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The Flower Kings - Islands CD (album) cover

ISLANDS

The Flower Kings

 

Symphonic Prog

3.91 | 165 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

lukretio
3 stars The Flower Kings are one of the modern-day institutions in progressive rock and have been producing consistently high-quality progressive music for 25 years and counting. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that Islands is as technically proficient and satisfying as a prog rock album can be. It contains over 90 minutes of sumptuous, Yes-inspired progressive rock, filled with playful instrumental extravagance, unexpected tempo changes, complex harmonies, and big, uplifting melodies. "Uplifting" and "playful" are two adjectives that I would like to highlight here, because I think they are particularly fitting to describe this release, which is very light and lively ? both musically and in its lyrical themes - and vividly transmits to the listener all the fun and joy of playing that the five musicians must have experienced while recording this.

As customary with any The Flower Kings's release, the double-album contains plenty of solos and spotlights, letting the band showcase all their instrumental chops. Roine Stolt's guitar playing is impeccable as always, his solos so well-crafted and tasteful, unafraid to veer towards simpler melodies and bluesy territories when there is need to put more soul into the playing. Jonas Reingold's signature "rumbling" bass is also ever-present and makes for an interesting listening experience in and of itself. The two "new" guys, Mirkko DeMaio (drums) and Zach Kamins (keyboards), are also given space to shine. The latter, in particular, contributes to the songwriting of several tracks and brings in orchestrations and choral elements that represent a somewhat new influence to the band, which is refreshing. DeMaio's drums are placed a bit low in the mix and his playing is perhaps the less conspicuous, which however does not detract too much from the overall listening experience and contributes to the "light" feel of the album.

As on their other most recent releases, vocal duties on Islands are shared between Roine Stolt and Hasse Fröberg. While Stolt's voice may not be the most powerful or tuneful you'll ever hear on a prog disc, his a distinctive and characteristic inflection and his jazzy delivery make his vocal lines pleasant and totally in line with the music background. Fröberg perfectly complements his bandmate with a more rounded and accomplished performance, which is ideal for the more technical passages and the "big" choruses. Lyrically, the album centres on positive and uplifting messages ? which are probably a response to the times that inspired the music (the self-isolation and seclusion forced upon many of us by the COVID-19 pandemic). To be honest, I am more the type of person that gets moved by dark melancholic lyrical themes, so the album's lyrics leave me fairly cold and uninterested, but others may find them endearing and inspiring.

According to Stolt, the album is supposed to come across as one long piece of music, divided into 21 interconnected songs. Personally, I don't think this worked out very well. The 21 songs are occasionally tied together by common lyrical or musical motifs, but by and large I perceived them as separate pieces of music. Sure, the style is fairly homogeneous and one can instantly recognize The Flower Kings's trademark sound throughout the album, but I missed the magniloquence, bombast and ambition that I typically associate with the prog epics The Flower Kings have written on previous records, or with the many concept albums they have released in their career. Overall, the emotional arc and listening experience did not quite match that of albums like Unfold the Future or Flower Power.

There are a few other issues I have with the album that prevent me to rate it higher. One is the production, which I find somewhat too dark and murky (especially when it comes to Fröberg's vocals). As mentioned earlier, the drums are also a tad too low and flat, making the album somewhat punchless. The other issue is that, perhaps inevitably after 14 full-length albums, I feel that The Flower Kings have somewhat lost the ability to surprise me and excite me with their new releases. If I go back in time and think about the amazement and excitement I experienced when I first listened to an album like Unfold the Future ? so urgent, fierce and fearless ? well, that's simply not there anymore. This feels a bit like a "vanilla version" of the band that once was.

Nevertheless, Islands objectively remains a very good album, particularly if one is in the mood for technical yet playful and melodic instrumental entertainment. It is not an amazing album, there are other records in the band's catalogue that are much fresher and more exciting than this one, but it is certainly one of the most accomplished and technically proficient albums you will find on the record shelves this year. As for me, I will continue to buy The Flower Kings's albums, hoping perhaps for one or two more "big bang" records that will rekindle that spark that I used to experience every time a new release of the band was hitting the stores.

lukretio | 3/5 |

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