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Spotlight on Swedish Prog

3 New Releases Reviewed

Sweden has become a hotbed of original progressive rock activity in recent years. A number of bands have cropped up from this country, and they are typically adventurous, creative and prolific. Rather than aim for commercial success, Swedish prog bands often push the boundaries of what is possible in progressive rock, crafting extended epics that explore the outer reaches of instrumental expression and creative imagination.

This month in Prog-versation, I’m going to focus on three recent releases from leading prog-oriented label InsideOut Music/Sony, all from Swedish groups. To those familiar with the Swedish prog scene, it will be no surprise that Flower Kings mastermind Roine Stolt (who is to Swedish prog what Kevin Bacon is to Hollywood—he’s worked with everybody) is connected to all three albums.

FlowerKingsByRoyalDecree_Album_Cover

By Royal Decree, the 15th studio release from The Flower Kings is, like many of its predecessors, a double-album set. This band just makes so much music! With a total of over 90 minutes of material on two discs, By Royal Decree gives the Kings plenty of room to stretch out and play. The lineup on this album is the same as the previous two TFK releases, with keyboardist Zach Kamins and drummer Mirko DeMaio now mainstays of the band. The big news this time around lineup-wise is the return of bassist Michael Stolt (brother of Roine) from the band’s early albums. Roine Stolt focuses on lead guitar and shares lead vocals with Hasse Fröberg. Roine is a professed Frank Zappa fan, and the band fills its new music with plenty of homages to the late musical auteur, from the Hot Rats-isms of the lead-off title track to the jazzy jamming of “World Gone Crazy.” “A Million Stars” starts with a nice groove and gentle melody, but as is typical with this band, veers off into some bold instrumental territory halfway through. Lyrically, this material comments on the state of the world and touches on some political ideas, but always with the band’s customary positivity. Evoking early triumphs such as Stardust We Are and Flower Power, By Royal Decree is the strongest release from The Flower Kings in some time.

Kaipa Urskog Cover

Stolt is not directly involved in Urskog, the latest album from Swedish prog-folk group Kaipa, but this band figures prominently in his history. Stolt joined Kaipa in 1974 at age 21, and it was this stint that established him as a guitarist of note in the international prog scene. Formed in 1973 by keyboardist Hans Lundin, Kaipa ran for about 10 years before splitting up. Lundin and Stolt revived Kaipa in 2000 and it’s been running ever since. While Stolt is no longer involved, the band continues to work in a style similar to that of Flower Kings, but while the latter veers more toward Zappa and jazz styles along with the influences of classic prog bands such as Yes and Genesis, Kaipa blends more of a folk element with their prog. Their current release, Urskog (Swedish for “virgin forest”) kicks off with a fantastic prog epic, “The Frozen Dead Of The Night,” which is close to 19 minutes of nimble instrumentation plus strong vocals by Patrik Lundstrom. The band’s other lead vocalist, Aleena Gibson, takes the mic on “In a World of Pines,” which does emphasize the band’s folky side. Bassist Jonas Reingold (formerly of The Flower Kings) adds his Chris Squire-style playing throughout, while guitarist Per Nilsson (also of Meshuggah) and new drummer Darby Todd (who also drums with former Jethro Tull guitarist Martin Barre) make strong contributions as well, especially on the fusion-like instrumental, “Wilderness Excursion.” Overall, this is a very enjoyable release from this veteran band.

Jonas Lindberg_Album_Cover

The third album on this month’s list, Miles From Nowhere by Jonas Lindberg & The Other Side, has a Roine Stolt connection too! Stolt plays lead guitar on sections of this album’s 25-minute title track, which closes the album. Formed in 2012, this band spotlights the writing, vocals, bass playing and production of Jonas Lindberg (who, by the way, guests on bass on The Flower Kings album reviewed above—it’s all connected). Lindberg is a massive talent; his voice is powerful and easy on the ears in the style of, say, a more aggressive Nik Kershaw; his songs are melodic and memorable while still offering the players opportunities to be versatile and inventive; and the production is crisp and powerful. (Also, he’s a solid bass player and handles keyboards here too.) “Secret Motive Man” is a fine opener that showcases Lindberg’s vocals. “Little Man” starts as a gentle acoustic number, but builds into a bigger piece as more instrumentation is added. The band gets to stretch out on longer songs such as “Summer Queen” (clocking in at 15:52), “Oceans of Time” (11:37) and the aforementioned title epic. With a total playing time of over 76 minutes, you certainly get your money’s worth with this single-disc release, which is, in my opinion, the strongest of the three albums reviewed in this edition of Prog-versation. I’d recommend that you definitely check this one out!