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Wobbler - Afterglow CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

3.84 | 363 ratings

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4 stars I had been anticipating Afterglow ever since I first read about it on Wobbler's MySpace page. I wasn't disappointed!

Although Wobbler's second release comes 4 years after their last (recorded in 2007-2008, released in early 2009), this music has apparently been on the shelf since before Hinterland. According to Wobbler, the material on Afterglow is from 1999, two of the cuts being re-recordings of prior demos. I really don't care when the music was created, but I suppose some folks might not consider this to be a proper new release.

Wobbler's style of music is firmly rooted in 1970's symphonic prog, and they say so without apology. The compositions are complex, with challenging melodic lines, interesting harmonies and lots of complicated syncopated rhythms and time signatures. There are lots of layers of instruments, especially tons of great Mellotron.

There are two primary longer tracks (Imperial Winter White at 15:02 and In Taberna at 13:10), wrapped with short prologue (The Haywain), interlude (Interlude) and epilogue (Armoury) tracks. The two longer tracks are completely in the complex symphonic style, and similar although each has so many changes and variations that it's hard to really compare them. Interestingly the prologue and epilogue tracks have a distinct medieval feel to them, even though Armoury adds a great vintage synth twist. Interlude is based on a classical-style guitar piece, with acoustic bass and cello added as it evolves. The flow between the pieces produces an album that I think ties together nicely, perhaps better than Hinterland's more separate-feeling tracks.

My single real complaint with the composition is that at a total of less than 35 minutes, it's just way too short, especially by today's standards. But I suppose I can forgive that since this really seems to be more a way for the band to get back into shape for their next all-new album.

The musicians in Wobbler are obviously very talented. Lars Froislie seems to be the most visible band member through their blog postings, so I'll start with the keyboards. This is appropriate, since the keys play a big role in Wobbler's music. Lars is apparently quite the fan of vintage keys, and prides himself in not using any samples, midi or any equipment younger than 30-something years. He can cut loose on complex melodic lines on a Mini-Moog or Hammond C3 just as skillfully as he creates lush Mellotron washes. You'll also find vintage Arp synths, Rhodes, Clavinet and even a Stylophone in the mix.

Morten Erikson's guitar work seems more prominent on Afterglow than on Hinterland. In addition to solid Gibson and Fender electric guitar work, there is some really nice acoustic guitar on Afterglow. Martin Kneppen's drumming is solid, yet at the same time full of complex fills and flourishes. He also plays recorder and additional percussion. Kristian Hultgren's bass playing is impressive, and the sound of his Rickenbacker is powerful (although I'd like a little more bottom end). He also adds the nice acoustic bass to Interlude. It's a tribute to the two of them that the flow between constantly shifting complex sections and time signatures feels really natural.

There aren't a lot of vocals on Afterglow, but where there are, Tony Johannessen's style shines. I personally really like his dramatic delivery, which we find on the two long tracks. He certainly can sing on-pitch with great range, and he really creates a good emotional connection. The vocals are all in English, but there's no lyric sheet with the CD.

Ketil Einarsen adds some really nice flute work, Aage Schou adds vibraphone and percussion and Sigrun Eng adds some cello work on several tracks.

The recording and production quality of Afterglow is first rate. Even when there are lots of layers, the mix is clear and all the tracks can be picked out. Unfortunately, the mastering engineer succumbed to the dark side and pumped the levels up too high, clipping the the dynamic range, like most digital mastering done for the MP3/iPod age. I found a pass through DeClip Pro easily restored the clipped peaks and brought the dynamics and nuances of the loud passages back to life.

If you like Wobbler's prior release, Hinterland, you will probably love Afterglow. If you're not familiar with Hinterland, you'll find Afterglow to be in the same ballpark as Anglagard's Hybris. Yes, I know, too many prog groups are said to be like Anglagard, but for me Wobbler really does come close. You'll find elements of King Crimson, Genesis, ELP and other prototypical prog in Wobbler's music, as well as apparent RPI influences. If you like complex, challenging, bombastic 1970's symphonic prog, I think you'll find Afterglow most enjoyable.

I've flip-flopped back and forth on the rating for this -- originally a 4, then a 5, and now I'm going back to a 4. In the end, I think Hinterland stands the test of time better than Afterglow. Afterglow is close, but just falls short of something I can call a true masterpiece. 4.5 stars, rounded down for the short length and slight lack of staying power.

On Wobbler's MySpace blog, they say they will be working on an all-new third album once Afterglow is complete. Will they be able to match the creativity from 10 years ago? I can hardly wait!

PaulH | 4/5 |


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