortua, and flutist Ketil Westrum Einarsen was a member of Jaga Jazzist), the stunning musicianship displayed on the album will certainly not come as a surprise, though listeners never feels they are being bludgeoned over the head with technical fireworks. In true Scandinavian tradition, the members of White Willow are ensemble players, and individual skill is put at the service of the end result.

Clocking in at about one hour, Terminal Twilight features eight “official” tracks, plus a bonus track, the strongly percussive “The Howling Wind”, which with its experimental feel might point to intriguing future developments in the band’s sound. Opener “Hawks Circling the Mountain” immediately evidences the contrast between the mellow, almost genial vocals and the intricacy of the instrumental sections. Frøislie’s keyboards paint a rich range of soundscapes, with chilly electronics competing with the warmth of the piano and mellotron to which the flute adds its distinctive voice, while the guitar remains on the sidelines for most of the song, emerging towards the end in a jangly, slightly discordant solo (courtesy of Mike Judge, aka The Nerve Institute). In the next two tracks, with their restrained running time and strong crossover appeal, White Willow veer into contemporary prog/art rock territorie,. The combination of martial, tribal-sounding drums and chiming guitar in “Snowswept” reminded me of U2, while the atmospheric “Kansas Regrets” sees a sensitive vocal performance from guest Tim Bowness of No-Man; not surprisingly, the song contains echoes of Porcupine Tree, as well as Jakko Jakszyk’s work as a solo artist and on the latest King Crimson project, A Scarcity of Miracles.

With “Red Leaves”, the album enters more traditional prog territory, with an orgy of Mellotron and other keyboards whose majestic sweep brings to mind Rick Wakeman and his essential contribution to the classic Yes albums of the early Seventies. Jacob Holm-Lupo’s guitar steps into the limelight in the second half of the track, lending both a harder edge and an almost Hackettian lyricism. “Floor 67”, the second longest song on the album, merges the poppy, Latin-tinged accessibility of the vocals (reinforced by the mention of siestas and verandas in the lyrics) with faintly new-agey acoustic passages, and heavier, drum-fuelled  moments – in my view, not very successfully, since the track comes across as a bit patchy. On the other hand, the album’s pièce de resistance, the 13-minute “Searise”, will delight fans of vintage Anglagard and Anekdoten. Mattias Olsson’s sensational drum performance is aided and abetted by Froislie’s no-holds-barred keyboards (incuding some particularly fine Hammond organ runs), and tempered by gently pastoral flute inserts that reminded me of early PFM. Mostly instrumental, the song packs quite a few tempo changes, and its solemn symphonic structure is enlivened by glimpses of jazz and folk influences. The album is wrapped up by the short “A Rumour of Twilight”, a melancholy, mainly acoustic number with lovely guitar; the other instrumental, “Natasha of the Burning Woods”, hovers between rarefied and densely orchestrated without clearly choosing either direction, though enhanced by the clear, melodic tone of the steel guitar.

With its beautiful though faintly disturbing cover artwork,  Terminal Twilight enjoys superb sound quality (not surprising to anyone acquainted with both Frøislie and Holm-Lupo’s painstaking search for sonic perfection), and achieves a commendable balance between vocal and instrumental sections. However, it is an also an album that requires time and attention in order to be fully appreciated, and the first approach might be deceiving as well as disappointing. Moreover, the album’s unabashed eclecticism may produce an impression of patchiness that only repeated listens will dispel. In any case, Terminal Twilight is a very solid release that manages to  reconcile the classic symphonic prog tradition with the more contemporary trends of the genre, and is therefore likely to appeal to both conservative and adventurous fans.

Links:
http://www.whitewillow.info/

http://www.myspace.com/whitewillowband

http://www.termorecords.com/

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

TRACKLISTING:
1. Lucid (1:40)
2. La Bealtaine (7:52)
3. In Orbit (12:30)
4. This Past Presence (6:14)
5. A Faerie’s Play (5:19)
6. The River (10:04)
7. Lucid Dreams (2:19)

LINEUP:
Morten Andreas Eriksen – guitars
Lars Fredrik Frøislie-  keyboards, marxophone, vocals
Kristian Karl Hultgren – bass, saxophone, glockenspiel
Martin Nordrum Kneppen – drums, percussion
Andreas Wettergreen Stromman Prestmo – vocals

With:
Ketil Vestrum Einarsen – flute
Hanne Rekdal – bassoon

This is undoubtedly one of the most difficult reviews I have written in a long time (if not the most difficult), and one that may turn out to be quite controversial. In order to convey my opinion effectively, I will have to make a clear distinction between the actual quality of the music and any considerations relating to originality of content.

Before someone indicts me of being one of those snobs that turn up their noses at anything that might remind them of bygone times, I do enjoy a lot of so-called “retro prog”, and Wobbler’s Afterglow was one of my favourite albums for 2009. Moreover, I am quite aware that the “retro” phenomenon is not only a prerogative of symphonic prog:  a band choosing to imitate Magma or Univers Zéro is no less “retro” than one imitating Yes or Genesis. Like it or not, originality these days is rather thin on the ground, and throughout the 40+ years of prog’s existence as a musical genre there have been countless instances of bands shamelessly cloning more successful and influential acts (one name for all: Starcastle). In more recent years the number of tribute bands has been steadily growing, attracting relatively large audiences (often larger than those commanded by bands or artists that play their own original material). While fans of the more cutting-edge varieties of progressive rock may throw around the “retro” label with a sort of contempt, others wear it as a badge of honour, further widening the gap within the “prog community”.

First emerged on the prog scene in 2005 with their debut Hinterland, Wobbler – led by multi-instrumentalist and vintage keyboard collector Lars Fredrik Frøislie (also the mind  behind experimental metal act In Lingua Mortua) –  quickly established themselves as the darlings of the retro-oriented crowd, especially those who had been mourning the early demise of Änglagård. Even though a sizable portion of the current prog scene consists of acts that might be tagged as “retro”, Wobbler have taken the concept a step further, down to their refusal to use MIDI technology or any post-1975 instruments. Both Hinterland and its follow-up Afterglow (2009) had been based on material originally composed and recorded in demo form immediately after the band’s formation in 1999; Rites at Dawn, on the other hand, comprises entirely new material, the first original music by the band in almost 10 years.

Rites at Dawn is an album of pristine perfection. With its gorgeous, clean-lined artwork (surprisingly modern for a band that has never hidden its worship of all things Seventies) and thorough liner notes, listing the equipment used in loving detail, the centrefold photo depicting them in a rustic period setting reminiscent of Songs from the Wood-era Jethro Tull, it is an unashamed paean to the golden age of prog, tailor-made to send traditionalists into fits of delight, or else to be dismissed by forward-thinkers as a mere nostalgia trip. The truth, as is often the case in life, lies somewhere in between. I believe that the fellow reviewer who compared Wobbler’s music to neoclassical art hit the nail over the head, since Rites at Dawn possesses the smooth, polished beauty of a Canova statue. As such, it has raised the bar for “retro-prog” to almost unattainable levels.

Indeed, speaking in strictly objective terms, the music on Rites at Dawn is beautiful, intricate and flawlessly performed, in spite of the slightly disturbing feeling of déjà vu that grips the listener as soon as the vocals in “La Bealtaine” kick in. Drenched in gorgeous Mellotron, fuelled by the fat, trebly sound of a vintage Rickenbacker bass, embellished by layers of keyboards and soothing vocal harmonies, the whole album is a clear homage to Yes circa Fragile and Close to the Edge, even as regards the lyrical matter, based upon pagan rituals and nature worship. While both their previous efforts showed the imprint of Gentle Giant and Gryphon, as well as legendary early Nineties acts such as Änglagård and Anekdoten,  Rites at Dawn sound less “Scandinavian” and definitely more upbeat. The band’s new singer, Andreas Wettergreen Stromman Prestmo, gets a lot of room to flex his impressive, Jon Anderson-like pipes, as all but the two tracks that bookend the album, “Lucid” and “Lucid Dreams”, feature vocals (unlike the band’s previous albums, which were mostly instrumental). The vocal parts are balanced by the magnificent instrumental interplay, chock full of head-spinning tempo changes, scintillating solo spots and moments of atmospheric, ethereal beauty, enhanced by touches of flute and glockenspiel, with the distinctive drone of the bassoon lending further depth to some of the passages. Clocking in at 45 minutes, the album is longer than Afterglow and shorter than Hinterland, with only two tracks, “In Orbit” and “The River”, running over 10 minutes.

An album of sterling quality from a formal point of view, Rites at Dawn is probably the closest any band has come in recent years to recreating the original sound of the Seventies (though, of course, with modern production values). That said, its often uncomfortably derivative nature leads me to adopt a somewhat schizophrenic attitude towards it. While I do like the music a lot, and will be probably be listening to the album for my personal pleasure in the future, I cannot help questioning the point of reproducing the sounds of a bygone age down to the last detail – as well as wondering if such a move is going to benefit the prog scene in the long run. However, it is undeniable that there is an audience for albums like Rites at Dawn among those listeners who thrive upon nostalgia. Highly recommended to fans of vintage symphonic prog, it is probably best avoided by anyone who expects prog to be actually progressive.

Links:
http://www.wobblermusic.com/

http://www.myspace.com/wobblermusic

http://www.termorecords.com

Read Full Post »