You’ve got to love Internet forums, haven’t you? Whilst formal reviews of albums may criticise the output for being overly complex, self-involved or lacking cohesion, forums offer participants the opportunity to be far more informal. As a result, my favourite criticism of The Flower Kings has to be that they are ‘too widdly’. I can certainly see where the author of this statement is coming from because the collective output of Roine Stolt (vocals, guitars), Hasse Fröberg (vocals, guitars), Jonas Reingold (bass) and Tomas Bodin (keyboards), with newbie Felix Lehrmann behind the drum kit has, over the years, offered listeners some of the most flamboyant and occasionally self-indulgent progressive rock within the genre.
The Flower Kings sit on the softer outskirts of my personal taste and, as such, although I have a handful of their previous albums, I’ve never perhaps given them the full attention and time that their musical vision demands. However, I jumped at the chance to remedy this by reviewing their latest offering, “Banks Of Eden”, after an unusually long hiatus of five years. In so doing, I hope to offer something of a fresh perspective in the process.
The album kicks off in the most grandiose of manners possible with the twenty-five-minute epic, ‘Numbers’. It ebbs and flows from start to finish, showcasing the talents of each and every member of the quartet beautifully. It is easy to see where the aforementioned ‘too widdly’ criticisms come from as there are extended passages throughout that just allow each member to cut loose and create an instrumental progressive rock smorgasbord. However, to these relatively unbiased ears, I find that the track remains sufficiently cohesive and that the opportunities for the keys, guitar and bass to deviate are entirely in keeping with the overall feel and approach of the music. Much of this has to do, I am certain, with the seemingly innate understanding of strong melodies, providing listeners with something of an anchor. If you are already a fan, you will absolutely adore this opening salvo, probably frequently throwing up your hands in adulation as you listen. It sounds utterly fabulous through a good set of headphones too.
On the subject of the production, “Banks Of Eden” has been deliberately recorded in an authentic, analogue ‘band jamming in the studio’1970’s manner. You can really hear this and for my money, is the fundamental explanation for the warmth that emanates from the speakers.
After a Lord Mayor’s show like ‘Numbers’, it would be easy for the output to fall away for the remainder of the album. And, whilst there are the occasional less-strong moments here and there within the following four tracks, the highs drastically outweigh everything else and, despite all four songs clocking in at over six minutes apiece, I find that time just flies by. ‘For Those About To Drown’ offers a funkier, fun vibe whilst, as the name might suggest, ‘Pandemonium’ provides the album’s harder and darker side. We’re not talking Tool or early Opeth heaviness of course, but merely a noticeable increase in intensity and a touch more raw power.
My favourite eight minutes of the album however, come in the form of curtain-closer ‘Rising The Imperial’. Starting at an appreciably slower tempo, it builds to a wonderful finale. The warm, melodic solos within this song are simply gorgeous, ending the album on a real high, full of drama and emotion. As you’re no doubt already aware, it is difficult for the written word to do “Banks Of Eden” sufficient justice and equally, is not an album that you can experience in one quick listen. It will take time and effort, but stick with it because the fruit of your labours will most definitely be worth it.