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Round Table Review
Roine Stolt is a workaholic. A well-known fact, right? The Flower Kings, Transatlantic and last year Kaipa were the bands he is, or was, heavily involved with. He was in Kaipa with Hans Lundin (keyboards) from 1975 and made five albums with that band until they fell apart. It was in 2002 that Notes From The Past was recorded and released and was a so called reunion album. I listened to it but thought the songs were too different in styles to come across as coming from one band alone. I expected more from it.
2003 already brings us a follow up and how! From the very first second my attention was caught. Thís is what I had expected last year; fresh, fierce and melodic progrock! Lifetime Of A Journey is the perfect album opener. Multi-layered Roine Stolt guitars ála Brian May, bass carpets in true Chris Squire style performed by Scandinavia’s best bassplayer Jonas Reingold and up tempo rhythms. It is only ‘till the second song A Complex Work of Art where some relaxing moment are entwined. Aleena, sounding like an angel amongst all these music virtuosi, brings some breathing time moments.
All the songs have great tension building pieces and most of all a heavy dose of power. I am more than once reminded of Transatlantic. Listen to The Weed Of All Mankind for instance ... I guess Stolt's role in that project was bigger than I thought it was? Sonic Pearls is an amazing Stolt guitar piece, wonderful guitarwork, it’s unbelievable what a talent this man is. No wonder that the second Kaipa album came this early, the chemistry is omnipresent between these guys and girl, only now I think they found the right musical direction, where they were searching a bit on the previous album. This is right on the money, the hammer on the nail, excellent album!
Keyholder is that kind of an album where you can’t get it that almost 80 minutes have past while listening to it. You keep focused and paying attention to the wonderful music and that of course is a big compliment to the whole band. The jazzy interlude in End Of The Rope (early Yes), the beautiful duo ballad Across The Big Uncertain, fantastic with great melodies and rhythms. It is in the latter when I keep thinking “where the hell does Stolt get these songs?” A Prog delicatessenstore/supermarket with only a few exclusive clients with the likes of
Morse, Anderson, Howe, Gabriel and Gilmour?
Last year Kaipa released Notes From The Past which someone kindly gave it to me as a birthday present. It was a nice gift and one that ended up in my top ten of 2002. Not knowing any other of Kaipa albums, I was very interested in doing this Round Table Review (RTR). Unfortunately it is the second time this year that I have had high expectations, based on previously released work and again after a first couple of spins it is a bit disappointing. On this occasion the album did not really grow on me.
Lifetime Of A Journey starts very abruptly, no smooth intro here. It is a somewhat cheesy start to this song - but I like it. The song has a nice build up, at 2:30 the keyboards and guitars take turn to solo and up to 4:30 I think they keep it interesting enough, but after that some parts are nice and melodic but in other parts the solos wander off much too far. For me they almost cross the line after which I would have lost interest in the track.
A Complex Work Of Art has a very strong, guitar and keyboard introduction, before Aleena's somewhat melancholic voice joins in, a transition that is a bit too drastic for me. In the middle of this long song it is as if they are already closing the composition. After this there is a long series (6 minutes) of solos followed by the same all-of-a-sudden manner and Aleena starts singing. This is not my favourite track of the album, as you might have guessed, mainly because of the elongated solos but also because the vocals (which are good by the way), just don't seem to fit in.
The Weed Of All Mankind has a much better build up, with the music working towards a climax accompanied by Roine Stolt's (?) raw voice that ebbs away suddenly. However the instrumental parts that follow are a good example of what I dislike in this kind of music. The keyboard is playing nice melodies, while the guitar shoots off random sounds (or the other way around). I can find enjoyment in large parts of this track, but sometimes they just overdo it.
Sonic Pearls is a calm long stretched song that changes very little throughout (apart from the vocal sections), but despite this it is not a boring song. It is as the title states: "a string of sonic pearls kept together by a soothing bass sound", and it is one of my favourite tracks from Keyholder. As we continue the intro to The End Of The Rope has almost the same bass piece as Sonic Pearls, but this song has a quite different composition that is much more eventful and which is of course necessary for a song of almost fourteen minutes. Somehow during the eight minutes of solos they are able to restrain themselves to play only melodic solos.
Across The Big Uncertain is my absolute favourite track of this album with the vocal parts of this song giving it a solid structure. Some nice guitar solos of long stretched "yelling" notes also are part of this song and the bass part also stands out. As I said this song has it all.
Distant Voices is most close to a Yes song and even the vocals lean towards Anderson. I am not a big Yes fan, but I like some of their work and I also do like this Yes-like Kaipa track. In this song a reference is made to a Transatlantic song (for people owning this record and that know Transatlantic: listen at 5:33).
Otherworldly Brights has a very interesting (old Genesis-like) start, strong vocal melodies and again long and enjoyable instrumental solos. The end again seems to reference to Transatlanic. To me the second part of the album is the better part and this song is not the least of them.
I don't think Keyholder is a bad album but compared to Notes From The Past, it is all too complex, with adlib-like music, guitars and keyboards wandering off. I do not know any of the other Kaipa albums but the music on Notes From The Past was more coherent and that's why I liked that album more. I do not know what this album is missing exactly. I do like it, can enjoy listening (especially the second part of the album) and some parts even are brilliant but it does not seem to light the spark that Notes did. I think this album will end up in the poll of 2003, but I can't imagine it will end up as high as Kaipa's previous album.
I must admit that this is the first Kaipa album I’ve heard; however, I was fairly sure what to expect given the presence of Flower King's mainman Roine Stolt on guitar – and I’ve got to say that Keyholder, whilst holding a few pleasant surprises, does not differ greatly from the sort of material that the Kings put out. This is perhaps a little surprising when you consider the fact that keyboardist (and fellow Kaipa founder) Hans Lundin writes the majority of the songs here (Stolt gets three co-writes). However, when you take into account the fact that Stolt learnt his trade in (the original) Kaipa, who must undoubtedly have influenced his latter sound, and also the fact that he has such a recognisable playing style, then the similarity between the two outfits becomes easier to understand (the presence of the excellent Jonas Reingold on bass obviously also adds to the comparisons). Lundin, Stolt and Reingold are joined, as they were on Notes From The Past, by vocalists Patrick Lundstrom (from Ritual) and Aleena, and drummer Morgan Agren (Zappa).
You could call opener Lifetime Of A Journey an almost quintessential prog rock track, especially in structure – short pacy instrumental opening; pull back a bit for the vocal section before embarking on a lengthy instrumental section; follow this with a closing vocal section and end with a grandiose finale including a big guitar solo, and bob’s your uncle – an instant prog epic! This is a good opening track; it’s nothing earth-shattering, but there’s some good melodies and nice interplay between guitar and keys, whilst Patrick Lundstrom makes a very positive first impression, his excellent voice having both a good range and a welcome harder edge to it than many singers in the genre.
A Complex Work Of Art starts promisingly with some lively bass and keyboard work but as soon as female vocalist Aleena joins in things go downhill. She doesn’t have a particularly bad voice per se, just not one that I personally find appealing – far too close to Celine Dion for my liking! Coupled with a bland AOR backing, this track sounds like it's going to be a long haul before it is saved by a sublime instrumental section which sees the band trying their hands (very successfully) at a bit of seventies-style jazz-rock fusion. The combination of the two styles may be a bit awkward but this well-worked piece of superior sonic noodling saves this track.
The Weed Of All Mankind is a harder edged affair, with both the lyrical theme and the musical style bringing to mind at times Genesis’ Return Of Giant Hogweed. Sonic Pearls meanwhile is more sedate, starting with a graceful, symphonic opening section before taking on a slight eastern feel, helped by the use of tablas which drive the song on.
End Of The Rope, the first of the three tracks which Roine Stolt co-writes here, is the album’s tour-de-force. The Flower Kings influence is undoubtedly at its strongest here, no doubt thanks in no small part to a trademark FK guitar riff which crops up throughout the song. The vocal section is the strongest on the album, actually sounding like it fits in with the song as a whole rather than simply acting as a precursor to the instrumental work-out which follows it, which I feel is sometimes the case elsewhere. That being said, the lengthy instrumental section here is a joy; in particular there’s a great tradeoff between Stolt, riffing away in hard rocking style, and Lundin, playing some superb jazz-inflected keyboards. There’s also a later section where you can see where Stolt’s been influenced by his time in Transatlantic. The melodies here are as strong as any on the album, and the song’s 14 minutes simply soar by.
Across The Big Uncertain can’t really follow this; it’s a pleasant enough if somewhat twee ballad, which is (musically at least) somewhat in the style of late seventies era Genesis. With stronger melodies, lyrics like "Feel the rhythm of the wind / Feel the heartbeat of a passing stranger" would pass unnoticed, but here stand out as rather weak. There is some decent guitar work by Stolt later on in the track however, a little reminiscent of the playing style of Jadis’ Gary Chandler.
The intro to Distant Voices reminded me again of Genesis, this time Turn It On Again. The punchy section that follows features more excellent vocal work from Lundstrom, really stretching his voice to the limit. This is another lengthy epic, featuring a myriad of time changes and different musical styles, and whilst these don’t always gel together that well this is an enjoyable track – although I did feel it outstayed its welcome towards the end.
Closing track Otherworldly Brights sees Lundin indulging his classical side; indeed I felt this track was crying out for the use of a real string section. This atmospheric track clearly goes for ‘epic’ territory, and pretty much manages it – due in no small part once again to a fantastic, commanding display by Patrick Lundstrom - this guy really can sing, and I’ll certainly be checking out his work with Ritual as soon as possible.
Overall, then, this is a very enjoyable listen. OK, it could be argued that there’s not that much to separate this from the Flower Kings, and given that the Kings are extremely prolific there’s no real need for this. That would be unfair however; and in many ways this is a more satisfying release than the Kings have managed for a while – it may not hit the same highs, but overall it’s a more consistent set. The highly effective mix of prog and fusion here also separates it from a lot of other retro-prog releases, and it almost goes without saying that the playing is of the highest calibre.
This CD can be recommended without hesitation to Flower Kings fans, and indeed most prog fans will find a lot to enjoy here.