Last month we attended the third annual progressive rock festival, Cruise To The Edge. Of the many performances on that voyage, including sets from Yes, Marillion, PFM, Three Friends, Martin Barre, Moon Safari, and so many others, there was one group that made a very rare appearance, and stood out from the pack, and that was Swedish progressive rock band Änglagård. Their two sets were masterful, florid demonstrations of the sonic power and grace that this genre can attain.
Änglagård charted a new course for the progressive rock genre beginning in 1991 with the release of their debut Hybris. With influences such as King Crimson, SFF, Shylock, Ragnarok and other European bands, Änglagård incorporated flute and acoustic instruments, along with electric guitars, keyboards and vocals, all anchored by Johan Brand’s confident leads on Rickenbacker Bass and then drummer Mattias Olsson’s massive array of toms, bells, and varied forms of percussion. The debut was a spectacular, influential masterwork that drew audiences already attuned to the prog genre, along with new fans attracted by the mix of beautiful pastoral and euro-folk songs infused with powerful, metal passages.
Fans and critics also rightly applauded their second album, the all-instrumental Epilog in 1994. At this point, unfortunately, the band went on a very long hiatus. With the exception of several performances in 2003 including one at Nearfest, the group did not return to the spotlight until July 2012 when they released their third album Viljans Oga. Shortly after this, Tord Lindman rejoined the band and they recruited new members, touring on and off during 2013, with the following lineup, unchanged when we saw them last month on the cruise:
Anna Holmgren (flute, saxophone, Mellotron, recorder, melodica)
Johan Brand (bass, moog Taurus basspedals, atmospheric sound
Tord Lindman (guitar, vocals, gong and atmospheric sound
Erik Hammarstrom (drums, cymbals, vibraphone, glockenspiel, tubular bells, gran casa, gong)
Linus Kase (Hammond B3, Mellotron, fender phodes, moog voyager, piano, soprano saxophone, vocals)
One of the tour stops in 2013 was for a series of performances on March 15, 16, and 17th in Japan at Club Sitta. These were recorded for an amazing new live album, Prog pa Svenska, Live in Japan released January 2014. The album captures the band in top form, with older tracks revitalized and colored with a broader palette, a more dynamic range. In liner notes for the album, Matt Di Giordano claims rightly that the band “paint a hurricane of sound with more subtle shades than ever.” The album begins with a new track “Introvert
us” described as “melodies and riffs of all kinds flying across the room. Intricate drum patterns, whining guitar, ripping bass lines, beautiful Mellotron, proggy Hammond riffs, fuzzy Wurlitzer melodies, blistering saxophone and ornamented flute.” It’s an amazing document of a band coming back to form, and going beyond their beginnings, captured at just the right time in front of rapturous fans. It’s the launching point for their work on a new album.
In correspondence with bassist Johan Brand, he told me about the band’s work on that new album. I asked how the work was progressing, and if there will be a change in sound or approach:
Johan: Everyone in the band has amassed quite a lot of new written material that we are going to put together now as new Änglagård songs. I dare not comment on how the new record might sound. But we are not a band which softens with age and begins to play more readily available prog …No… Änglagård are uncompromising when it comes to song composition, sound, recording and artwork.
Therefore we will complete the entire process ourselves. We are being meticulous in creating a new record will have the same high quality as the early albums.
I dare not say when the record will be completed but it shouldn’t take 10 years this time! What I can say is that we plan to record each track as much as possible live in a studio environment. We think it is important that the material have grove and feel real and free.
In the meantime, fans and newcomers will be interested to know that this month the Japanese record label, Disc Union will release a deluxe CD box as a tribute to the album Hybris titled 23 years of Hybris.
The box is limited to 500 numbered copies. It will be three CDs with lots of inserts and a thick book of photographs from the early years that have never before been published:
CD1, Original Studio Recording, Hybris
CD2, Early Tapes, old demos, live material, jam sessions
CD3, Radio documentary
For any fan of progressive rock, or adventurous music in general, this will make a stylish holiday gift!
One of the very cool things about Änglagård’s sets on the cruise is that they varied the two shows so as to play a larger cross section of their excellent material. The set lists for the cruise were:
Vandringar i vilsenhet
Introvertus fugu part1
I från klarhet till klarhet
Every attendee I talked to was excited to vote for Änglagård’s return to the next Cruise To The Edge voyage planned for 2017. Let’s hope that happens, as this band embodies modern progressive rock, and deserves to be seen and heard by every fan of the genre.