It’s five years since the Swedish prog masters’ last studio album The Sum Of No Evil, and despite the hiatus they’ve all been busy. Roine Stolt’s had his hands full Transatlantic, Agents Of Mercy and Karmakanic; Hasse Fröberg’s work with his Musical Companion has continued apace as has Tomas Bodin’s solo output. All this sowing of musical seed might have diluted any new Flower Kings material, maybe they’d try to modify the formula, or their eyes might be on newer musical pastures. Fortunately, their excellent new album proves the opposite is true.
The Flower Kings: Banks Of Eden
The Kings go back to the garden.
With its quasi-biblical theme and majestic feel, Banks Of Eden’s sprawling 25-minute opener brings together everything the Swedes do best. It’s a multi-section prog workout that foreshadows the songs to follow.
Numbers is portentous in parts, uplifting in others, with Stolt and Fröberg sharing catchy vocal melodies and harmonies, including a singalong chorus about a ‘bad moon rising’. Tasty retro synths outline the broad musical landscape and Stolt’s inspired guitar work. There’s a lyrical, vocal quality to his lines here, as he establishes motifs that punctuate the entire album.
An on-the-nose contemplation of material vs spiritual wealth, For The Love Of Gold has a beautiful, swinging acoustic rhythm complete with mandolin, sustained guitar lines and sweet keyboard hooks. Pandemonium is steeped shamelessly in the symphonic 70s prog that the Kings love – Genesis, Yes, even a bit of Focus in there. Their musicianship here is beyond reproach, the staggered organ/guitar lines that bring it skittering to a close are gnat’s-chuff tight, with a solid musical logic to them.
Restating a previous musical theme, For Those About To Drown has some joyful Walrus-era Beatles psychedelia to it, and special mention must go to their new German drummer – Felix Lehrmann really has, as Stolt says, put a blowtorch up their collective prog arses. There’s a swing to his playing, and his attention to detail rivals that of his bandmates. The achingly beautiful Rising The Imperial features some evocative slide bass from Reingold, a soaring Stolt solo and some fist- pumping ‘yes-we-can’ exhortations from Fröberg. It closes an exultant and thrilling album, one that’s laden with the tropes of prog rock tradition.
I was listening to Pandemonium for the fifth time when my girlfriend – an indie girl to the core – looked quizzically at my laptop. “Who is this?” she asked. “They sound like one of those big 70s supergroups!” She’d inadvertently stumbled on a major part of their charm, and that grand, vintage-quality sound is presented in all its glory here. The Kings are back – long live the Kings!