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.