Every four years the Olympic Games are held but Swedish heroes The Flower Kings, in true epic prog-rock style have waited five years to release a new album, 'Banks Of Eden'. They have not been lazy boys though; since the release of 'The Sum Of No Evil', the group have pursued their own different projects, the most high profile being prog supergroup Transatlantic with featuring band leader Roine Stolt, along with Neal Morse and other prog notables.
Opening with a drum roll, then crashing guitar chords, the first track 'Numbers' says WE ARE BACK in no uncertain terms. This song showcases what TFK are all about; intricate yet beautiful melodies, with thoughtful and intelligent lyrics, backed up with some superb musicianship.
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At 25 minutes, or the whole of Side One in old money, it's a true epic and certainly holds the listener's attention throughout. Flowing like a river, it is sometimes stately and majestic, and at other moments it is a rippling brook, lively and playful.
Lyrically the song is a musing on the conflicts between the spiritual and the material, telling us how we can be too easily influenced by money, fame and possessions, at the expense of love and spirituality. This verse is a great example:
"You look around for the brightest minds
Or just a few simple words of kindness
A world gone shallow, cold and mean
It's like a wasteland void of dreams"
The other (shorter!) songs on the album cover similar themes, with for example, 'For The Love Of Gold' exploring how working for big business diminishes one's individuality, and deadens the human spirit. 'Pandemonium', 'For Those About To Drown' and 'Rising The Imperial' all in their different ways also cover the greed and shallowness of 21st century life.
Thanks to such recurring ideas and themes, it is appropriate to use the phrase 'concept album' here. If you like lyrics that make you think, and touch you emotionally then there is much to enjoy here.
Musically the album is Prog with a capital 'P', with lashings of old skool keyboards, and technically brilliant playing. Unlike much of this genre, it's not mindless noodling. Each song has a definite structure, and each instrument has its own place in building that structure. There is not a note or solo that is just there as pure showboating.
Although each song can be enjoyed individually, the use of repeated phrases and riffs does give the album a very unified feel, best enjoyed in one session. The music has a real enthusiasm to it, which is no surprise when you discover that the backing tracks were played live in the studio, then overdubbed upon as needed. No recording drums today, and bass tomorrow here. This is a band playing together, and it shows.
This does not have the immediacy of impact that some other music has, and it takes repeated listening to fully grasp what TFK are striving for both musically and lyrically. On first listen I found 'Banks Of Eden' to be a pleasant sounding album, with some pretty tunes and good guitar solos. Keep listening though, and the subtleties of the musicianship, plus the emotions contained in the words soon make sense.
It pays to hear the album in the best possible quality. I had an MP3 for review, and although that was perfectly adequate, the CD and vinyl versions with their superior resolution do make it much easier to hear everything that is going on in the mix.
Both the double LP/CD special edition and Digipack two CD version feature four bonus tracks, which don't quite fit the theme of the main album, but are worth having and enjoying. Mention of the vinyl edition brings me to the artwork. Quite simply, it looks stunning in the 12" gatefold format. If you fancy giving 'Banks Of Eden' a whirl, then this is the one to go for, as you get fabulous artwork, and the whole album on CD, so even if you don't have a record player you can still enjoy it.
The Flower Kings have done themselves proud on this album, and serious prog fans will truly love it, although it does deserve a wider audience. I'm not a massive progger, but I think this is a fantastic piece of work, and any rock fan who wants to try something challenging, yet rewarding, really should give it a try.
For The Love Of Gold
For Those About To Drown
Rising The Imperial
Illuminati (Bonus Track)
Fireghosts (Bonus Track)
Going Up (Bonus Track)
LoLines (Bonus Track)
Interview with the band in the studio - video feature.