Back with the first Flower Kings album in six years, one immediately notes that long-time keyboard player Tomas Bodin is no longer with the band. He was an original member of the band, playing on the debut ‘Back In The World of Adventures’ back in 1995, and every release since, so I was very surprised to see him missing as he has been a key part of the sound since the beginning. This led me to do some quick checking of personnel and I was pleased to see other long-time members Hasse Fröberg (vocals) and Jonas Reingold (bass) still there alongside Roine Stolt (guitars, keyboards, ukulele, vocals). They have now been joined by Zach Kamins (keyboards, glockenspiel, guitar, Theremin, harmonium) and drummer Mirko DeMaio.
The Flower Kings will always have a special place in my affections, as I still remember being sent the solo album by the ex-Kaipa guitarist almost 30 years ago now, and the impact it had on me, never thinking it would lead to a full band. In addition, it was the first concert I ever took my youngest daughter to (and the photo of her at that gig, taken by the official tour photographer, appears at the end of Volume 3 of The Progressive Underground). I absolutely adore their music, and always look forward to each album, but always with just a hint of doubt. The reason for this is that Roine likes long songs and long albums (this one is well over 80 minutes in length), and it doesn’t always work. There are times in the past where I have bemoaned the lack of an outside set of ears and the willingness to cull minutes of music from a song and make it more direct. However, the more recent albums have seen a much more focussed approach (even if no shorter), so what is this like?
Over recent years Roine has been working with other musicians and solo, and this is the first official new Flower Kings album since 2013’s, ‘Desolation Rose’, with a new keyboard player to boot (I think there have been six or seven drummers over the years so they can obviously survive those changes). But, with Roine obviously very much in control, Hasse Fröberg still in fine voice and Reingold playing his normal set of different basses, adding the right sound where he needs to, I really shouldn’t have worried. This is classic Flower Kings, as if they had never been away and as if Bodin was still there. Harmony vocals, lush sounds, layering of instruments, plenty of hooks and plenty of time for musicians to extend themselves without ever moving too far into the area of proving just how clever they are, this is an album any proghead will sit back with and smile.
The first time I listened to this I played it on headphones (always best with these guys I find) and just drifted along on a progressive wave, thoroughly enjoying the experience and never once wondering why they yet again weren’t using an editor to cut back on their more over the top moments. Delicate when they need to be, rocky when the time is right, The Flower Kings are back with a wonderful release which is going to make them new friends with the old ones more than happy. Let’s just hope we don’t have to wait so long for the next one.