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Saturday, September 11, 2010

Änglagård: Hubris


ANGLAGARD: HYBRIS (1992)

1) Jordrök; 2) Vandringar I Vilsenhet; 3) Ifrån Klarhet Til Klarhet; 4) Kung Bore; 5*) Gånglåt Från Knapptible.

Progressive rock. Wise men say that the thing died sometime around 1976 or 1977; that the thing was no real good even while being at the peak of its reputation; and that the thing enjoyed some sort of semi-intelligent rebirth, its arrogant ambitions tempered by humility and common sense, with the arrival of bands like Radiohead. All the same, a stark collection of unabashed veterans will be ever so ready to insist that prog never died, but continued to develop steadily from the late Seventies up to the present time — simply going underground, out of the reach of both popular taste and critical anger.

Technically, they are correct. Bands like Gentle Giant, Yes, and King Crimson either petered out like the first, joined the oldies circuit like the second, or adapted to newer times like the third. Then there was the «neo-prog» thing of the 1980s, with bands like Marillion trying to put a more modern sheen on old values, attracting some old guard prog fans and repulsing others. But then there were also people who, quite honestly, did not understand what the hell was so wrong with the classic prog sound in the first place. So the critics trampled upon Tales From Topographic Oceans — big deal. If there is at least a couple dozen thousand fans all over the world who like it, where the heck is the sequel? What's keeping 'em up?

Then the Eighties began to dissipate, with frizzed coiffures and synth guitars and electronic drums out­wearing their novelty-based attractiveness, and some began to realize that — you know what? — music in the 1970s might have actually been a whole lot better than ninety percent of the radio crap from the big hair decade. And, for all we know, it might not have been a total mat­ter of sheer coincidence that Änglagård, a bunch of young, aspiring Swedish musicians, released their debut LP, honoring the legacy of 1970's prog masters, not long after Nirvana released Ne­ver­mind, symbolizing, likewise, a conscious retread to older musical values.

In stark contrast with the likes of Marillion and IQ, Änglagård play «retro-prog», not «neo-prog». Having listened to Hybris from first to last second, it is, of course, possible to suspect that the LP was not recorded in 1976, but hardly possible to understand when it was recorded as such. Listen to small chunks one at a time, though, and, unless you are a historical expert on the giants of prog, you will think that you are hearing obscure outtakes from Genesis, Jethro Tull, and Caravan re­cords. Not only do these Swedes trustily re-enact ye olde melodic structures, they also brush the dust off ye olde guitar pedals, Moogs and Mellotrons, boosting the local pawn shop business and bringing to orgasm all the old fogeys who'd renounced all hope of ever getting it up again at least ten years prior to the fact.

The LP consists of four (five, counting the bonus track on the CD re-issue) eight-to-twelve minute multi-part suites, mostly instrumental (they do sing, but none of the band members were vocally endowed, so, wisely, they keep it to a mini­mum) and generally not too heavy on hooks, as would befit a proper progressive composition. The mo­od, overall, is the same: mysterious, medievalistic, dark, and foreboding — think of Genesis' 'Supper's Ready' as the chief inspiration (but withhold all of Peter Gabriel's flowerish tomfoolery; these guys do not really believe that humor belongs in music, not in their music, anyway). The idea is to cram in as many different instruments and melodies as a ten-minute length will allow; all of the players are professionals (a point that must be particularly stressed in the light of the players' young age; Mattias Olsson, the percussionist, was 17 at the time!), but none are solo vir­tuosos, and they far prefer the art of smooth collective playing to individual showmanship.

What this kind of music clearly offers over uninspired third- and fourth-degree prog exercises à la Kansas is a complete lack of cheap pathos; the sonic landscapes that these guys create are all out there for you, the listener, to accommodate to your own dreams and values, not for some pre­tentious idiot singer to tell you that his music must make you sympathize with the plight of the Indians or ponder upon the vanity of your existence. (It does not hurt, either, that the few lyrics there are are all in Swedish — might have been even better if they were in Kobaian or Klingon).

What this kind of music does not offer is a real valid point, other than «we love, love, love what these awesome British guys were doing twenty years ago, and we wanna be just like them». Quite a few people whose opinions on this album you can check out on the Web state that Änglagård have their own, unique take on prog, being more than the sum of their influences — no one I ever saw being able to explain or even hint what that take is. Of course, they think of their own melo­dies (at least, I think they try to; noticing and putting down mutual rip-offs between prog bands is a special art that should be taught in post-graduate studies), and they combine their influences in complex ways, so that a suite might begin like King Crimson, go on like Gentle Giant, and end up like Tull; but surely true «individuality» must mean more than that.

Obviously, Hybris is a must-listen for any self-respecting fan of the classic progressive style, if only because (a) all such fans are always clamoring for more and (b) it is at least interesting and instructive to see how such an honest and, essentially, working replica could have been made in 1992. For those who are quite happy with their Foxtrot and Red, though, Hybris will probably not be necessary. As a serious, loving tribute to them good old days, though, it is an experiment that works 100%, and for that, deserves a thumbs up; I, for one, enjoyed it all the way through. But now that it's over, I want my MTV, uh, I mean, my Tarkus.

8 comments:

  1. Ha! Me being Swedish and all I didn't expect you to get to these guys until, well, sometime after ZZ Top. I failed to remember not everyone uses our twisted variant of the latin alphabet.
    But anyway, I'm glad you did get to them, as I've been somewhat afraid to approach them before, what with all their recommendations seeming to come from fellow Swedes, and you know you should never trust your countrymen on matters pertaining to anything musical.
    But hey, these guys are good! Totally retro as you say, and nothing for anyone but big prog fans to really get involved with, but I sure got a good 50 minutes and I'll probably get a couple of more good 50 minutes out of it before the end of my days.

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  2. Only you could work in a Nevermind reference in an Änglagård review. Heh.
    Glad to see them reviewed.

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  3. Wow, kudos to George, this band deserves a bit of exposure, even if it's not much hook-laden and friendly to the average non-prog listener (they might call it too much academic and dull, the hell they know). But .. those Anglagard guys knew their craft quite well. On the other side, speaking of Sweden and some really catchy prog - the Samla Mammas Manna (and Zamla's output) reviews i regard to be a must on some point, if we deal with proggy or avant-rock field: a really classic and unique stuff they've done, plus those lads sure knew how their humor exactly belongs in music.

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  4. Adding a comment to George's opening statement: it's not really a surprise for this band to deliver in 1992. If one is digging well, he'll see a lot of underground prog and avant (RIO) bands that were putting out uncompromising stuff (be it really experimental or more retro-ish minded) through the 1980's (yeah!) and early 1990's. The so called PROG REVIVAL is only existing for people who were de-touched from those underground flows (no info) and were sure that progressive rock was well dead and done through the 80-'s (as a critics stigma at those times used to work in the musical media).

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  5. was wondering when you were gonna start reviewing some post 80s prog rock. Would love to see what you think of The Flower Kings!

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  6. Oh boy... The Flower Kings. Let's just be brief and say that even as a card-carrying prog-rock fan I just can't stand them.

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  7. ^^ I was actually thinking of mentioning the whole Transatlantic/Spock's Beard/Flower Kings group before I saw this... I think those guys have some undeniable composing talents, I wonder if George would agree... Porcupine Tree too.

    Oh right, Änglagård... very nice stuff, sometimes unmemorable but the instrumentation is lovely. Anekdoten is another good dark-sounding Swedish group, very Crimson-esque.

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  8. They sound like pupils from some fictitious prog academia.

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