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Saturday, February 2, 2013

Änglagård: Viljans Öga


ÄNGLAGÅRD: VILJANS ÖGA (2012)

1) Ur Vilande; 2) Sorgmantel; 3) Snårdom; 4) Längtans Klocka.

«The Return of Änglagård» does not exactly bear the same stunning force as «The Return of The Beatles» (or «The Return of Jimi», for that matter), but for those in the know it will be a pleasant surprise nonetheless. Furthermore, there would be little sense for the original lineup to get to­ge­ther in order to try out something completely different — whatever little fan support this band had in the first place was all due to the «Änglagård brand», and now, eighteen years after their second and last studio LP, the retro-oriented Swedes come back together to prove to the fans that the brand is still in place.

If anything, Viljans Öga (Eye Of The Will) is not just mere proof that Mattias Olsson, Anna Holmgren, and the rest of them «have not lost it» — it is an almost mathematically accurate proof. Play this back-to-back with Epilog and there will not be a single seam: the album is a direct time machine back to 1994 (and, considering that the band's original albums were almost like a time machine back to 1973 or something, we are now battling chronospace with even more verve and efficacy than before). And, in a certain way, the very appearance of such an album in 2012 is even more of a «miracle» than it was back then. At least the early Nineties were sort of an age of musical turmoil, with both the mainstream and the underground currents at a crossroads — in that context, even the conservative / «unhip» retro-proggism of Änglagård somehow had its place. But in 2012, with most of the musical directions either stiff and rigid, or fragmented to minuscule bits, it must require even more bravery to put out this kind of record.

Four tracks, running from twelve to sixteen minutes each. No singing (for Änglagård, we already know that is a plus). No English titles (good reason to brush up on your Swedish). A symphonic structure, overall — the tracks definitely feel like four separate, but atmospherically unified move­ments of one hour-long whole. Medieval folk acoustic guitars, processed psychedelic elec­tric guitars, faraway Mellotrons, and pastoral flutes as dominant forces. Tricky time signatures. Key and tempo changes every minute. Moody autumnal main themes. Yup, this is Änglagård all right. And they have not been influenced by Radiohead or The Flaming Lips or The Animal Col­lective in the meantime. In fact, it certainly looks like they haven't even heard of any of these guys. In fact, it looks as if they spent those eighteen years safely resting in their coffins. (Come to think of it, some of these parts could have made a great soundtrack to a movie on aging vampires and their existentialist problems).

Some of the reviews I have read (and there have been very few reviews, apart from prog-specific resources) were highly critical of it all — what is the very point of a «progressive» band with no «progress», they said? Naturally, they had a point, but, come to think of it, Änglagård were al­ways a «regressive» band rather than a «progressive» one. They loved their King Crimson, their Yes, and their Genesis, and wanted to keep that old spirit alive in their own vessel. They offered no genuine «innovation» — they wrote their own melodies, but strictly according to the old reci­pes, and they never had any inclination to come up with something radically new. They did it rather well, too, and in these circumstances, there is something admirable about this iron-will obstinacy. Something three-hundred-Spartanic, if you know what I mean.

A different problem is whether Viljans Öga is altogether more «boring» or more «academically stiff» than its predecessors. The fact that all of its four parts are roughly the same length, roughly feature the same instrumentation (with minor variations, such as the presence of a guest cello on one or two tracks, etc.), and roughly follow similar symphonic patterns — alternating quiet and loud parts, climactic build-ups and fall-downs, etc. — might, indeed, suggest unnecessary rigidi­ty. At least Epilog had those little interludes that varied the flow. On the other side, lack of self-dis­cipline and the entire «break-all-the-rules» routine, which has been the norm for intellectually oriented pop music for so long, is so all-pervasive anyway that, from time to time, it is actually interesting to see musicians lock themselves into a pre-set ball-and-chain structural pattern, espe­cially when nobody actually forces them to do it. (I would say that the only occasion here on which they break out of the formula is the «mad» coda to the album — where, once the main theme has been played out, some free-form noise is followed by an eerie circus music part. Open to creative interpretation for everyone!)

Hence, Viljans Öga is not so much the «Eye Of The Will» as it is the «Triumph Of The Will» — a severe, ultra-academic, disciplined, somber tour-de-force. But it is not entirely mechanistic or man­neristic — Änglagård is a band born out of sincere love for certain forms of music, and their skill at creating musical landscapes of morose, melancholic autumnal beauty, alternating with «battle­scapes» inspired by ʽLarks' Tongues In Aspicʼ or ʽThe Gates Of Deliriumʼ, is... well, I wouldn't dare to say «unmatched», not being all that familiar with the neo-prog scene of the last twenty years, but let's just say that, even without a serious effort, Viljans Öga can easily induce visions, and that is what separates «progressive» music that lives and functions from «pro­gres­sive» music that, impressively constructed as it is, seems to lack the «power on» button.

None of which is to say that this is «great» music. The main themes are imbued with epic state­liness (ʽLängtans Klockaʼ), or repetitive melancholy (ʽSorgmantelʼ), or both (ʽUr Vilandeʼ), but the melodies are not sharp, shrill, or «deep» enough to arouse any emotions above «pleasant» — exactly the same way it has always been with Änglagård, so no big surprise here, either. But, on the other hand, this is where undefendable subjectivism comes in — so you might just want to skip this part where I award the album a «mild» thumbs up, approximately three-fourths respect and one-fourth heart's content, and just look it up for yourself, particularly if somber, stubborn, slightly somnambulous, but sympathetic Swedes soothe your senses and sweeten your spice.

Check "Viljans Öga" (CD) on Amazon

17 comments:

  1. Listening to this now on Grooveshark. It's basically as you say, George. Bits of Yes, Tull, Crimson, Gryphon, etc., all pulled lovingly from 1973, and wrapped together in a snuggly warm sonic blanket. Nothing new or remotely innovative, just classic comfort food for lovers of ancient prog. The best part is: NO METAL WHATSOEVER! Nothing memorable, either, but it all goes down smooth and mellow, with no nasty aftertaste, so I reckon I'll take this. Win!

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  2. wel, this record is not THAT unique for 2012 as one not closely following prog scene might think (imho, far less unique, than in 1987 or even 1994). prog of all types is pretty much alive now, it's just as far from the current mainstream farts as it should naturaly be. and it's better this way - you don't see the new acts selling out to be the next Muse (who turned into a REALLY crappy mainstream cheese band this days) or something. there's a lot of both retro-prog and proggy-modern-prog acts making decent records, some are keeping the 1973 spirit, some are experimenting out of formula. you have any kind of imaginable stuff from the new bands - classic prog, psych-kraut, avangarde metal, post-hardcore/post-rock sludgy-proggy branch, eclectic all-in-one, you name it... one can take a look at the tip of the iceberg-2012 here: http://www.progarchives.com/top-prog-albums.asp?syears=2012#list

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    1. From that list I tried three songs: Island by Echolyn, Breathe by Utopia and Guardian Angel by Galahad.
      Nothing new under the sun, no boundaries pushed and as retro as Anglagard is described to be.
      This doesn't imply it's bad; I quite enjoyed the songs. But I don't even see any reason for the insanely detailed nomenclature with all those sub-sub-sub-sub genres.
      Of course exactly the same applies to my favourite genre: hardrock/heavy metal. Latest development: the grunt, which we can find back on Deep Purple's Place in Line .... (a terrible song).

      "most of the musical directions either stiff and rigid, or fragmented to minuscule bits"
      Your list only seems to confirm it.
      Banco surprised me much more than any of those three songs, sorry.

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    2. That's the retro-sympho or neo bands, you mentioned. NO wonder. If you want something not sounding like 1973 from this list, just go for :
      Between The Buried And Me - "The Parallax II: Future Sequence", Enslaved - "Riitiir" or "The Death Defying Unicorn" by Motorpsycho. ok ?

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    3. OK, though I picked the three completely at random (only made sure they had relative high ratings).. I actually know Motorpsycho from the 90's and think them utterly boring. But I'll try the other two later. After all it's the only way to discover the wheat between the chaff.
      That's the way I recently discovered Fates Warning from the miserable 80's; a very flawed band, but good enough for some excellent compilations.

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    4. So I have listened to Astral Body, Telos and Thoughts like Hammers. Just like almost all grunt metal (sorry; I don't care about the subtle differences between black, death, goth and whatever metal either) excellent riffage; as soon as the vocalist opens his mouth the music becomes unbearable. Stylistic it's quite the same as Atheist, covered on this site. Or Opeth, if you prefer.
      No progression since the 80's or at least the 90's. You just confirm GS' (and my) point, Anonymous.
      Just to make sure I tried Death defying Unicorn as well. Here you have a good point. Still quite monotonous like 15 years back.

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    5. MNb, you're wasting your time with any of that "progressive metal" stuff. Just stick with Anglagard and their ilk if you want "new" prog sounds. Sure, there's nothing new there but, at least, you won't hear any of that rancid pig grunting and stupid machine gun "riffing".

      While I'm here, let me give a shout out to Nektar: one of prog's most underrated group from the classic days.

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    6. No development? Really? Have you even been paying attention? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CIyGfO9n-NI

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    7. @Malx: I never have wasted my time on grunt metal for the simple reason I click it away as soon the vocalist begins to "sing". Atheist, Opeth or Between the Buried: I like it very much as long as they only play instrumentals.
      Alas I think Anglagard also a complete bore.

      @Dagg: just tried OSI: nothing new either and not as well constructed as Echolyn and Utopia.

      One of the very, very few bands who actually pushed some boundaries is Therapy?, unless you can tell me where this comes from:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DKNVT0a0QsA

      Their main shtick is punk-metal with lots of dissonants, but they have done all kinds of weird things too. Hardly two albums sound the same. The last one is so weird I don't even know if I like it or not:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mrWihyyURL4

      And they know how to kick ass with straightforward rock'n'roll too:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kAJlxXLV5Ss

      I'll check Nektar later.

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    8. pushed some boundaries the last 20 years.

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    9. The problem with overly inflated musical egos, is that you dismiss stuff as "Nothing new" without identifying what exactly the music is, and how those musical ideas and fusions have existed pre-1993

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    10. Nonsense, Dagg. I don't dismiss stuff because it's "nothing new". I already wrote above that I enjoyed Echolyn and Utopia. I have nothing against retro as long as it's well done. If it touches a sensitive spot as well I'm happy.
      The burden of proof is on you. What kind of new ideas did OSI introduce? New chord sequences? New song structures? New harmonies? New arrangements? What kind of musical borders did OSI push in that song? Or will you bring up some more worn out logical fallacies?
      You own the overly inflated musical ego - haven't cared to listen and comment on Therapy? yet.

      Call me a sissy, but the only Nektar songs I like thus far are Magic is a Child and Away from Asgard. You see, I think spiritual rock almost always boring too, as it is so dang repetitive. In this respect I'd rather recommend the first two, three solo albums of Steve Hillage instead. The Salmon Song has a killer riff and an unusual instrumental mid section.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7jbvASHWHIc

      Nektar's 2004 album Evolution might be something for me though. Camouflage to White works very well.

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    11. Therapy? is a bit like Helmet and other punk/metal/pop fusions. That's basically what grunge was too. Although there were already things like that before grunge (with less pop, perhaps).

      They are not at all more innovative than say, Echolyn. No modern band can be all that original, but actually since Echolyn plays in a more complex, less repetitive style, they are very likely to be more original, as complexity brings more possible variations. I've never heard any band with their specific sound, that jazzy, distorted symph prog, which derives more from Steely Dan than canterbury.

      Also (not in response to MNb), I have to laugh when people act like prog metal is anything original still. It's actually inherently repetitive and dynamically simplistic. It exhausted itself quicker than any other prog-related genre.

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      On topic, I have long thought that Anglagard is kind of boring, they just throw out ideas without much sense in arranging them, even if the ideas are sometimes nice. Their instrumentation is nice and warm, but that's about the best I can say for them. I do appreciate that though. It puts them almost categorically over all sickly "alterna-prog" bands.

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  3. I'm Swedish, and I'm not sure what "Snårdom" is supposed to mean, or if it's even a proper word.

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    1. Google translate gives "thickets judgment" if you write separate ly 'Snår dom'. ;-)

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  4. Really liked this. It's simply more Anglagard. Same strengths and weaknesses as before. I think it's got a few more memorable themes than Epilog, so I'd rank it a little bit higher than that one (Hybris is still my favourite).
    Some might say "who needs more when it sounds just like the old Anglagard" but they're kind of missing the point since you don't exactly put on any Anglagard record to hear something fresh and new anyway! The level of quality is no lower than before in my ears so I consider this to be a big success for the group.

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  5. This is a perfect comeback album and my favorite Anglagard album. One of the best albums of 2012.

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