The Norwegian rock scene is alive and very well indeed, boasting the likes of Bergen's finest Audrey Horne, Iskald, Enslaved and numerous other very talented bands.
So time once again for another sojourne into Norwegian rock, and this time my journey takes me to the east of the country and the capital, Oslo. The band in question is Frail Grounds and whilst 'The Fields Of Trauma' is their debut, it was actually self released by the band back in 2012. However with the advent of a deal from UK indie label Hostile Media, the album now gets the treatment of full distribution, always a difficult thing when doing it all on your own.
The album is a concept album (for those who still shiver at the mere mention of the phrase concept album, 'Operation Mindcrime' was one such thing, so zip it) and follows a journey deep into Siberia and questions how far a person will go to achieve a sense of resolution under extreme circumstances.
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The band themselves have been around since 2005 and released an EP 'Corrosion' but this is their first full length opus, hence being a debut album; clever eh?. The band take their influences from a very broad rock spectrum encompassing prog, extreme Metal and about everything else in between, a good starting point if you want to create something different.
So to the album. As I said it is a concept album so first up you won't be surprised to hear is an elongated intro. This one is entitled 'Prologue: Arrival' and comes in at just over a minute. As a scene setting piece of music it is about right, the melancholy violin giving that feeling of excitement mixed with trepidation.
The first full length track is 'The Expedition' and long it is at over eight minutes. After the initial and very proggy intro, the beginnings of this one take you a little by surprise with their extreme influences being immediately apparent, but the shifts between that and the more classic heavy rock, especially with the vocals, make it a far from mundane track.
The melody behind the song stays on the same path, a little reminiscent in feel to Helloween's 'Keeper...' tracks. Just when you think you have got to grips with it all, more musical scene setting takes place, akin to the intro but a lot more eerie and definitely more fateful, giving me at least the feeling of futility – a battle that can't be won. The tempo and noise cranks back up to full and determination to overcome the apparent futility kicks in.
Musically this one is very intriguing and I do like a bit of intrigue – great guitar interchanges, thunderous drums, tempo changes and the outro's quiet, restrained bass rumble is a fitting end.
'Freeze Me' is the next one in line. This one is based almost exclusively in the classic rock and prog spectrums but there are clever and sometimes subtle references to the heavier side hissing in the background and that adds more than a little substance to the track. The feeling of the song is one of more hope and brighter outlook than the previous one, shifting gear musically especially during the latter part when prog takes over, a Gaelic feel coming through. Classy stuff indeed.
'A Rural Trauma' is next up and incidentally living where I do it is also a description of every day. But back to the Norwegians, this one starts off with the catchiest of melodies before guitar comes screaming in and then everything shifts through a host of sub genres and you never quite know which way it is going. Morten Søbyskogen's vocals are best suited to this type of track, his power, range and feel a perfect bedfellow to the music behind it.
'The Sinister Road' is next out of the blocks and no this isn't about the drive going up to the tax office. A well named track, there is definitely a darker edge to it, reinforced in the second part of the song as the music digs deep int the more extreme side.
Norwegians are of course well known for the black Metal side of things and the likes of Mayhem could scare the crap out of the most hardy of individuals. This is along those lines although tempered slightly with their melodic influences but it has the desired effect even without the lyrics. Lyrically think dark, menacing, faceless shapes. Another great song and so many aspects to it.
'Triptych' is shorter than most of the others, but full of feeling, a long intro and again a menacing edge to it although in an entirely more subtle way than the previous track. They sing 'You Are Coming With Me' and only the foolhardy would argue.
'Origin' is somewhat more upbeat than the despair laden tracks before. Another long and inspiring intro, the now familiar mix of styles this time compounded even further by a short piano part in the mid section. In 'I Did It All To Save You' Morten tells us and you have to say it is very considerate of him. Marvellous people the Norwegians you know.
'Deathlines' sounds concerning even from just the title but the tempo is maybe not what you would expect from the title. 'We Came Together, We Came This Far, We Fell Apart, We Fell Into The Storm' doesn't sound altogether too promising, in fact it is reminiscent of the soundtrack to an England World Cup campaign (you can pretty much select any sport). But the mood isn't a depressive one, it is uplifting emotionally and melodically. Musically it is again deeply enshrined in ther classic rock and prog roots with an exquisite piece of guitar widdlyness thrown in for good measure.
'Siberian Nights' is next, and if I was asked to desribe said nights in two words, bloody cold springs to mind but that is certainly not a fair description of the song. It is an instrumental piece full of orchestration, pomp (no not pimp), screeching guitars and a little touch of melancholy.
'Emberstorm' is the last full length track on the album and at more than eight minutes they certainly haven't cut any corners. Anthemic beginnings, full of power and drive throughout, powerful soul searching vocals before it drops down to rather more than mildly concerning screams, the musical embodiment of that rather well known painting by fellow Norwegian Edvard Munch. Then rising like a demonic berzerker, the musical equivalent of shock tactics to take us forward all guns blazing to the end of the track.
So to the end, and our final port of call is 'Epilogue: Completion'. Slightly longer than the prologue, this is still in the same vein but this time there is a vocal addition. 'The Rest They Will Falter, But I Will Go On' starts it off and sums up the finality of the concept. Well I say finality, but it obviously isn't given there is more to do.
So that's your lot. To the musical side in a minute, but a concept album as a debut is quite a brave move. The band set out with the aim of creating songs with atmosphere and they have certainly done that. Whilst it is true that the concept of a concept album is not something that appeals to everyone, if I hadn't mentioned it in the first place then the album would still stand up on its own merit.
You see that is the dilemma with the concept album – it is all too easy to let the concept take over from the music and that never works. So in that regard just one word to say to the East Norwegian fellas – Gratulerer (congratulations to you Anglophiles).
Musically it is a very good album especially given the fact it is a debut. OK, it is not on the scale of Van Halen's first opus but then what first album ever has been since? The obvious mix of influences works fantastically and perhaps surprisingly meshing them together also works a treat. The melodies contain well thought out progressions with the twin guitars working perfectly together, powerful vocals overlaying it and behind it all is a very fine rhythm section, thunderous drums pounding away and a very intricate and not overpowering bass line.
Depth to the sound comes in the shape of the keys and overall it is a very good sound and as well as that it is well mixed, often a sticking point.
I have said it before and I will say it again – there is a whole lot more to the Norwegian rock scene than death Metal and it is a shame that turing here is always difficult financially and logistically. Hopefully this lot will come here soon and if they do, go and see them or you are likely to have an angry viking hunting you down.
The finest compliment I can pay this lot from Oslo is they have me won over, and that is coming from someone with his Norwegian roots firmly planted in Bergen (It's a Norwegian thing).
Morten Søbyskogen - Lead Vocals
Erik Fidgett - Guitars
Vegard Amundsen - Guitars
Thomas Oppedal - Bass
Gunnar Gudmundsen - Synth
Magnus Nødset - Drums