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Wobbler - Hinterland CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

3.81 | 316 ratings

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5 stars The oddly named Wobbler are a relatively new Norwegian band, and this is their debut album. It was recorded this year. I say this not to be facetious, but because, if it wasn't for the evidence of my own eyes, I would possibly not have believed that what I was listening to was a new release and not a long lost archive item from the 1970's. We often talk of modern progressive rock bands taking influences from the classic bands of the Seventies, but Hinterland is so steeped in the sound of the early years of that decade that you're almost surprised that the music comes in CD format, and not on well-worn vinyl in a scuffed double gatefold sleeve. Hell, Wobbler even have the look right, and you feel that were the five long haired and bearded musicians dressed in fur lined coats that adorn the inlay photograph to be transported back thirty five years they'd easily fit in with the fashions of the day.

Wobbler are the almost archetypal symphonic prog band, and take their main influences not only from the oft-mentioned likes of Yes and Genesis, but equally from the less celebrated but equally influential outfits such as PFM and Gentle Giant. It's also clear that Wobbler are from essentially the same scene as fellow Scandinavian progsters such as Anglagard, Anekdoten, Landberk and White Willow. There's a close connection with the latter, in that keyboard player Lars Fredrik Frřislie joined White Willow for their last album, Storm Season, whilst WW main-man Jacob Holm-Lupo is one of the producers of Hinterland.

Frřislie is clearly the key player on this album, and just the mention of his armoury of instruments will make many symphonic fans purr with delight: Mellotron, mini- moog, Hammond, Wurlitzer, clavinet, harpsichord, grand piano - they're all here, and used judiciously throughout.

Of course, just the knowledge that these instruments form a key part of the Wobbler sound, and that Frřislie is more than adept at playing all of them, may be enough for many symph fans, and indeed connoisseurs of vintage keyboards, to rush out and buy the album, but the more discerning music fan will rightly say 'that's all well and good - but does the actual music cut the mustard?'. Thankfully the answer is generally 'yes'.

Following a short (and fairly pointless) introductory piece, we're launched straight into the title track, a near 28-minute epic that shows the full range of Wobbler's song writing skills. As you'd probably expect from a band of this ilk (and indeed a piece of this length), this shifts through a variety of different moods, from laid- back and mellow to dark and dynamic, and a number of musical themes and motifs are established and crop up throughout the piece. Frřislie is the dominant force here, utilising a lot of Mellotron washes during the more reflective sections, yet equally excelling at attacking the Hammond and mini-moog when the pace and tension crank up a notch. Recorder and flute (the latter played by another White Willow member, Ketil Einarsen) are frequently utilised, often in tandem, and there's a particularly strong section where flute is joined with baroque guitar and harpsichord to play a piece which is at once both pleasant and relaxing yet mildly unsettling - something Wobbler seem to excel at.

Its worth noting that, although as mentioned in my introduction, Wobbler do take their cue from the Seventies prog scene, there are relatively few occasions when you can make a direct link to a piece by another band and think 'I'm sure I've heard that before'. There's only a couple of occasions on this track where I had this feeling - one is at the songs conclusion, where layered guitars soar over a wave of Mellotron, immediately bringing Anekdoten to mind, whilst the other are the sections where the band indulge in some acrobatic vocal harmonising, reminiscent of Gentle Giant. It must be said that, compared to the gusto with which the likes of Spock's Beard use this technique, Wobbler's efforts are rather tame.

A quick word about the vocals - these are used sparingly, and are probably best described as adequate. Tony Johannessen has a reasonable voice, which handles the mellower material quite well, but is less strong when called upon to provide a more forceful delivery. These moments are relatively rare however, and the vocals certainly don't detract from the main business in hand, which is of course the lengthy instrumental sections.

After this lengthy opus, there's a danger that what follows could be anticlimactic, but thankfully Wobbler manage to keep the quality levels pretty high. Rubato Industry starts at a high tempo from the off, and generally keeps it that way. Both bassist Kristian Karl Hultgren and drummer Martin Nordrum Kneppen are kept busy here, with the former in particular impressing with some fluid, persistent rhythms. Once more Wobbler illustrate their skill at building momentum, letting it subside then building it up again.

Final track Clair Obscur sees Wobbler dispense with vocals altogether. Once again a variety of moods are created, ranging from the rather whimsical introduction, where grand piano is juxtaposed with some flute playing from the Andy Latimer school, to a section midway through the track where Frřislie really cranks things up, and almost appears to be playing all of his instruments at once. Guitarist Morten Andreas Eriksen is featured a little more here than elsewhere, with his playing vaguely reminiscent at times of both Steve Hackett and Mike Oldfield. In general, Clair Obscur exhibits a more playful, light-hearted feel than the darker, more serious-minded Rubato Industry.

Overall, however, Wobbler have created an impressive debut album. Personally I'd rate the material in the good to very good bracket rather than excellent, partly due to the aforementioned criticism regarding the compositions, but also because there just aren't that many moments (for me) that have that 'wow' factor, that gets the hairs on the back of the neck tingling. This however is obviously more of an individual thing, and I've no doubt that for many symphonic prog fans the 'wow' factor will be here in abundance. Nevertheless, a strong release, and one that bodes well for a bright future for this unashamedly retro outfit.

| 5/5 |


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