For all its lofty conceptual conceits and weird flights of fancy, progressive rock is usually at its most affecting when it retains a slender however unmistakable grip on actuality. As a lot as all of us take pleasure in tales of marauding robotic armadillos and the occasional skip by way of Hindu scriptures, it’s arguably the humanity etched into the core of albums like The Darkish Aspect Of The Moon and The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway that ensured these songs would resonate by way of the ages.
In musical phrases, if one up to date band intuitively encapsulates all the best issues about prog eras previous and current, it’s Beardfish. Rikard Sjöblom and his implausibly proficient comrades have been amassing a unprecedented catalogue of various and incessantly audacious music for the final 14 years, however they’ve remained one thing of a cult concern till now. The band’s new album, +4626-COMFORTZONE, merely oozes real-world melancholy, tapping into that wealthy vein of disquiet and craving that after impressed Roger Waters, amongst others, to such nice artistic heights. Partly impressed by Sjöblom’s experiences rising up within the small metropolis of Gävle on Sweden’s Baltic coast, it’s an album that deserves to propel its creators to a a lot increased degree of acclaim and recognition, not least as a result of a lot of its songs discover themes which might be positive to strike a nerve.
“I realised fairly early that this album would deal loads with rising up and the temper and the vibe of our dwelling city, which is kinda moody and darkish,” Sjöblom tells Prog. “There may be this mentality over right here that you simply shouldn’t even attempt to be something since you gained’t achieve success. It’s a small city and it’s nonetheless caught with a small city mentality. There’s good things right here too, after all, and for me, I had loads of encouragement once I was youthful. However this album is extra about getting older. You’ll be able to lastly get into locations the place they serve alcohol and that’s the place you uncover the mentality of ‘You’ll by no means get anyplace!’ as a result of persons are ingesting – in all probability an excessive amount of! – and that’s when it creeps out.”
+4626-COMFORTZONE (46 is the dialling code for Sweden, 26 the native code for Gävle) is an album bursting with moments of beautiful musicality and wild invention, however its underlying theme appears to be certainly one of acute frustration: at folks’s idle defeatism, on the persistent nagging of existential uncertainty, and – on the wickedly acerbic Ode To The Rock’n’Curler – on the thankless process of being a jobbing musician.
The aforementioned music’s chief protagonist finds himself on stage, performing covers in some godawful tribute band. He has a sudden second of livid revelation on the sheer mind-numbing banality of his semi-artistic life earlier than launching into an impromptu burst of Stravinsky, a lot to the horror of a booze-addled viewers who actually simply need rooster in a basket, as a lot beer as potential and some acquainted tunes to nod alongside to. Like a number of Beardfish’s best songs, it employs refined, bone-dry humour that tickles and torments in equal measure. It additionally appears to recommend that Sjöblom has a considerably vexed relationship together with his chosen occupation.
“That music is about freaking out whenever you realise that you could make more cash and make a dwelling from enjoying covers than from enjoying your individual songs,” he explains. “That’s a actuality for lots of musicians I do know, and world wide too. It’s miserable. Within the music, folks have gone to that place to drink, to not hear. They’re on the watering gap they usually simply need to hear one thing they recognise. However I truthfully thought that music was gonna be extra humorous, as a result of that was the intention… but it surely grew to become extra critical ultimately. I couldn’t assist it!”
The sluggish loss of life – or, in case you want, shambolic evolution – of the report business over the past decade could not have had a significantly detrimental impact on the world of prog, which continues to flourish away from the mainstream, however Sjöblom’s emotions of occupational ennui nonetheless make good sense as a profession in music turns into a larger problem with each passing yr.
“For me, I don’t suppose there’ll ever be one other Stevie Marvel or Bruce Springsteen or U2,” he muses. “The way in which the business works proper now, I don’t suppose it’s gonna be allowed, to be that large. There’ll by no means be new superstars which have creative integrity and that aren’t simply the product of a report label or a TV channel. At the moment it’s all based mostly across the identical loop of one other new child singing songs that different folks have written and everybody thinks they’re nice for 10 minutes, after which they’re gone and also you by no means see them once more. I miss the outdated means, when a label would spend money on an artist and provides them 5 albums to give you one thing and if it labored, nice! In these days, report label executives have been keen to strive issues and see if folks appreciated them.”
A willingness to strive new issues and to hell with the implications? That sounds loads like a Beardfish manifesto, and one which has served the band properly through the years. However even within the prog scene, the place open-mindedness ought to reign supreme however is routinely thwarted by the infuriatingly conservative attitudes of a vocal minority, a penchant for taking dangers will not be all the time appreciated. Beardfish skilled this themselves after they launched their final album, The Void. A sometimes daring and exploratory work, it took the Swedes slightly additional into heavy steel territory than many diehard followers have been anticipating.
“Yeah, it type of began earlier than the album got here out,” Sjöblom recollects with a wry chuckle. “We talked about someplace that we had a couple of songs that have been a bit extra in the direction of the steel facet of issues and as quickly as we launched Voluntary Slavery as the principle music for the album, the response was, ‘Oh no! My favorite band has turned steel!’ and, ‘What have they carried out?’ [Laughs] Just a few folks simply dismissed the entire report and didn’t hear previous the primary few tracks. I don’t blame them, as a result of it’s tough to get previous these parts in case you’re not into them. However I’m positive the individuals who loved that facet of us up to now thought it was nice, so it goes each methods.”
The excellent news for recalcitrant proggers with a metallic blind spot is that +4626-COMFORTZONE sees Beardfish again within the many-splendoured prog territory of earlier albums like Destined Solitaire and The Sane Day, albeit with occasional suggestions of the hat to heavier hues… together with the outrageous theft of the opening bass riff from Motörhead’s immortal Ace Of Spades firstly of Daughter Whore. It’s a sometimes mischievous second from a band who’re by no means so wrapped up in their very own musicianly pursuits that they miss the possibility to boost a smile.
“Yeah, that was kinda enjoyable!” grins the frontman. “Robert [Hansen, bassist] wasn’t imagined to play it that means, however he got here up with it in the midst of the recording. It turned out good ultimately, I feel. He’s actually chugging away! [Laughs] Folks can take music too critically generally, however the individuals who come from listening to Zappa or Hatfield And The North, they’re in all probability going to get our sense of humour fairly fast. Even in case you hearken to Genesis… they’d a number of humour too, however I feel that’s misplaced on lots of people.”
When the laughter subsides, after all, the brand new Beardfish album stays a poignant and sobering piece of labor. From the wistful subtleties of the three-part The One Inside by way of to the acid-tongued satire of Ode To The Rock’n’Curler, these songs strike a potent steadiness between the cleverness and intricacy of the music itself and the elegant however spiky profundities of Sjöblom’s lyrics.
The title observe is the best of the lot. A flawless nine-minute epic with a recurring melody that might soften the iciest of hearts, it tells the story of a person on his deathbed, wrestling with the a number of paradoxes conjured by such a meek reducing of the mortal curtains. As a music, it reinforces what a very extraordinary band Beardfish have change into, whereas the lyrics proclaim Sjöblom’s unfussy brilliance as a songwriter of nice sensitivity and distinction. It seems to be just like the tribute band circuit should muddle alongside with out him for some time but.
“Generally I get an urge to put in writing about darkish stuff as a result of everybody can have miserable ideas and get caught in that sort of mindset,” he states. “It’s a circle that goes spherical and spherical. This man is singing, ‘I’ve all the time longed for today,’ and but there’s all the time the battle… ‘Now that I’m right here, I can’t assist preventing it,’ you understand? Miserable stuff, isn’t it? [Laughs]
“I’ve all the time loved these sort of lyrics, and people sort of motion pictures too. I like darkish stuff, so I suppose that’s my consolation zone. In a means, I’m talking to myself once I’m writing, scuffling with life and attempting to put in writing to assist me discover a means out. After which, within the phrases of Hatfield And The North, I can share it.”
This text initially appeared in situation 53 of Prog Journal.
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