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The Flower Kings - Islands CD (album) cover

ISLANDS

The Flower Kings

Symphonic Prog


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5 stars Oh, this is the good shtuff...

The new 93-minute album "Islands" from The Flower Kings is genuinely a pleasant surprise. With only three members (Stolt, Froberg, Reingold) from the classic lineup of 20 years ago, they manage to put together a very solid album of symphonic prog with similitudes to their older catalog. Rob Townsend's saxophone touches here and there also hearken back to the days when Ulf Wallander made special guest appearances with some great sax lines. Nice.

I never cease to be amazed at the creativity that flows out of Stolt's and the rest of the band's heads. They just released the very good "Waiting For Miracles" a year ago! (85 minutes long, no less) And I honestly can't identify any songs here that they could have left off the album in order to get it down to an 80-minute single disc package, even if they wanted to.

Oh, and the package - just beautiful, as usual. A triple gatefold case with some iconic Roger Dean artwork to grace the cover. Complete lyrics and multiple pics of the band members are included in the booklet. They do this every time! Amazing,

As Roine notes in the booklet, the theme of the album deals with isolation, loss, and the fear of being disconnected...inspired by the current world pandemic, of course. No long songs here, as there usually are on a TFK album. He also notes that all 21 songs are "connected with themes that weave in and out." He even calls it a "cinematic, colorful...musical journey." Hate to paraphrase like this, but that sort of nails it!

The band members are the same as appeared on the last album, and this seems to be the new lineup. I thought I would miss Tomas Bodin's unique keyboards more, but newcomer Zach Kamins is fantastic, and actually sounds a lot like Bodin in places. How many drummers has the band had over the years? At least five, maybe six? Mirkko DeMaio might be the best one they've had since Zoltan Csorsz. Reingold does his usual thing on the Rickenbacker and fretless bass guitars, making for one great rhythm section. Some great solos from Stolt.

Ah...this really is the good shtuff, folks. 4-1/2 conservative stars for this album from one of my favorite bands.

Report this review (#2458157)
Posted Wednesday, October 21, 2020 | Review Permalink
4 stars The Flower Kings sound is back!

I initially thought the album was going to be TFK on sleeping pills in a way. Like a continuation of Waiting for Miracles except even less exciting. Welp, I was dead wrong. It's one of the most exciting albums Roine and Co. have done in a long time. I love it. The sugary and safe vibe of the previous album is there, yes, but the compositions are way more fun this time. Every piece sounds more musical and fresh. The compositions touch my heart in a similar way, the 90s tracks did.

Zach Kamins' keyboard work which to be frank, while not that different from Bodin's, did have its dose of Casioesque cheese on W4M. However, this time, the sounds he choses to utilize are way more elegant. Especially the orchestral tones which Bodin couldn't quite nail. Sweet! I also really dig the idea of having the drums less in your face in the mix. Jonas's bass really shines. The nasal gooey tones we all like are once again adding a lot of excitement to the mix! It's hard to believe this was all recorded in virus lockdown mode. It sounds just right! The guitar and vocal work by Roine and Hasse is absolutely gorgeous but I think it might be time for Roine to step down as the lead singer for IMO his voice lost the power that it had back in the early 2000s. :(

This album does have some filler though and longepicoholics may not be 100% satisfied but the REALLY really good moments do compensate for it all. So in conclusion, I totally recommend this album. Go listen to it.

Report this review (#2461907)
Posted Saturday, October 31, 2020 | Review Permalink
5 stars The Flower Kings come off the back of releasing their increasing mediocre record from 2019 entitled "Waiting For Miracles". Did they come back with a better album in 2020? With the same lineup from 2018, Zach Kamins replacing longtime keyboardist Tomas Bodin, and Mirkko DeMaio taking over the drums. Have The Flower Kings come back with a better album than their previous? I think this is an easy answer, absolutely. They brought back their sound but with a mellow tone, and a bunch of jazz fusion. They have Rob Townsend of Steve Hackett to come in and do all the wind instruments on this album. What does this album have? It has 21 tracks, 95 minutes in total. Shall we go through these tracks now?

SIDE ONE

Racing With The Blinders On, opens the album, being a fairly fast paced jazz influenced Genesis/Yes type track with soaring keyboard licks and smooth guitar work from Zach and Roine. Overall a really compelling way to open up the album, on the plus side two, slappin bass from Jonas! 5/5

From The Ground, Yes... sounds like Yes and I love it. The keyboard work on this one, great keyboard solo, very Yessy but keep in tone to their original sound. Spectacular track. 5/5

Black Swan, very original track but definitely a Flower Kings track through and through. I really love the vocals on this track, really good. 5/5

Morning News, you can't get more of a Beatles track if you tried, this sounds like it was written by John, Paul, and George. Very mellow song, very soft and acoustic, love it. 5/5

Broken, this was the first song to be released to promote this album and it was a smash. The lyrics were very real, the music itself was banging, and it showcased that the band can still write damn good prog. 5/5

Goodbye Outrage, I am not too much a fan of this track but still, pretty nice, a 2 minute song written by both Zach and Roine but ultimately not my favourite. 3/5

Journeyman, Jazz Fusion to a tee. I absolutely love this track, the keyboard work is ridiculous well done, the drumming, just the bands overall playing is fantastic. Well done to Zach Kamins to writing a really good Tomas Bodin style interlude. 5/5

Tangerine, another track that I'm not thrilled about but still very enjoyable. More psychedelic and jazz influenced but the harmonies are the best part of this track. Cool. 4/5

Solaris, the longest song on this album and it might be the best song on this album. I'd gladly take this track over Miracles for America or Vertigo off the previous record. It has the large scale vocals, a choir and sting opening to give this track a huge sound like back in the good old days of FlowerPower. The vocals are absolutely incredible on this track in particular, the mellow middle section leads back into a huge vocal base. This song is just perfect, well done on all fronts, playing, and otherwise. 10/10

Heart Of The Valley, is back to being Yes. I love this track too. Its very vocal based again, like the majority of this album. Good track to lead off of Solaris. 5/5

Man in a Two Piece Suit, a little too much bluesy guitar riffing for me but still really good. 4/5

SIDE TWO

All I Need is Love, sounds to me like soft rock of the 70s. Very pleasant, nice opener to the second disc. 5/5

A New Species, I heard a lot of different material in here. This is an instrumental with a lot of cool playing, and one section that sounds a bunch like Dream Theater... never thought I'd ever say that about a Flower Kings track but still cool. 5/5

Northern Lights, Vocal based as this album is, another gorgeous track from the band. 5/5

Hidden Angels, another jazz fusion interlude. Another amazing track by Zach. 5/5

Serpentine, Sax and fast paced. Rob Townsend's feature track, really well done sax soloing, fast paced song, great vocals again. 5/5

Looking For Answers, Church Organs... thats all I have to say. 5/5

Telescope, not my favourite material either, its calm and soothing but just not the best thing on this album. 4/5

Fools Gold, probably my least favourite song on this album, I just don't like bluesy noodling on this one personally. 3/5

Between Hope and Fear, this is probably my second favourite song on this entire album. I love Roine's idea to use a high pass filter on high voice to make it sound like he was coming through a radio or something of the sort. Really really love this track. Amazing. 5/5

Islands, the title track, another amazing instrumental to close this album. To be honest, I kinda wish Between Hope and Fear ended this album? Still a good choice, nice, gorgeous. 5/5

So! 2020 Flower Kings, a huge improvement over the previous, and Roger Dean artwork? Just for the gorgeous artwork this album deserves 5 stars, just kidding but... the art fits the album. Time for the final score.

Side One : 51/55 Side Two : 47/50 Side One Percentage : 97.272% Side Two Percentage : 94%

Total Grade : 98/105 Percentage Total : 93.33%

Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music.

Report this review (#2474774)
Posted Wednesday, November 11, 2020 | Review Permalink
5 stars OK, I am a fanboy. I love pretty much everything Roine Stolt is involved in, but this truly is a great album in my opinion. This one is comprised of shorter more concise SONGS, while still retaining all of the elements of the Flower Kings' sound. Subtle, nuanced, beautiful, melodic, complex... You get the idea.

Others have mentioned the drums being mixed a little lower, which reminds me of most of my 70's favorites where this was quite common. It does allow for the melodic complexities to shine, but make no mistake, you can still hear every nuance of Mirko DeMaio's playing and it is some great playing at that. It is definitely more rock drumming than some of TFK's former drummers, but really works well.

I really enjoy Zach Kamins' contributions. He still utilizes many of the classic keyboard sounds we are used to hearing in TFK albums, but also interjects some more modern sounds which keeps this album sounding fresh. In addition, his orchestral flourishes add an element that I have always thought would work well in TFK's music, and it does! His instrumentals are also a little more "technical" sounding than most of TFK's music, which is an interesting addition to the sound.

Jonas Reingold's bass playing is just fantastic. Sometimes thundering, some times gentle, always perfect. Hasse Froberg's vocals continue to be top notch whether singing lead or adding layers of harmony.

Roine's guitar really shines on this album, and there are LOTS of opportunities to hear it. There are many solos and they are all great! He is such an emotional and tasteful player and I love his tone.

The Flower Kings have carved out a sound that, while certainly informed by the 70's greats (of which Roine was involved via Kaipa), is uniquely their own. I love this and all of their albums.

Bonus: Roger Dean cover art! You can't go wrong.

Report this review (#2478353)
Posted Sunday, November 22, 2020 | Review Permalink
3 stars The flower kings are back with a new studio effort a year after their great album Waiting For Miracles. First off all I have to say that Roger Dean did a great album cover. Islands is another great double album that gives us a nice melodic ride through prog rock world of TFK. It's also important to say that the production on this album is fantastic. The highlight of this album is a great guitar work, lyrics from Mr.Stolt and a bass preformance from Jonas Reingold. I must say when I saw track listing I was a little disappointed that we will not get a long epic track which the fans of the band really love, but after listening to the album I must say that Islands is a great album with almost all trademark sounds of TFK, it is a nice ride for everyone with relaxing tones, at times strong and powerful, nice to meditate to, it's an album that takes you to land of tranquility and keeps you there.
Report this review (#2479158)
Posted Monday, November 23, 2020 | Review Permalink
rdtprog
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Heavy / RPI / Symphonic Prog Team
3 stars The band is in a relaxed mood with this album that seems to be less structured and more improvised with some jazzy passages. The performance of the new musicians is spot on with some innovative keyboard lines. However, I have tried to enjoy this album by repeated listening, it's 90 minutes difficult to digest. It was supposed to be a single song, but it doesn't sound that way. The cohesion found in the first Flower Kings albums is not here. There are some good parts in various places in this long journey, but too many moments where my attention drift away. I don't know if a single album would have improved things because there's not a standout track here that still is sonically a beautiful work of art, but something is missing in the songwriting. Maybe I need to listen more, if not I will go back to my old Flower Kings or Kaipa albums.
Report this review (#2479281)
Posted Monday, November 23, 2020 | Review Permalink
4 stars "Fantasy tangerine" keyboard landscapes are forever behind!" But the blues crunchy guitar tunes intensified. Complex, sometimes unnecessary, but this is the nature of the most sophisticated and multifaceted neo-progressive group titled The Flower Kings. It is not clear what was the reason, but two double albums in 2 years are a titanic success. While both records are great! Since 2012 - from the album "Banks of Eden" (which your humble servant considers one of the three strongest releases by TFK) - a strong bias towards a powerful guitar sound has been taken, which has benefited the musicians. And the last record to date is no exception. The music is still full of optimism and unrestrained fantasies of Roine Stolt, only with a different approach. The album is imbued with morning mood and layered guitar landscapes, and is very suitable for displaying large-scale scenes that are literally "off the ground". This time the music, almost devoid of sharp jumps, rather resembles the transition from "hill to river". The main drawback of the album (although more likely the last 10 years) is the vocalist's somewhat worn out: the voice has become too quiet and almost devoid of past emotions. Years are felt in it, which is depressing, given the general "pacifying" canvas of the group. It is still difficult for me to choose the highlight, because in fact all tracks are insanely interesting. So, "From The Ground" is a good example of a classic TFK with all their soaring chants and "widescreen bridges". Morning News is a fun, almost Christmas "connective tissue" between powerful album hits. Its initial simplicity is deceptive, and very soon it turns into sublime sadness, which culminates in a virtuoso and rather dynamic "Broken". And, in general, the whole album is incredibly good, the material is of the highest quality, despite the rather spoiled vocals. Perhaps the only miss is "Tangerine". Hey guys! You shouldn't write silly songs with a lack of melody and integrity. Perhaps, only it completely falls out of the album - and indeed not in the spirit of The Flower Kings. Everything else is better just to listen, because I will not have enough nerves to describe 2 discs, superbly played and complex pieces, as well as your desire to read all this! In any case, the dying world of the neo-progressive is still tapping out of the grave, and in this case, it broadcasts from it quite confidently and beautifully. True, no one knows how much of this is left ...
Report this review (#2479336)
Posted Monday, November 23, 2020 | Review Permalink
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.

Report this review (#2488511)
Posted Tuesday, December 29, 2020 | Review Permalink
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*

Report this review (#2488539)
Posted Tuesday, December 29, 2020 | Review Permalink

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