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Four From Scandinavia


Zaragon: NO RETURN (Ad Perpetuam Memoriam 9405)

The New Grove Project: FOOL'S JOURNEY (New Grove Music 9601)

Ravana: COMMON DAZE (Prognetik 001)

Scandinavia has been developing a new life in "prog rock" in the late 90's. Three of these four albums are good examples of what is being produced these days. (The fourth is a reissue of a mid-80's LP with an added track recorded in 1993. And its accompanying notes suggest the reformed band will be producing new albums to come.)

My favorite of the four is Tomas Bodin's album. ORDINARY NIGHT is anything but "ordinary." It takes me back to the late sixties and early seventies when musicians (and bands) were less constrained by category and more willing to try different musicial directions on different tracks of the same album. Bodin plays a variety of keyboards, including piano, organ, and -- yes! -- mellotron (the comeback instrument of the nineties). He is joined on several tracks by fellow Swedish musician Roine Stolt, who plays a ripping guitar (and whose Flower Kings have recorded several good albums this decade). While one piece might make use of sound-collages reminiscent of the psychedelic era, another might feature mostly solo piano. But running through the entire album are common musical themes (which recur in different musical contexts) which have a unifying effect. The music is, overall, richly melodic, varied, and rewarding on repeated hearings.

Zaragon's album (the first five tracks) was recorded in 1984 in Denmark. When APM sought to rerelease it (as the label has been doing with overlooked progressive rock albums), the band reformed to record the sixth track (a previously unrecorded work contemporaneous with the album) to be added to the CD. The band's instrumentation is standard: keyboards (mostly organ), guitar, bass and drums. The music reminds me strikingly (and in the best sense) of that of the British band, Fantasy, whose seventies album, PAINT A PICTURE, was uniquely melodic and fresh. (There are three Fantasy CDs presently available: PAINT A PICTURE, a never before released second album, and an album of pre-PICTURE demos. I recommend that if you find you like PICTURE you get them all.) Zaragon does not use the rich vocal harmonies of Fantasy, but their melodies have the same flair. In places one hears traces of TRICK OF THE TAIL-period Genesis, and occasionally the guitarist reminds me of vintage Manzanera (I wish current Manzanera did!), but it all fits together in one coherent style -- and an album which has grown on me with each replay.

The New Grove Project is a Swedish duo transplanted to Switzerland. (The album was recorded in Sweden and released in Switzerland.) They essentially made this album twice: first in 1984 as a home recording and then again in the mid-nineties in a studio (Crimsonic). A concept album, it tells a cheerfully apocalyptic story of "A Fool's Journey" to another planet. The music lacks the edge of some progressive rock, but makes up for it with a sunny melodicism derived in part from vintage Genesis. Ingemar Hjertqvist (vocals, bell) and Per Sundbom (keyboards) wrote the album. They are joined by Roine Stolt on guitars, Par Lindh on keyboards (and Crimsonic is his studio) Andre Schornoz on bass, and Jode Leigh on drums.

Ravana is a Norwegian band, and by far the most "modern" of the bunch, incorporating with its progressive music the vocabulary of grunge. They sound like they've been listening to both King Crimson and Faith No More. The vocalist sometimes screams, and sometimes whispers. The music ranges from baroque to industrial, although rarely within a single track. The production is straight out of Seattle. This has the sound of a young band who have listened widely and see no contradiction in the incorporation of diverse styles of music. (My copy of this CD has a major manufacturing defect: a puncture of the disc which makes most of the first two tracks unplayable.)

Taken together, these four albums offer a broad spectrum of good progressive rock, and suggest that Scandinavia has become another fertile breeding ground for this sort of music.


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