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The Flower Kings - Banks Of Eden CD (album) cover

BANKS OF EDEN

The Flower Kings

 

Symphonic Prog

4.09 | 606 ratings

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Anthony H.
Prog Reviewer
5 stars The Flower Kings: Banks of Eden [2012]

Rating: 9/10

[EDIT 8/2/12: After further rumination, I bumped this up to five stars. The original review is unchanged.]

I possess an unabashed adoration for The Flower Kings. They are the greatest symphonic progressive-rock band since the 70s. Some people think that they imitate older prog acts. These people are wrong. After a four-year hiatus, they're back with the brand new studio album Banks of Eden.

Although the 'Flower Kings' name was temporarily shelved in 2008, the band members certainly have not been idle with their own projects. However, there is a certain magic about this group that cannot be matched, and it was amazing news when their well-earned sabbatical came to an end. Unlike some fans, I find the band's 2007 release The Sum of No Evil to be an absolute masterpiece, so it was difficult for me to imagine a fitting follow-up. My faith in Roine and company is strong, however, and after hearing Banks of Eden, it is even more unwavering.

One of the best things about TFK is their ability to remain stylistically consistent while still providing depth of variety. Banks of Eden is further evidence of this; although the classic TFK sound is mostly unchanged here, this album is different from anything the band has ever done before. This is by far the darkest record the band has ever made. Of course, 'dark' is a relative term here, considering how happy this band usually is (they're called 'The Flower Kings', after all). Banks of Eden is a dark album in the same way 'The Gates of Delirium' by Yes is dark song: it is a more cynical spin on a normally idealistic musical atmosphere. This cynicism is reflected both lyrically and musically, as this album is much heavier than The Flower Kings of yore. Again, this is relative; no sensible person would expect crushing riffs or brutal shredding on a TFK record. Still, there are more driving rhythms and down-tuned melodies than usual.

This subtle augmentation of the classic Flower Kings sound is encapsulated in the opening 25-minute opus 'Numbers.' This piece only further reinforces Roine Stolt's absolute mastery of the prog-rock epic. The first eight minutes are a flurry of heavy riffs, groovy rhythm lines, vocal interplay, and dynamic shifts woven together with Zappa-esque intricacy. The middle sections are quite melancholic, featuring emotive vocal lines, light blues guitar, and ethereal bass tones. The final section introduces another chorus while simultaneously reprising earlier themes. All of this comes together to create a cornucopia of staggeringly complex and mind-blowing music. This is yet another masterpiece in the growing collection of TFK epics.

The other four shorter songs, while superb, do not quite match the grandeur of 'Numbers.' 'For the Love of Gold' is Hasse Froberg's moment to shine vocally. It's a great song, but it doesn't come close to the level of some previous Hasse-driven TFK songs such as 'Minor Giant Steps' or 'Love Supreme.' 'Pandemonium' is a dark and heavy track with lots of complex Crimsonian instrumentation. Roine uses an odd robotic vocal effect that put me off at first, but it ends up working rather well. 'For Those About to Drown', while lyrically dark, is quite whimsical in sound. Roine sounds great here, and his concluding solo is one of the guitar highlights of the album. 'Rising the Imperial' is by far the strongest of the shorter songs. Roine's vocals are in top form, and the chorus is unforgettable. This track is made all the more impressive by the fact that it was penned by bassist Jonas Reingold, who holds very few writing credits on previous TFK albums.

Does Banks of Eden reach the same level as some previous Flower Kings masterpieces? Not quite. Regardless, it is still an immense achievement from one of the greatest bands of the past 20 years. The classic sound is not heavily changed, but there are enough new ideas present here to make me even more optimistic about the band's (hopefully long) future than I already was. It pains me a bit to not rate this as a full-on masterpiece, but it simply doesn't speak to me on quite the same level as some of the band's previous work. Either way, this is modern prog at its finest. The Flower Kings are not kings by name alone.

Anthony H. | 5/5 |

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