Anekdoten, 16th October 1999
By Mark Robotham
Only Anekdoten, of all bands, could have selected a venue in a dark, back-of
-beyond Belgian village called Vinalmont with a huge, raised cemetery
opposite.... in fact, I'm far from convinced that they don't make a mandatory
requirement for their chosen venues....
For the uninitiated, these four Swedes hit the prog scene in 1993 with the
excellent, if heavily 'Red' period King Crimson influenced 'Vemod'.
Mellotron-heavy and with a guitarist as adept in tortuous tritones as Robert
Fripp himself, they were always going to be a band to watch. To my knowledge,
they have still not played a gig in the UK - and after 1995's magnificent and
far more diverse 'Nucleus', I was always going to be prepared to travel quite
some distance to see them as soon as the opportunity presented itself.
There's a darkness and a majesty in their music that's really quite scary.
Certainly not for the neo-prog acolyte. Steve Anderson (Sphere. ex GLD) and I
approached the gig with something approaching reverence....
From the opening, it became clear that this was not going to be quite the gig
I expected. Rather than a sonic assault, they were quieter than I had
expected and also created a brooding, dreamy yet eerily menacing atmosphere.
Particularly in the new material, Mellotron predominates heavily and the
sound is more textural than guitar-led or solo based. I was reminded as much
of early Pink Floyd as of Crimson or the Van Der Graaf Generator influence
clearly audible in the meshing backdrops of 'Nucleus'. But very much, they've
now clearly marked out their own sound...
Much maligned for their vocals in the early days, Jan-Erik Liljestrom (bass,
with serious attitude - more a growl than a rumble...) has deferred most of
the vocal duties to Nicklas Berg (guitar) on the newer material. It matters
little - their voices are remarkably similar and in both cases can fluctuate
violently away from key in places. Given that they weren't exactly featured
in the mix anyway, it mattered little, and frankly I find the inaccuracies
add to, rather than detract from, Anekdoten's uncanny musical maelstrom!
Peter Nordins, take it from me, is the consummate drummer. Given a tiny four
drum kit and a forest of cymbals, his inventiveness and pure feel for the
music are a joy to behold.
And those in the know want to ask me about Anna-Sofi Dahlberg? (mellotron,
cello). Can I just check there are no women reading this? No, there can't be
- this is a prog web page....
Firstly, given the Mellotron-heavy (a real one, of course) nightmarescapes of
the newer songs, she has the strongest influence in defining their current
sound. No bit-part playing female here. Probably only seated behind her cello
for 20% of the gig - an instrument that I imagine is extremely hard to
project in a live setting anyway - her keyboard work is now fundamental to
Secondly - none of the artsy photos on the bands' albums do any justice to
her. She's utterly gorgeous, and I think I'm in love! OK, so I know it's got
nothing to do with the music, but really.... you were gonna ask...
Ah, enough of that.... what did they play? A fair mix across the three
albums. From 'Vemod' - 'Karelia', 'The Old Man And The Sea' (complete with
its guitar solo that any 73/74 Crimson aficionado would die for...) and
'Wheel' as a quite devastating encore which I experienced from where I wish
I'd been the whole gig - crammed at the front of the ~200 strong crowd in a
relatively small hall. They were joined for this one song by the sax player
from the American band Finneus Gauge, and the power and energy of the whole
experience was breathtaking. Standing within touching distance of Anna-Sofi's
bow (now, now!), it was so uplifting to look across the stage at Nicklas
Berg's gleeful eyes, for once at the Mellotron. This band MEAN it, and they
so clearly believe in their music. A salutary lesson for those who support
the endless dreary wave of tribute bands, for whom by definition the music
cannot possibly have come from the heart?
'Wheel' was greeted by an ovation that can't have been short of ten minutes,
despite the band having made it abundantly clear beforehand that it would be
their final song. There was a feeling of having witnessed something very
Anyway, from their second and strongest album 'Nucleus' - the title track,
'Harvest', and the amazing 'Book Of Hours' (which features a guitar line in 9
over a rhythm in 13, the most beautiful Mellotron line I've ever heard aside
from Crimson's 'Starless', and possibly the most gut-crunching metal riff
I've ever heard - all in one song!). No room unfortunately, either tonight or
on their excellent Live In Japan double CD, for the superb 'This Far From The
The new album 'From Within' - with a sleeve as bleak as Spinal Tap's 'Smell
The Glove' aside from something unidentifiable and probably extremely nasty
on the front - was only days old at this gig, where I purchased it, so I was
unfamiliar with the new material aside from 'Groundbound' and 'Slow Fire' -
two of the best tracks tonight. The gloriously atonal middle guitar section
of 'Groundbound' is really the only thing on the new album which harks
strongly back to the overtly Crimson influenced early material. I also recall
them playing on hearing the album - the title track, the dreamy if maybe
slightly protracted 'Hole', and 'The Sun Absolute'.
My initial thoughts on the new album are, as I've already indicated, its
dreamy yet still malevolent nature, its far greater reliance on Mellotron to
set the tone rather than guitar, and its tendency to revel far less in sheer
sonic attack than the brilliant 'Nucleus'. I like it - but it's their least
immediate album yet.
In summary - I may as well book my NEARfest ticket now, I can't wait to see
them again next year! Worth every mile of a ~700 mile round trip - and I
think we were the only Brits there....
As we left and viewed the churchyard again - and I'm sure that there were
more gravestones when we left than when we arrived - I commented to Steve
that Sweden is renowned for having the highest per capita suicide rate of any
country on earth. Steve replied 'yeah, but those guys have found an entirely
different way of letting it all out....'
Compulsive listening for those who believe progressive rock can still be
truly progressive. And for the neoheads - live a little and take some chances?