Album Reviews

The Flower Kings – Banks of Eden

Hello girls and boys!

Today, we will talk about TFK – one of the most productive bands out there although they have been silent the past 5 years.
Apparently however, that has been the case mostly because they were all busy with Transatlantic, Karmakanic and Agents Of Mercy – that is to say that they are by no means out of shape since the whole band has been keeping busy with challenging and quality stuff! I can tell you from the get go; they are on top of their game…

Now, back from an almost five-year-long hiatus, they add Banks of Eden to their wide and deep catalogue.

This time, they have put together a truly old school production together. It appears that they have found old, tube equipment and went for that very natural, very beautiful analogue sound. Stolt, on their website, says (and I quote) “We aimed for the classic big warm vinyl-sound of old records by Queen, Genesis, Zeppelin or Deep Purple.”

I believe that worked beautifully!

The classic line-up of Roine Stolt, Tomas Bodin, Jonas Reingold and Hasse Fröberg now has the addition of the new German drummer Felix Lehrmann   – who is a very good choice as you will see, Lehrmann adds to the atmosphere of each and every tune.

The opening track in particular is one of the greatest epic pieces I have ever heard by them with a really high replay value. As the die-hard fans might expect we are witnessing perfect utilization of band’s one of the strongest assets; contrasting voices of Stolt and Fröberg.  Call and response sections scattered around are brilliant!

Stolt’s guitar work stands out as it always does, but with subsequent listens the great melding of the awesome keys, bass, and drums unveil its beauty… The instruments were mixed clearly and cleanly, and each one has their spotlight time… There’s a great balance between beautiful melodies and complex instrumental sections…

Like I said, the album opens gracefully with a masterful epic… and we all know that they have a knack for epics…

However, Numbers is slightly different than all other TFK epics… definitely has something a little bit unusual about it. It is a very solid epic blending some innovative ideas harmonically on the contemporary side of the band’s own spectrum and it definitely works very well!

The tune is a hefty 25:30 minutes long with its mood maintained high thanks to the multiple varied sections and of course, as you might expect, its pace, vibe and feel keeps changing, gets jazzy in the middle and blues-y at the end…

Stolt’s guitars and vocals follow before a brilliant bridge by Fröberg’s deep, emotional and velvety voice.

Melodic, catchy, soft, dark, heavy, touchy, emotionally-charged… Just perfect…  One of the high points of the album followed by layered vocals in brilliant mix.

With the guitars, brilliant riffs here and there, the tune smoothly flows from poppy into proggy. Then comes Stolt again…

The tune picks you up, drops you down and make you feel all black and blue – it is impossible not to love it.

It fades out and suddenly silence reigns… and comes back with completely different vibe, soft, relaxing and laid back. Keyboards create an impressive atmosphere and the instruments here… God! The unison is an immediate win!

Then a heavy and darker atmosphere rises with the song flowing into the dramatic section. The tune you listen up to this point, what is essentially a poppy and beautiful song, evolves into so much more after the following sections with creative and inventive, fills, decorations, flourishes that constantly go on until the end…

Again a fade out and then in – going back to the main, killer melody. Stolt starts singing, serene and calm – and Fröberg chimes in taking over the lead and they start singing in a double melody… So deep… Amazing vocal harmonies – I don’t think it is possible to better utilize the contrast between the two voices. It is astounding!

If you have listened to the song up to here with all your attention, you must be consumed by now. But don’t think there is an easy way out – they are not done with you yet…

Think of the song in three acts and we are at the end of the second act yet.  Another twist comes with a fast paced section where musicianship is shining. The guitar solo and the bass lines are mind blowing.

The whole brilliant experience is tidied up with a darker version of the main melody leaving you exhausted and done for… Yet feeling much better for it.

It basically prods, shoves, pulls your soul this way and that before letting you fall into the void at its wake… When the song was done with me (yes), I had the urge to give a standing ovation!

This song has so much in it… It is embroidered with a significant amount of fine detail. It is full of complexity hence not the easiest to follow. With each listen you can spot another tasty musical experience…

I’m sure there is a specific “story” that was the seed of these lyrics – but, even though I’m sure it would be as futile as trying to analyse great poetry of masters, these lyrics make me think of a moment in life when you think you are happy on a personal level but it is just a high point in the cycle the humanity as a whole has been living through. There is fear and a sort of certainty that our perceived times of calm will go through storms all over again.

As I said, this might be far off the mark but the depth of the lyrics is such that they can make you feel different things with each read.

I believe the song’s masterful prog formula will make it a favourite among the prog-heads.

The most colourful song on the album, Pandemonium starts off with a super-dynamic and uplifting mood and evokes warm feelings right away… It’s the first song that caught my “eye” with its multiple mood changes, variations, ups and downs, highs and lows, fantastic keyboard driven moments and thoroughly proficient and soulful guitar work, and the brilliant instrumental outro. And of course, the very catchy melody… or should I say beautiful and addictive…
After the low and deep, robotic Stolt vocals comes the higher notes delivered by Fröberg.  As I said earlier, the contrast in the two musicians’ styles and voices yield the perfect harmony.
You know those songs, when you hear them doing entirely different a thing, it makes you stop and listen, wonder what the song is called… This one is one of those. I was enthralled by the extremely engaging bridge written by Stolt and delivered by Fröberg… Seriously, this song has some of the best moments in the album… The tone of the keys and Fröberg’s voice  are in great harmony… The tune has a warm colour… Fröberg voice is playing an important role in creating the special mood that I love about this album.

For Those About to Drown drowns you in a torrent of infectious key lines by Bodin and some very tasty bass lines by Reingold. Stolt’s low vocals are building into a brilliant, uplifting, hook-driven chorus delivered by Fröberg again… You will sing along to this song… Resistance is futile J

The tune has one of the best examples of perfectly placed high-low vocals and reminds me of Waters-Gilmour interplays… Just like harmony and contrast of colours in an impressionist painting – all the while the instruments bringing the atmosphere to a deliciously choking density, thickness with layers and layers of instrumentation. The instrumental section where Tomas’ keys follow Stolt’s soulful guitar-lead is like chocolate with cognac!

The vocal mix – well, all of the channels for that matter – is just impeccable. Nothing dissolves into the background and nothing stomps anything else to the ground. They all work brilliantly together in a great harmony… I’m thinking, I think we have the analogue recording coupled with their extremely capable expertise in sound to thank for this.

Overall, pretty neat album exploring the possibilities and pushing limits of prog rock.

Stolt’s proficiency with the blues guitar comes through… and songwriting is amazing as well. He doesn’t seem to be running out of ideas anytime soon.

All in all, all of the band members are extremely talented and it all comes together into this great record.

It would be a shame to miss this one out!

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