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Gösta Berlings Saga

Eclectic Prog

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4 stars Named after a famous 19th century Swedish novel, the story of a defrocked church minister with added sword and sorcery, this band has a lineage that one can trace back through Anekdoten, the recently reformed Änglagård, and older influences such as Hansson & Karlsson, the ubiquitous King Crimson, and Van Der Graaf Generator. In fact Änglagård's Mattias Olsson is involved here on production duties and contributes "additional hidden and lost sounds".

Any entirely instrumental band has to be able to keep the listener's attention with many intricate twists and turns, or go the other way and create a trance-like ambience. Gösta Berlings Saga, not unsurprisingly given their influences, go for the former approach, and highly successful it is too. I've listened to this album quite a few times before attacking the keyboard, and each time I hear something I missed previously.

The first thing I notice is a powerful organic sound propelled by Gabriel's bass and Alexander's driving back beat on the opening piece, the cryptically named 354. The tune marches along, embellished by some nice piano flourishes from David before becoming darker and pulling you round in a very fast orbit. There's even a musical saw interlude before the crunching finale. An impressive start.

Instrumental bands can call their songs anything they like, and there are some great titles here. Icosahedron is "..a regular polyhedron with 20 identical equilateral triangular faces, 30 edges and 12 vertices" - and who am I to argue! Gilese 581g is a planet orbiting Gilese 581 in the constellation of Libra, and is reckoned to be an Earth-like planet with a good chance of supporting life. Where do they find these titles?!

Icosahedron with Einar's crashing chords puts me in mind of one of the instrumental passages from The Strangler's Meninblack album, but with added cojones. More musical saw and waltzing cello gives a chamber music feel to Island, the first longer piece on the album. The theme is taken over by bass and drum, you can feel the build up. The spirit of Änglagård is very much in evidence on this great piece of stomping waltz music from another galaxy.

Geosignal has a glam rock beat overlaid with some trumpet and more crashing Stranglers-like chords. A surprising but fun deviation.

Soterargarten 1 reprises a title from the last album, where it was listed as Soterargarten 3, and the band's myspace site has Soterargarten 2 for streaming. It's all a bit confusing! Anyway, after a mournful trumpet intro a huge marching bass/drums riff establishes a theme, and it lurches along like Iron Man in a rage. Then it stops, and a quiet reflective piano led section later joined by trumpet and cello builds to a gentle climax, lulling the listener after the carnage that has gone before. Wonderful stuff. You'll have buy the thing to find out more!

I don't usually go for track by track descriptions (ok, I haven't described every song here, but five out of seven is good going for me!) , as personally I find reviews that give an overall impression far more helpful, but this has sucked me in, in a good way I hasten add, but I'll stop now, having hopefully teased you just enough to investigate further.

Report this review (#459057)
Posted Saturday, June 11, 2011 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars

Who is Gösta Berling and why did he name his band after the Canadian synthrockers?

I jest of course. There is no Gösta Berling unless you count the defrocked minister from the Lagerlöf novel and Jethro Tull-like namesake of the group, and frankly if you really want the straight poop on this disc; the scuttlebutt, the word, skinny, dish, and hearsay, I'd suggest reading Starless' excellent write-up. My main parting with his fine assessment is that I do find Glue Works focuses strongly on building layered themes upon simple structures rather than material that is change-oriented. Kinda sounds like what you'd get if you threw half the Ozrics and half of Anglagard in a room together for a day or two. And then there's that Hansson&Karlsson influence. It's a strange mix but that's okay, it works, and it sounds like the kind of thing you'd regret tossing five or ten years from now. Sadly it's not an approach that does a whole lot for this writer. The project functions on paper, but somehow the music doesn't stick and seems to evaporate as it plays leaving little residual flavor. I do wish this were not the case for the 46 minute Cuneiform release, but you call 'em like you see 'em.

There is some very good stuff here, however, and I'd be remiss if I didn't point it out. '354' promises with an intriguing vamp of thin, tingly lines from Einar Baldursson's guitar & Dave Lundberg's electric piano splayed over the tribal drumming of Alex Skepp. A good start. Atonal 'Icosahedron' clearly reflects the Hansson/Karlsson impact while painfully long 'Island' at over twelve minutes creaks along to the beautifully recorded cellos of Cecilia Linne, wayward sounds of an aetherphone, and develops into a very cool jam that, if tailored, could've been a highlight. But the piece is dragged-out to it's breaking point and doesn't really capitalize on this outfit's potential brilliance. A welcome change of pace for 'Waves' reminding vaguely of early Peter Gabriel, and 13-minute monster 'Sorterargatan 1' is quite good, the foursome finally bringing it with multiple changes of theme, direction, pace and instrumentation.

This is a good record. Very good. And I know I must be missing something. I wanted more, I wanted less, I don't know what I wanted, and it isn't really the band's fault that I'm such a nitpicking assh*le. This is an album that can only be judged by the listener while he is listening, not defined by an outside impression. And so dear reader, with gaping ear and hungry spirit, you should decide for yourself if GBS fits your bill. I only know it didn't quite fit mine.

Report this review (#479019)
Posted Friday, July 8, 2011 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
4 stars GOSTA BERLINGS SAGA are back with their special blend of Swedish instrumental Prog. Once again ANGLAGARD's Mattias Olsson is back to help with additional sounds as well as producing,recording and mixing this baby. All I had to see was that David Lundberg was once again playing Fender Rhodes and mellotron to know this would be good. Like the last one we get a Post-Rock flavour at times but I will say right off the bat that the last one is a better album than this one. Still I definitely rate this better than the debut and a solid 4 stars.

"354" opens with guitar as a beat then the Fender Rhodes join in. I like the prominant bass as well. A spacey almost theremin-like sound takes over at 4 minutes and when it stops this sounds amazing. Quite intense. "Icosahedron" kicks in fuller just before a minute as the guitar is picked over top. It settles 2 1/2 minutes in to the end.

"Island" opens with cello and that theremin-like sound again.The drums kick in before 2 minutes.The guitar comes to the spotlight before 4 1/2 minutes as this song just keeps getting better. "Gliese 581G" has a Post-Rock flavour to start.The guitar kicks in at 4 minutes to the end. "Waves" is a short tune with a heavy beat and mellotron.

"Geosignal" has some harmonica, horns, piano, guitar and atmosphere. It blends into "Sorterargatan I" where a full sound kicks in quickly. Almost a Zeuhl-like rhythm especially with that growly bass sound after 1 1/2 minutes as the guitar plays over top. A calm follows with mellotron. It's building then that Zeuhl-like bass returns after 4 1/2 minutes. A calm a minute later then it starts to build 7 1/2 minutes in. Cello 9 minutes in then mellotron before 10 1/2 minutes.

"Glue Works" is an excellent follow-up to the masterpiece that was "Detta Har Hant".

Report this review (#481159)
Posted Tuesday, July 12, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars

Gösta Berlings Saga are really maturing into a stylistically diverse, highly original, and most importantly really cool-sounding band. I was overjoyed to find this CD on the shelves of my local music store (cursed as I was by the impression that these guys would remain inaccessibly Swedish forever) and picked it up somewhat impulsively.

And originally, I found it generally enjoyable but slightly disappointing compared to Tid är Ljud, the first album of theirs I heard, but it has massively improved on repeated listens. Part of this is due to the minimalist style of record--my first impression was that the songs tended to be overlong, but closer observation reveals a wealth of small details that really make the album excellent. (Really, more of a 4.3 or 4.4.)

Finally, the album shows a clear progression from their second, Detta Har Hänt. That one, although still heavily produced, still maintains the same instrumentation and a roughly uniform sound throughout, whereas Glue Works uses many different interesting synth sounds and other instruments--including the only successful example I've seen of the musical saw in a rock context. The whole thing is excellently produced by Matthias Olson (of Änglagård fame). I wouldn't necessarily say this album is better than Detta Har Hänt, but it shows clear musical development. As previous reviewers have said, it's more than a bit post-rocky, which is an interesting change in style.

Three paragraphs, and I haven't even gotten to individual songs yet! The opener, 354, is a relentless, minimalist rocker, with the group's signature combination of Fender Rhodes and harsh guitar, playing an incessantly energetic (and utterly bizarre time-signature-wise--I still haven't figured it out) piece that subtly metamorphoses through several different themes, concluding with a pounding two-chord theme over which various instruments exchange solos. This last part does go on a bit long, but the piece is quite exciting overall. Also, I think I understand the enigmatic title--the piece is 5:54, or 354 seconds, long.

After "354" comes "Icosahedron", continuing the theme of "slightly mathematical titles". This is an excellent piece, with an eerie Rhodes intro that suddenly crescendos into a crashing, heavy sequence of bizarre chord voicings on the guitar. The effect is menacing and unpredictable, and it all too soon calms back down to the Rhodes. This piece is highly original but also fascinating to listen to, and is also a bit too short.

The following piece, "Island", is one of the album's two "epics". It starts out with a pleasantly eerie string section (with saw!) which introduces the piece's main theme. This goes on for a minute or two, and then the piece starts in earnest, with a crashing guitar theme and thunderous drumming from Alexander Skepp. For about 10 minutes, the band riffs in subtly changing ways on a pretty exciting 13/8 chord progression, almost never halting or pulling back its steady advance. This piece does have one outstanding flaw, which is that it's distinctly overlong. It could easily lose a minute or so from the ending jam and vastly improve. But my opinion has still gotten more positive from when I first heard it. The trick is that, at the time, it was unlike anything I had ever heard. In this track more than any other on the album, it is important to pay attention to the weird things going on in the background, and what initially appears to be interminable jamming at the end turns out to be a truly epic fadeout. (Which, as already stated, is a wee bit long, but still cool!) What is really impressive is that, apart from the sudden transition away from strings at the beginning, the piece preserves its length without any awkward jumps or cuts. It doesn't sound like it was stitched together from shorter songs, but rather uses slow, unnoticeable transitions through guitar solos, harsh saw-wave synths, repeated motifs, and back to more soloing. Although perhaps not the best song on the album, it is a fascinating listen and a fitting centerpiece--atmospheric and terrifyingly relentless at the same time (which always strikes me as an oxymoronic combination, until I actually hear examples such as this.)

Fortunately, the 13-minute crunch-fest of Island is followed up by a relatively calming intro to "Gliese 581g", a mysterious repeated Rhodes figure over xylophone and subtle, breathy synth noises. It's intriguing, because the main melody is actually comprised by these "background" noises--the "foreground" figure is really the slowly developing backing. After this goes on for a while, the instruments draw back again, in time for a sudden, violent interruption of guitar chords carrying a similar theme, which are then backed by thundering, complex percussion, building up to a sudden stop. Again, this piece is a bit on the long side, but still excellent.

This is followed by two short pieces. The first, "Waves", might actually be the best on the disc, with strange percussion (including handclaps) and growling bass, a catchy opening synth theme, and then weird, echoey guitar chords which fall into the background. The song is sort of based off of several layers that swap out for each other, producing a highly varied piece with a lot going on. And of all of the tracks on the record, this one is the one that would be most improved by lengthening--it's under 3 minutes!

The second short piece, "Geosignal", does not impress me. It starts out with a slow, melancholy theme on strings and accordion (?) which then switches to a brass interlude. It's the least remarkable part of the disc, but it's fortunately also the shortest, and the last note fades out and then sweeps back into...

"Sorterargatan 1", the "prequel" to Detta Har Hänt's "Sorterargatan 3". This begins with a chiming repeated figure on the guitar and menacing bass notes, leading in to more of the stunning rapid twiddles on the guitar that marked its companion piece and then a more ethereal section with an eerie leading tone. The song then suddenly stops, several minutes short of its promised running time...

And starts up again as what appears to be a totally different song--another slow-building tune this time, with rhodes, bass, drums, and cello, but, for the first time on the album, actually happy! Apparently this is still a part of Sorterargatan 1, but I can't really see that--they're not connected in any way. Still, it's nice to end such a dark record on a happy note, and the buildup is well-executed.

So, to conclude this overly verbose review: Glue Works is very, very good. Sometimes it stresses the minimalism and repetition of its songs a little too far, but there are enough details and complexly layered parts that in most places it doesn't make a difference. It's also got a style that I've heard nowhere else before. So if you're interested in post-rock, minimalism, eclectic prog, or just any instrumental rock that's highly original, it would behoove you to check this out. Highlights include "Icosahedron", "Waves", and "Sorterargatan 1".

Report this review (#654399)
Posted Sunday, March 11, 2012 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars I was beginning to suspect that progressive rock was getting a bit stagnant. That was until G'sta Berlings Saga blew everyone away at NEARfest. I found their previous album 'Detta Har H'nt' impressive but it was the songs from 'Glue Works' that had me leaning forward in amazement with my mouth hanging open. After the show the line for buying a CD was as long as the line to meet the band. I waited in both, and yes my CD is signed.

The music has been labeled as Eclectic Prog, but I think it leans more toward RIO or Rock in Opposition. This is because the most obvious influences I hear are bands like Univers Zero and Henry Cow that started the movement in the first place. But of course there are other influences as well. Which is why Eclectic is the catch all for bands that are impossible to pin down. The labels fit but artists do tend to evolve. Over the years many artists form other genres have incorporated elements the original bands created and those designated as RIO have expanded their boundaries, thus making them more eclectic. Even fellow Swedes 'nglag'rd now sound more RIO than Symphonic. This really comes as no surprise since Mattias Olsson produced 'Glue Works.'

Regardless of what label to apply, on 'Glue Works' G'sta Berlings Saga has recorded some of the best music ever to pass through these aging ears. The blend of chamber music, jazz and rock has rarely been executed with so much beauty and aggressive passion. The band has been together for a long time now but the musicians have not gotten old enough to lose their youthful fire. Luckily that wasn't just saved for the stage because they captured it in the studio as well.

Every mood and style is perfectly tooled and keeps the listener engaged. As with most bands of this ilk the music is generally on the darker side but it never goes to the side of depressing. Usually composing music this complex and dense hinders the accessibility. 'Glue Works' should have no problem bringing in the new initiate. 'Waves' has a hooky little groove and the intense jam band build of 'Island' is impossible to turn away from. Even the soothing jazz organ on 'Gliese 58lg' is kept intriguing with some well placed percussion touches, until it turns into a guitar jam. Things like string instruments, mellotron, chimes, wailing guitar, horns and grooving bass are all integrated seamlessly. Only vocals are omitted but you won't miss them.

I could go on with more specific description of the individual tracks but that wouldn't do them justice. As Haju Sunim at the Buddhist Temple often says, 'Words fall short.' As is most often true, and especially here (good) music really needs to be heard for complete understanding.

Okay this isn't exactly easy music. It does require that you pay attention to be fully appreciated. We aren't talking simple songs here. This is grown up music (like much of what I choose to review). I do not however think you have to be a progressive/complex music aficionado to enjoy 'Glue Works.' When music as a whole has been standing pretty much still for a couple of decades now, I feel I must promote something as unique and outstanding as this is. If music is to move forward, artists like G'sta Berlings Saga are already leading the way. You owe it to yourself to check it out. Then you can feel the satisfaction of being here when it was cutting edge.

H.T. Riekels

Report this review (#1134630)
Posted Thursday, February 20, 2014 | Review Permalink

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