Album Review: The Flower Kings - Banks Of Eden
Few men in progressive rock have been as prolific as Roine Solt. Over the course of his career, he has appeared on a staggering number of records, and established himself as one of the leading forces of modern progressive music. It's in that spirit that “Banks Of Eden” is an oddity, the first Flower Kings album in five years. With eleven albums in a career spanning few additional years, the extended absence for the band came as a shock, even as Stolt took part in the reformation of the supergroup Transatlantic. Working on multiple projects had never impacted the Flower Kings before, which raised questions about what the future of the band would be.
After such a long break, expectations for “Banks Of Eden” have had time to percolate, reaching a boil as the album is finally ready to be released. The album wastes no time in setting the record straight, with the twenty-six minute “Numbers” making an immediate statement that all is as it has ever been. Winding through musical passages with seamless grace, Stolt and company fill the space with tasteful playing that never tries to do more than the song requires. Stolt contributes several melodic solos, each a highlight. Few players wrench as much emotion out of their instrument as he can, saying as much with his phrasing as most songwriters can accomplish with an entire composition. Keyboard player Tomas Bodin is as integral a part of the sound, providing flourishes of texture that propel the varying sections of the epic. His quivering, almost horror movie tone in the middle of the song is mesmerizing, the perfect note to bisect the song. That so much time has passed when the song ends is remarkable, the changes so well composed that you never sense the daunting length of the track. Writing epics is a hallmark of the band, and for good reason. Few can make them as listenable as “Numbers”.
Following this, the album offers up more manageable slices of progressive flavor. “For Love Of Gold” is an upbeat number that relies more heavily on Bodin's organ sounds, as Stolt delivers a relaxed but catchy vocal melody that wouldn't have been out of place on 70's AM radio. It is nostalgic music, but done in such a loving way that it's truly authentic. This is who these musicians are at their core, not a sound chosen by them. “Pandemonium” is the odd lot, with stabbing blasts of organ and a different vocal delivery bringing a different feel than the rest of the album.
“For Those About To Drown” is another throwback to olden days, an effortlessly melodic song that is gratifying on many levels. Featuring as much impressive musicianship as the other songs, it brings with it an air of simplicity in the arrangement, sounding like a more intellectual take on what was once radio-acceptable material. “Rising The Imperial” settles things down, ending the album on a subdued note. A melodic ballad containing Stolt's most impassioned solo on the record, it's a fitting and welcome coda to the sonic journey the proceeding four songs established.
A deluxe edition of “Banks Of Eden” comes with four bonus tracks. “Illuminati” is a jazzy instrumental, that while beautiful, is not essential. “Fireghosts”, on the other hand, without doubt is. An uplifting bit of melody, it showcases the best vocal lines and performances on the album, and would have been a fine addition to the main track listing. It's exclusion is apparent as “Going Up” plays out, another song with strong pop and melodic sensibilities. The bonus tracks have a different feeling to them, and their inclusion on the main album may have diluted the effect of that material. Being labeled bonus tracks shouldn't discount their quality; all of them are excellent tracks that are worth hearing.
“Banks Of Eden” was recorded like music was made in the old days, with the band playing together in the same room. The comradery is evident in the result, as the music swings to the beat of humanity, rising and falling as the players find their groove. The impact wouldn't be as strong if everything was locked rigidly to a tempo grid, overdubbed until every note was perfect. This sounds like music as music is played, a living entity that under the right circumstances can become an experience unlike any other. Whether “Banks Of Eden” reaches that high is debatable, but it certainly gives it everything it has, and it without fail it will be one of the best progressive rock albums released this year.