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The Flower Kings - Islands CD (album) cover

ISLANDS

The Flower Kings

 

Symphonic Prog

3.83 | 181 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

dougmcauliffe
5 stars If last year somebody had told me that in 2020 I would be rating the new Flower Kings album higher than the new Wobbler album, first I would go: "new Wobbler? Hell yeah!" Shortly followed by a "Ugh, The Flower Kings!?!?" Yep, I've never understood this band and I've always grouped them in with that kind of Neal Morse, Transatlantic, Karfagen sort of thing, where it's generally pleasant melodic prog, that rarely ever sweeps me off my feet with anything all that exciting or original. However, this album has seriously changed my mind about the band. I will repeat, I'm not a hardcore Flower Kings fan at all, but this album is truly fantastic. Islands runs at a very dense 96 minute runtime, but front to back it's full of extremely dynamic, well executed and interesting ideas. The production is what I would consider absolutely perfect for what it's going for, there's a real quirky and lively sound to this album with all sorts of beautiful melodic guitar playing and keys in the mix. It also manages to be a very cohesive and generally easy listen considering it's runtime, you can hear melodies and motifs from previous songs smoothly repeated here and there in other songs. I like that when they do include these reprises, they never overindulge or rely too heavily on them like you tend to see some contemporaries fall back on. The music here just puts me in a good mood, it makes me happy, but while it does have that accessibility factor, the songs still prog hard with complex arrangements, lively instrumentation, an abundance of subtleties and nuances as well as unconventional song structures. There's so many details to pick out of these songs, after countless listens, this album still sounds just as fresh as it did when I first heard it, if not more.

"Racing With The Blinders On" is a really exciting and upbeat opener, when the vocals come in during the latter half I get so amped up. The second track "From the Ground" is the song that really got my ears perked up when it came out, it was the track that got me hooked on this sound. It's such a pleasant and feel good song with memorable lyrics and catchy melodies on all fronts. The main guitar melody introduced in this track is pure bliss, I cannot stress enough just how great this song is as well as how much there is to latch onto in it's mere (4:11) runtime. "Black Swan" is another homerun, this one is the first to feature their other vocalist: "Hasse Froberg" on lead. He's got a great voice that works as a nice contrast to the differing timbre of Roine Stolt, I always love the two or more lead singers dynamic in any band. There's a bit of a Queen and Beatles feel to this track while still keeping that great melodic interplay going. I absolutely love where this track goes in the final two minutes with a brief but pretty unorthodox jam before delivering a great payoff satisfyingly dropping back into the main verse and chorus. "Morning News" is a very pretty and chill laid back track with a very emotional delivery and undertone to it. The following track "Broken" is another favorite of mine, featuring some of the darkest and heaviest playing on this album (with that said, we're still talking Flower Kings here, don't expect any meshuggah levels of heaviness!) This is found within the extended jam section around halfway through the track where it enters this awesome driving groove while a real dark and heavy sounding organ takes the lead with a super fiery solo. This is another track where there's so many instrumental change-ups that feel extremely effortless and organic, left turns and sweet melodies everywhere you look. "Goodbye Outrage" is a short symphonic sounding interlude, followed by "Journeyman" which is another generally short but fiery Jazz Fusion inspired instrumental. I love these fusiony jams that come up here and there, I tend to get some nice, breezy Zappa vibes from them. On some of these tracks I almost get some of the same vibes as I do from Camels "Harbour of Tears." Not only is the guitar playing incredibly melodic, but some of the symphonic arrangements and undertones within these songs match that vibe I only really get from that record. Along with From The Ground, "Solaris'' takes the cake as being the apex of the first disc. An incredible track with some real explosive melodious guitar playing on top of gorgeous vocal harmonies while also packing a sick contrasting and menacing build up section mid-way through. In the latter half of this song, the band reprises the main melody from "From the Ground," building up to an ungodly guitar crescendo that just takes off into the stratosphere. Seriously brilliant track. "Heart of the Valley" beautifully ties this first disc all together throwing in little lyrical hints and musical nuggets of some of the previous songs while adding a whole load of its own textures and sounds. Bookending this first disc is the soft and flowing instrumental "Man in a Two Piece Suit" offering a sort of celebratory closure to the first half of this album.

Now if this was just the album right here i'd be totally hooked and sold, and I was really worried this album was going to lose points in its exhaustive length, but I was wrong. I can count the number of 90+ minute records I love front to back probably on a single hand, and you better believe this is one of them. "All I Need is Love" opens disc two and it's one of my favorite tracks on the whole record. It starts off with some real pleasant poppy vibes and smoothly lands into an unbelievable beautiful piano and acoustic guitar led interlude right before the two minute mark with lovely vocal melodies to match. Following this, it breaks down into a nasty extended guitar solo with some awesome synth unisons and tradeoffs. "A New Species" is another favorite of mine. It's probably the most experimental and eclectic sounding track here, at times almost sounding like music you'd expect to hear on an alien planet. Real chaotic, fiery and quirky keys are all over this track with the meter going all over the map. It's a little tough to go into detail with this one due to it's schizophrenic instrumental nature, but I highly recommend giving it a listen for yourself. "Northern Lights'' is stunning, the instrumental textures and details in the mix paint a vast and expressive emotional picture in my head while listening. "Serpentine" once again brings forth the high energy fusion sounds with very well developed and eruptive saxophone all over this track. I just can't help but move while listening to this song, it's so full of life and it's another song here that just puts me in a good mood. "Looking For Answers" similarly to A New Species is super unorthodox and eccentric. The passage it breaks into at 2:22 is one of my favorite parts of this second disc. Just?. how do people get this creative?!?! "Fools Gold" keeps the high energy of the album going strong deep into it's runtime with it's driving and busy rhythm section and intense guitar soloing. Now in the final stretch, "Between Hope and Fear" once again acts as a track subtly tying things together, really going hand in hand with the final track "Islands," collectively setting up the grand finale of this record. The title track has a heavy burden placed upon being the final track of such a goliath record, a lot of pressure to deliver, and for my money, it does. The payoff this song delivers is so powerful and stunning. The guitar playing, which is really the main star of the show here, is so poignant and high-spirited. The album ends, and deep inside me is a feeling of complete satisfaction. They gave me everything I could have wanted out of this record, and I know if I want more, I can just start it right back over and get another fresh and exhilarating musical experience.

Like many of you, I've faced many extreme lows this year, but music has been there through all of it. I've found many releases from this year that I've loved a lot, but none of them touched my soul like this album has, and for that, I have to give it my one and only 5 star rating of this year. I will most certainly be following the band on their future endeavors from this point on and working backwards to see what I've missed. This album has turned me from someone whose sort of shunned the music of TFK, into someone with a great respect for the band, and I have to congratulate them for turning around so fast and delivering this brilliant and inspired record that's been a glimmer of light for me in the last few months. I recommend any prog fan check this out, especially those of you who are big into highly melodic prog like Camel, Khan, Yes and Caravan. Though there's something for everyone here.

5 Stars, *Album of the Year*

dougmcauliffe | 5/5 |

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