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Änglagård - Hybris CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

4.37 | 1597 ratings

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4 stars During the 1980s, good symphonic prog (or even any at all) was a rare find. There are a few gems, of course, such as BACAMARTE's "Depois Do Fim," but for the most part these albums were undermarketed and overlooked. Prog in the 1980s had been mostly overshadowed by the recent trends of punk, hair metal, synth-pop and new wave bands.

Perhaps what was truly necessary for a resurgence of symphonic prog in more mainstream prog circles was the familiarity of '70s instrumentation. ÄNGLAGÅRD, Swedish for "Garden of Angels," did exactly this: stayed true to symphonic prog's roots by using vintage keyboards and similar compositional techniques. But while ÄNGLAGÅRD certainly has influences from classic symphonic prog bands, especially KING CRIMSON, GENESIS, and a number of Italian Prog bands, they created something very new with Hybris.

ÄNGLAGÅRD mostly writes mini-epics, ranging between eight and fifteen minutes. While the length of these pieces might cause one to expect meandering, aimless compositions, each of ÄNGLAGÅRD's works is a very tight, one or two-movement piece that seems quite a bit shorter than it actually is. "Hybris," unlike "Epilog," contains the vocals of Tord Lindman, which, unlike other reviewers, I don't find to be a weakness in the music at all. Lindman sings Swedish lyrics with a delicate and pleasant voice somewhat akin to that of Jon Anderson. The vocal sections of "Hybris" are one of the factors that makes this album considerably more accessible than "Epilog," not because of the vocals themselves but because the music during vocal sections is considerably more digestible than the rest of the music on the album. Still, "Hybris" is a predominantly instrumental album, with only about five or six minutes of vocal sections.

The comparison of "Hybris" to GENESIS' works is mostly due to the similarities in instrumentation. "Hybris" includes vintage '70s keyboards along with flutes and classical guitars. The comparison to King Crimson is mostly due to the rhythmic intensity of the music. But I would argue that ÄNGLAGÅRD's music is even more rhythmically complex than KING CRIMSON's, only being matched by the music of GENTLE GIANT in that respect. The number of time signature changes per composition typically lies in the double digits, which makes the music extremely unpredictable and challenging.

"Jordrök," or "Earthsmoke," is the album's first track, and is completely instrumental. I was new to ProgArchives when I first heard this track on the site's audio download (now streaming audio) feature. From the first listen, I was under the impression that the audio available was a .MIDI file, and only through exposure to other bands' music via ProgArchives did I realize that this track had an extremely precise and almost mechanical piano introduction. Many fans consider this to be ÄNGLAGÅRD's best work, and indeed, this is the track I would suggest to others to get an idea of what this band is all about. This track, although completely instrumental, contains a great deal of variance, and somewhat serves as a midpoint between their later work on "Epilog" and the rest of the music on "Hybris." The latter section of this piece contains dynamic variation that truly must be heard to be understood.

"Vandringar i Vilsenhet," or "Wanderings in Confusion," begins with a solo flute section and slowly builds upon that. This track exemplifies ÄNGLAGÅRD's ability to effortlessly transition between darker sections of music to more energetic and chaotic sections. Parts of this track, especially in regards to the rhythm, remind me almost of gypsy music. This track is the first on the album to contain vocals. The build near the end of the song creates an interesting outro.

The next track, "Ifrån Klarhet Till Klarhet," or "From Strength to Strength" is likely the weakest on the album. I agree with reviewer Iván Melgar-Morey that the circus-like intro section to this song seems a bit out of place, and it doesn't really contribute much to the rest of the piece. That said, it is followed by one of the most random outbursts of chaotic music I've ever heard, and perhaps its purpose is to contrast that. The rest of the piece continues in typical "Hybris" fashion, though I don't feel the melodies here are as strong as those on the other tracks.

"Kung Bore," or "King Winter," is the last and strongest piece on Hybris. It begins with a pleasant 5/8 classical guitar melody that eventually settles into common time and gives birth to the rhythm section. After a rhythmically complex and agitated section of music, the piece slows down and is overtaken once again with lush guitar and flute. Lindman beings singing, and then the music continues in the typical ÄNGLAGÅRD fashion. At about the seven minute mark, the piece begins to build to its conclusion. At the eight minute mark, there is a section of interplay between percussion and keyboard/guitar that I find utterly perplexing rhythmically. The composition continues to build until it is swept away by the sound of lush mellotron orchestration.

One thing to note while listening to this album is the virtuosity of the rhythm section. What is even more unbelievable is that Mattias Olsson, ÄNGLAGÅRD's drummer and percussionist, was only seventeen at the time this album was recorded, and most of the rest of the band wasn't much older. The fact that these young musicians demonstrated the musical maturity to create a record of this quality to me is incredible.

The result of this album was a resurgence of progressive music in Scandinavia, with acts such as ANEKDOTEN and LANDBERK rising shortly after its release. WOBBLER's recent release, "Hinterland," also demonstrates a heavy ÄNGLAGÅRD influence.

As difficult as this is to do, I'm only going to award this album with four stars. But this is pretty much the closest a four-star album can be to masterpiece status. My rationale is that I've already awarded too many records with five stars and also that "Epilog," the album that followed this, is slightly stronger.

Anyone who enjoys symphonic prog or rhythmically intense album but does not have this album is really missing out. I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys progressive music of the '70s.

CaptainWafflos | 4/5 |


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