Issue 2013-069: The Flower Kings - Desolation Rose - Round Table Review
Round Table Review
Tracklist: Tower ONE (13:39), Sleeping Bones (4:16), Desolation Road (4:00), White Tuxedos (6:30), The Resurrected Judas (8:24), Silent Masses (6:17), Last Carnivor (4:22), Dark Fascist Skies (6:05), Blood Of Eden (3:12), Silent Graveyards (2:52)
Geoff Feakes' Review
Typically with The Flower Kings its famine or feast. Whilst this release follows fairly hot on the heels of 2012's Banks Of Eden, it was a full 5 years that separated that album and its predecessor The Sum Of No Evil (my last TFK review). That aside they can be relied on for consistency, both in the quality of their output and their recognisable sound which wavers little from album to album. Since the 1995 debut Back In The World Of Adventures, The Flower Kings have always sounded like The Flower Kings and no other band sounds quite like them. Along the way they have remained impervious to prevailing trends like prog-metal for example which has tempted even the most diehard of neo-proggers like Pendragon and Galahad. Yes they can be quirky (2004's Adam & Eve) and jazzy (2002's Unfold The Future) but rarely have TFK resorted to crunching riffs, shredding solos or wailing synths. That said Desolation Rose takes the band into darker, edgier territory than they have perhaps previously ventured.
So how does Desolation Rose compare with its predecessors and what changes, if any, have they made to the familiar TFK sound? Very little it seems, to begin with at least, opening with the longest track, a common Flower Kings tactic. Tower ONE (the capital 'ONE' is deliberate) is textbook Flower Kings with plenty of twists and turns where themes are introduced, developed and then quickly discarded. There is the occasional shot of Genesis, shared lead vocals (Roine Stolt and Hasse Fröberg) and a typically majestic arrangement of the main theme to conclude with Stolt ringing every drop of emotion from his guitar, and is that tubular bells I can here? Not the band's greatest song of all time but a very worthy opener so it's so far so good.
With its crashing syncopated riff and wash of Mellotron strings, Sleeping Bones sounds like Genesis in the darkest recesses of The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. It's the stately guitar hook however that lingers longest in the memory. Desolation Road takes the riff from Sleeping Bones and weaves some melodious guitar and synth textures around it. In stark contrast is a particularly aggressive fuzzed organ solo courtesy of Tomas Bodin.
A touch of studio trickery is used to produce a macabre half-spoken vocal (a la Steve Hackett) for the sinister White Tuxedos which is interspersed with sampled speeches from famous (and not so famous) American statesman. A departure of sorts for TFK with Felix Lehrmann hammering the drum kit as if his life depended upon it.
The stirring The Resurrected Judas is on more familiar ground with a melodic heart that brings to mind Kaipa circa the Keyholder and Mindrevolutions albums. Bodin's inspired synth solo is ably supported by Jonas Reingold's nimble bass playing with a stirring vocal once again providing the uplifting coda.
The Beatles-ish Silent Masses has on the surface a tuneful simplicity but hidden depths are revealed with each successive play whilst the nervously energetic Last Carnivor sees the band flexing their muscles with the Reingold/Lehrmann rhythm partnership proving to be every bit as good as those that have gone before. The heavy weight Dark Fascist Skies continues the mood with some truly monumental, proggy moments although I have to confess the histrionic guitar solo did little for me.
The penultimate and poignant Blood Of Eden is a throwback to Stardust We Are and very sweet it is too although once upon a time it would have been the launching pad for another Flower Kings epic. That's not going to happen here however with the barely 3 minute Silent Graveyards providing a brief but fitting prologue reprising the vocal theme from Desolation Road with an uncharacteristically frenzied scream from Mr Fr#246;berg to conclude.
So what to make of this latest and 12th studio offering from The Flower Kings? To answer that, two more questions. Did I enjoy this album? Yes I did. Is it an essential Flower Kings album? Probably not. So in the final analysis and similar to my opinion of The Sum Of No Evil this is a good, rather than a great Flower Kings album. That said it's still a praise worthy effort and certainly deserving of a DPRP recommendation.
John O'Boyle's Review
The enigmatic, powerful and mighty Flower Kings have rolled back into town again. After last year's release Banks of Eden, their first album after a 5 year hiatus, comes their next opus, Desolation Rose. As ever, with The Flower Kings, expectations are high as they are a genre defining band; they create symphonic music that incorporates an approach that has dalliances with jazz, blues, classical and to some degree '70s inflected metal, a soundtrack approach that creates cinematic pictures within the mind of the listener. For me The Flower kings are the finest band to come out of Sweden and Desolation Rose is their most varied album to date.
When you mention The Flower Kings name grown men go weak at the knees as the expectation is that of grandeur, long winding opuses, musical magic that fills the air with its taut precision; convoluted and intricate passages that offer entertainment of the highest order; Desolation Rose is an album that offers all this although the longest track, album opener Tower ONE, comes in at a mere thirteen minutes. This does not however stop it being a real tour de force that is vibrant and full of potency, setting the album and listener up for all that is to come. As an album, it is a real grower; the more you play and listen, the more you draw from the experience - which, might I add, is something that happens with all their releases in all honesty.
Desolation Rose is a 10 song cycle that revolves around some of the more disturbing observations of mankind's failures to create the paradise they had hoped for, observing fear, greed and ignorance amongst the reasons for failure. These observations are made by an angel who lives in a mysterious tower, looking down to watch the perpetual insanity of the situation but is unable to help; a very clever idea indeed.
The album was recorded live at the Fenix studio, which gives the album a real depth and warmth that comforts, matched, as ever, by a stunning production job. One can hear all the vintage keyboards - Hammond B3, Mellotron M 400, Fender Rhodes, Minimoog - filling the room, the strong and rhythmic bass, the precise drum interaction offering rigidity as the unforgettable guitar tones of Roine Stolt emotionally weave their magic, sometimes aggressive, sometimes passionate, sometimes subtle, binding the whole process together.
As if this was not enough, the combination of creative notation builds the perfect soundstage for Hasse Fröberg and co. to lay their vocals over as they build the scenes with their lyrical observances that question and provoke thought. Two prime examples of this are on Tower ONE, where the words "so the state has become the offender to a point where there is no turning back" are delivered with vitriol, caustic and scathing, and on Blood of Eden where hearing how the words "We are stardust and we are sun kissed, we are brothers and still we are strangers, is there someone out there who rises above the stars who can tell us who we are, are we blood of eden, what's the key to freedom" are delivered you will see your world melt away. They certainly are a thinking man's band.
The bands line-up throughout the years may not have been consistent, but one thing that is for sure is that the quality of their music has, very much so. Desolation Rose is a passionate affair that stands head held high with their previous releases and will feed the frenzied appetites of their fans both old and new. There are few musicians that make me sit up and want to absorb their creative ideas like these guys. Whatever they are involved with is always of the highest order, entertaining and well worth buying, make no mistake of that.
The world needs bands like The Flower Kings, the world needs musicians like Roine Stolt, Jonas Reingold, Tomas Bodin, Hasse Fröberg and Felix Lehrmann; more importantly the world needs more albums of this quality.
Basil Francis's Review
"She'll walk me slowly / Through burning spears..."
How does that work then? Right from the first seconds of the twelfth studio album by the Swedish outfit, I'm instantly confused. Perhaps it's time to look back.
Roine Stolt is a rather extraordinary gentleman. A member of the progressive rock scene since he was just 17 when he joined the foetal Kaipa some forty years ago, it's only been in the last two decades that his presence has been truly felt. Having appeared in many prog acts, from Transatlantic to The Tangent and from Agents of Mercy to Karmakanic, his is a (heavily accented) voice that will not be forgotten in years to come. Listening to his music, one can hear that he is a man who has musical ideas forming faster than he can write them down; I often wonder how he deals with it all.
I was never a fan of the name 'The Flower Kings', but Stolt's ties with the rest of the progressive world have led me to investigate further. The Flower Kings is really Stolt's baby, and as such I hold him accountable for all the music heard. When I began listening to the band my first thoughts were along the lines of "It sounds just like every other decent neo-sympho-prog band today". But it slowly dawned on me that the only reason for this is that Stolt has spread himself so widely - and perhaps also thinly - that he has actually managed to mould a very remarkable proportion of today's progressive music to sound just like his own. When it's his voice occasionally fronting such popular acts as The Tangent and Transatlantic, how can it not?
Indeed, he may have shot himself in the foot somewhat. Slip Desolation Rose into your CD player, and you won't be hearing anything new. The music on this album has been done before, and almost certainly by Stolt himself, whether it be with TFK or elsewhere. Stolt has shown he is still capable of coming up with many ideas but none of these seem to break the mould that he's so unwittingly created. As such, it's all getting just a bit old.
There was quite a large gap between TFK's last two studio records, The Sum of No Evil and Banks of Eden, but in stark contrast Desolation Rose has been recorded and released in just the space of a year. Notably, the tracks are more concise; only the opener Tower ONE stretches any longer than ten minutes. However, the songs themselves segue into each other, forming something of a song-cycle.
It's not hard to see why so many people like TFK. On top of their apparent skill and creative ability they possess that vintage prog rock sound that seems to melt the hearts of fans everywhere. Nevertheless, there are some issues I have with the band's approach that prevent me from warming to them too much, the most pertinent of which is what I like to call 'Musical ADHD'. It's exactly what it sounds like, having too many ideas and not being able to focus on them long enough or hard enough to develop them into moments of brilliance. The song-cycle structure of the record only succeeds in giving the album a wandering, directionless feel, something I've found to be common in TFK albums. Perhaps if they'd left the songs separate, such a feeling could have been avoided.
On this album, I couldn't find a single track that provoked me or made me want to listen closer. Nothing on this album is elegant or beautiful, but instead convoluted and unclear. The music isn't cheesy but it isn't merit-worthy either. One of the simpler tracks on the album is called White Tuxedos, which initially strikes the listener with its relatively dark rhythmic opening. Unfortunately, the track loses its appeal when it borrows the melodic line of a common children's taunt during the chorus. Horrible!
The Flower Kings are a band that appear to write music for their fans, without ever thinking of grabbing the attention of new listeners. Perhaps Stolt doesn't need new fans; he's got enough already with all the other bands he's been in. That said, without the desire to move forward and explore new territory, I can't see how the Flower Kings' music will ever pique my interest. It's all very well to make a record of decent, if anodyne music, but without the spark of genius there's nothing that makes the listener sit up.
Guillermo Palladino's Review
It was 2000 when I listened for the first time to Stardust We Are by The Flower Kings, I have to admit that the artwork from that album was the main reason for me to purchase it, and at that time i didn't realise that a couple of months later I'd be at their first and only show to date in Venezuela as a part of the Space Revolver Tour. There I met them and actually appeared in the Meet the Flower Kings DVD footage from the South America Tour section. Wow! Many reasons to get caught up in their music after listening to it over and over again...
I remember talking to Jaime Salazar and telling him that I felt very surprised by their music because, for me, The Flower Kings were the result of putting Yes, Genesis and some elements of King Crimson into a blender and powering it to maximum speed. He agreed with me and I still think that this is the case but I also have to admit that the last of their albums that I liked a lot was Unfold the Future. That said, my faith was restored when Banks of Eden was released last year. The band now appear to have a stable line-up again with the addition of drummer Felix Lehrmann (this is his second album he has recorded with the band, the first being Banks of Eden) to complete the usual and awesome musical formula which is in very good shape.
Overall, with this album I feel that the band has returned to their roots as over the years they have experimented with elements from other genres such Jazz and with fusion arrangements that put distance between them and their earlier symphonic influence.
Roine Stolt said:
"Being somewhat of a political statement, the epic theme of Desolation Rose is a logical step in a time where perpetual war, famine, environmental threats, religious conflicts dominate the media and our minds. This is a time to wake up and the music on this album takes you on a journey where you are forced to question what the mainstream media feed us and to rethink your whole world view on all of the above."
Tower ONE, the opening track, made me think on Stardust we Are as it appears to be a song pulled off that album and rescued from the past! A powerful 13 minute track in which all the arrangements are a TFK trademark that show us a very engaged band, Roine and Hasse's voices in very good shape and not having lost their power and freshness after all these years. All those sounds are coming back; the guitar harmonies, Jonas' bass sound and the atmospheres and solos created by Tomas with the keys. A great song and the perfect opening track with some Genesis influences floating in the ambience.
Sleeping Bones is a shorter and softer song in which Stolt combines his whispered singing style with a powerful guitar arrangement and Tomas' Mellotron and Organ. For me this is another old school song from the band. Immediately a little piano solo marks the beginning of Desolation Road, the first one sung entirely by Hasse with the bass giving direction in the background. Again I feel a Genesis influence in the melody and Tomas' organ solo marking the abrupt ending. Beautiful!
White Tuxedos sounds like a dark lullaby, the voices are a bit distorted in the verses but it doesn't matter when you hear that funny lyric in the choruses merging with arrangements that are a little too similar to In the Eyes of the World. The Resurrected Judas is a more relaxed song with a softer Roine Stolt in the singing combined with Hasse's voice in the choruses. The job done with the guitar is superb and the influence of a more jazzy arrangement is present in this song, all the personnel working together and sounding truly co-ordinated. Every arrangement, harmony and note are placed in the perfect place in this song. Silent Masses has a more "Brit" rhythm and sounds like a kind of anthem. This is a beautiful song with a powerful chorus in which we can again hear the organ with some tubular bells in the background.
Last Carnivor has a more aggressive riff at the beginning, sounding like The Rainmaker era in which the progressive influences started to become less obvious, but this is not a problem when listening to the album as a whole. Dark Fascist Skies repeats some arrangements made a couple of tracks before and is as aggressive as it title suggests. Perhaps this is the proof that things become darker and more distorted when touched by politics.
With Blood of Eden we are returned to the softer stuff, a prog ballad that brings us back to that early musical influences of the band. A very nice song beautifully sang by Hasse, the perfect prelude to the ending theme Silent Graveyards which is more choral and atmospheric moved to a crescendo repeating previous arrangements and choruses from Tower ONE until the abrupt ending and fade out with a keyboard melody.
A very nice album, perhaps with a hard concept behind it, but we are not here to talk about politics and I'm here to recommend this great album to all our readers. A huge influence from their early works is present and forgive me if I insist on mentioning Stardust we Are as a main reference here. I think that The Flower Kings are back and demonstrating why they are the most important progressive rock act from Sweden in the last 20 years (and also very nice people!).
John Wenlock-Smith's Review
In the annals of Progressive Rock certain names stand tall with a pedigree, heritage and history that carry much weight and respects. These include original wave bands like Yes, King Crimson and ELP and latterly Marillion, Pendragon and IQ. From more recent bands the name of The Flower Kings commands similar respect as this outfit, under the captaincy of Roine Stolt, have over the past 19 Years delivered high quality progressive, or as they call it Symphonic, music that echoes and reinterprets those that have preceded them.
Since their resumption of activity in 2012 and the wonderful Banks of Eden disc Roine and Co now bring us this new release Desolation Rose, a ten song cycle focusing on observations of mankind's failure to create the paradise once hoped for and of the greed, fear and ignorance that has caused this failure. This is in the form of observation from an Angel who resides in a mysterious tower, looking on but unable to intervene or help in mankind's plight.
So a weighty subject matter for the band to revel in and they most certainly do during the 58 minute runtime of the album.
This is the band's Thirteenth album since 1994 and I have to say it continues their story admirably. If you are conversant with their output over the years this will sound readily familiar as it doesn't break significantly new ground and is really more of a continuation of their evolving sound and sonic tapestries, which I have to say is fine by me.
What you can always expect from any Flower Kings release is top class musicianship and a few epic (i.e. lengthy) tracks and again on this count the Flower Kings certainly do not disappoint. Opener The Tower is a 13:39 slice of prime Flower Kings. With many "Vintage" instruments and amps being utilized to create a "live" feel this song really plays to all the strengths this band possess and it a great opener to the album.
Opening with a gentle lyrical voice and synths before emerging into a strident motif underpinned by some fine Hammond organ and heading off into a sonic journey with Roine's impassioned vocal telling of the Angel in the tower, looking out at the world around him. As always there is some fine ensemble playing here veering between the pastoral and the soaring, along with some great bass work from Joan Reingold girding everything together with Tomas Bodin and Roine Stolt adding their magic.
Third track, Desolation Road, is a more measured, shorter affair, with intelligent lyrics and an impassioned vocal from Roine which merely adds to what precedes it, adding depth to the unfolding tale, with a glorious evocative synth and organ break from Tomas Bodin.
White Tuxedo is a far more eerie and sinister affair as it talks about the downfall of mankind and our greed and avarice, with some really incisive and invective lyrics and a meaty muscular tone to the piece along with snippets of media interspersed into the music.
The Resurrected Judas follows swiftly thereafter and features delicate acoustic playing from Roine, telling us to throw off the blindness and to let love take us higher, before that guitar comes to the fore and takes the song off somewhere more magical still. It's this mixture and balance of light and shade throughout that make this album such an interesting and intriguing listen, especially when the music diverts into unexpected territory as it does on this piece. Symphonic rock is a great name for it as it is cinematic in its approach, the music almost visual. This is a commanding performance from The Flower Kings.
Silent Masses talks about how paradise has fallen and talks of us being the silent masses who work through the day to no avail and to little effect. It's a very moving song in itself, wistful and remorseful with its refrain of "that's how the story ends".
Dark Fascist Skies is another very interesting track, again pretty dense in its sound and fairly heavy by Flower Kings standards, talking of how the state has become the offender. Some pretty heavy subject matter is tackled here in an uncompromising manner too, all set against an angular riff. Broody and intense at the same time, this isn't one for the faint hearted as it is a fairly "dark" piece. Again, another great solo from Roine and his beloved Wah Wah pedal.
Blood of Eden is a far more tranquil piece, more pastoral and delicate with great lyrics calling us to live together in peace and how the blood of Eden is the key to freedom. The lyrics on this song are fantastic; inventive, intelligent and inspiring it's another great turn.
Which brings us to Silent Graveyards, the final track on the album, a place where we look for saviours and the Promised Land. It's actually a fairly uplifting and positive piece and it ends on a long drawn out keyboard swell fading gently into the ether.
So overall this isn't a groundbreaking album but it is a significant addition to the fine body of work that The Flower Kings have provided us with over the past twenty odd years. It may not be indispensable but it is certainly desirable and rewarding to listen to. Like most Flower Kings material it will take multiple listening to fix itself in your mind however I would urge you to try, and with no hesitation I rate it a DPRP Recommended...
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous The Flower Kings CD & DVD Reviews:-
|Edition Limitée Québec 1998|
|"It gives you a great idea how The Flower Kings sound."|
(Dirk van den Hout, 8/10)
|Alive On Planet Earth|
|"Musically, they do lean very much on music of the past and there is not much experiment."|
(Remco Schoenmakers, 8/10)
|"I think that the Flower Kings, if nothing else, show that good music is good music regardless of influence, genre or length."|
(Joakim Jahlmar, 8/10)
|"The Flower Kings clearly show their various musical influences, but they have enough quality and fresh ideas to come up with another good album."|
(Rob Michel, 7/10)
|Unfold The Future|
|"No doubt fans of The Flower Kings will dig the new album, yet I think it's rather unlikely the band will win many new fans with it."|
(Bart Jan van der Vorst, 8-/10)
|Meet The Flower Kings|
|"The CD deserves a place in everybody's CD collection, yet the DVD is a matter strictly for fans only. A missed opportunity!"|
(Bart Jan van der Vorst, DVD 7+/10, CD 8.5/10)
|Adam & Eve|
|"...a great album in itself and absolutely a recommendation for anyone who wants to start to explore the music of The Flower Kings, but to the already avid Flower Kings lovers this album won't offer so much enjoyment and excitement as several older albums by them!"|
(Joris Donkel, 8/10)
|"As with previous Flower Kings releases this is a mixed bag, perhaps calling it "patchy" would be an injustice but certainly some reviewers will come to that conclusion."|
(Dave Baird, 8/10)
|Instant Delivery [DVD]|
|"...a great live document of The Flower Kings and is as close as you will get to the real, live experience."|
(Dave Baird, 9/10)
|The Road Back Home|
|"The album is a good introduction to the world of The Flower Kings, especially for those unsure whether they want to buy the extensive back catalogue or not."|
(Bart Jan van der Vorst, 6.5/10)
|The Sum Of No Evil|
|"As you would expect the musicianship throughout is impeccable and I would happily put this CD on repeat play just to hear Reingold’s monumental bass work."|
(Geoff Feakes, 8+/10)
|Banks Of Eden|
|"...I’d go as far as to say that this is the finest Flower Kings studio album in at least a decade."|
(Jez Rowden, 9/10)
|Previous The Flower Kings Live Reviews:-|
|1998:-||Progday '98, U.S.A.|
|2001:-||Guimarães, Portugal||Stockholm, Sweden|
|2006:-||Tilburg, The Netherlands|
|2007:-||Tilburg, The Netherlands|
|2012:-||Zoetermeer, The Netherlands||Night Of The Prog, Germany|
|2013:-||Zoetermeer, The Netherlands|
|Previous The Flower Kings Interviews:-|
|Roine Stolt speaking to Dave Baird (2006)|
|Roine Stolt speaking to Dave Baird (2007)|
|Roine Stolt speaking to John O'Boyle (2012)|