THE FLOWER KINGS – Islands [Limited 2CD Digipak] (2020)
“Islands” is the new double album by Scandinavian progressive rockers THE FLOWER KINGS. The creative mind of songwriter Roine Stolt (Transatlantic, The Sea Within, Anderson/Stolt etc.) now presents 92 minutes of brand-new music with his competent line-up also featuring Hasse Froberg, Zach Kamins, Jonas Reingold, Mirko DeMaio and special guest Rob Townsend.
Due to the Covid-19-pandemic the album comes out quite a bit sooner than originally planned as Roine explains: “All shows and festivals were cancelled and the future didn’t really ‘unfold’ itself like we had hoped. To sit out the pandemic with no activities was not an option for us. We cannot be stopped by an evil virus. With members living in the USA, Italy, Austria and Sweden the only way was to use the magic of the ‘net’ sending files and start building, what now became, a double album of 21 tracks in an accessible song format.”
The 92 minutes long “Islands” features artwork by legend Roger Dean (Yes, Uriah Heep etc.) and all trademark sounds and melodies the band is known for – from vintage keyboards to epic guitar solos, from odd drum patterns to symphonic elements, THE FLOWER KINGS present a superb, playful and complex record.
‘Islands’ was recorded during Lockdown with each member contributing remotely. The liner credits state that it was ‘recorded at locations in Italy, California, Austria, Sweden and Denmark.’ Stolt apparently had an interesting time producing it, having to instruct various members on matters such as microphone placement, via digital platforms.
On listening to the album, the only possible indication of this is that the individual songs comprising the album’s 96 minutes are somewhat shorter than TFK fans would traditionally expect.
Yet every song is linked as a constituent part to the central theme of isolation – hence the album’s title. Each song taps into a common vital force – like an inherent sense of Chi. Fans may therefore hear ‘Islands’ not as a collection of individual songs, but rather as a continuous, long-form double concept album.
That choice is the listener’s to make, but other than that, there is no ambivalence here – one should expect, for the most part, another excellent double set of classic, expansive, melodic TFK Prog, as required by the band’s loyal followers.
With melody, majesty, harmonies, signature guitar and keyboard lines galore, always underpinned by the mammoth bass-lines of Jonas Reingold, ‘Islands’ does much to entrench TFK’s place as one of the altar-bearers of modern Prog.
It is safe to say that fans are unlikely to encounter any ‘lockdown difference.’ They will most certainly not be disappointed. Sweden’s Swami of Prog and his international cohorts have done it again – only this time perhaps with a slightly more focused air of contemplation. Call it a musical meditation, if you will.
The music is typically varied and polished, but the lyrics deserve special mention. Evidently, many of them were created on the spot during the recording process as a ‘stream of consciousness’. Considering how polished the album sounds, this is a remarkable fact.
The sheer proportions of the release coupled with the number of songs (21) makes a track-by-track analysis impossible.
Suffice it to say that the album ventures in many directions and could well be TFK’s most intrepid to date, while conjuring just the right amount of familiarity.
There are a few highlights that should be mentioned:
‘Broken’, released as first single, is just staggering from start to finish. This Prog masterwork begins with a yearning guitar line, leading to a simple but brilliant verse in two part harmony, and goes everywhere from there. It rocks and it rolls. It is progressive and jazzy. It is heavy and it is light. It is unpredictable and it is immensely satisfying.
‘Broken’ is a transcendent song – it is right up there with the best that TFK have ever done.
‘Black Swan’ is an excellent song that sees the band channel its love of QUEEN. Stolt’s guitar has a very deliberate Brian May sound and the harmonies very obviously and intentionally sound like Freddie Mercury at his best. TFK in an alternate Queen universe – you will love it.
A surprise awaits in ‘Morning News.’ If you had ever wondered what TFK would sound like as a Country and Western band, wonder no more. Complete with twanging guitars and barn-dance drumming from the excellent Mirkko DeMaio, you can almost imagine Stolt singing in a cowboy hat with a piece of long grass in his mouth. Yet somehow it still sounds like TFK, and the lyrical content is highly sophisticated.
An undoubted fan favorite will be the song ‘Tangerine’. The song may sound as polished as burnished brass, but the remarkable fact is that the vocals (traded like oriental spice between Stolt and the wonderful Hasse Fröberg) were composed while recording. There could not be a better lead vocalist for TFK than Fröberg, and one of the reasons is his compatibility with Stolt. Their voices have for years combined to create a unique harmony and counterpoint – it is just something about their tonal qualities – and this song is a stunning demonstration of that fact.
‘Islands’ may have been recorded remotely, but its combined soul, passion and yearning are unbridled, and there is a distinct feeling of brotherhood in its delivery. We, the listeners, are indeed human islands at the moment, and if anything will reconnect us in this strange and alienated world, it is music like this.
01. Racing With Blinders On
02. From The Ground
03. Black Swan
04. Morning News
06. Goodbye Outrage
10. Heart Of The Valley
11. Man In A Two Peace Suit
01. All I Need Is Love
02. A New Species
03. Northern Lights
04. Hidden Angles
06. Looking For Answers
08. Fool’s Gold
09. Between Hope & Fear
Roine Stolt (Transatlantic) – Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Hasse Froberg – Vocals, Acoustic Guitar
Jonas Reingold (Karmakanic, The Tangent, Steve Hackett) – Bass
Zach Kamins – Organ, Synthesizers, Mellotron, Orchestrations
Mirko DeMaio (Mind Key) – Drums, Percussion
Rob Townsend (Steve Hackett) – Soprano Saxophone