Flaming Row have long been one of my favourite bands, and in their midst they have some of my favourite musicians in Marek Arnold (keyboards, sax) and Martin Schnella (guitar, bass, vocals) and Melanie Mau (vocals), with the line-up completed by Niklas Kahl (drums). Together they have an incredibly commercial and accessible approach to progressive rock which is always a delight. There is something light-hearted, almost playful, about their music which never contains the navel-gazing which can accompany some bands. Amazing vocals, and the use of saxophone combined with strong arrangements and songs full of hooks combine to make each release a delight.
This is their third album, having taken some six years to record, and contains multiple guests as this is a concept and has been released as a double disc set with one CD containing the album and the second the music without the vocals. One reason for the use of guests, and the length of time it took to produce, is this is a concept album, and while I would normally welcome that, this time I have issues. Last year I took the opportunity of living and working away from home to do something I had been meaning to do for some years, which is read the complete ‘The Dark Tower’ series. When I say series, it is a series in the same as ‘Lord of The Rings’ is a series, in that the books need to be read one after other and are in fact one story broken into parts. In total there are eight books and one short story, more than 1.3 million words – to context this, ‘Lord of The Rings’ (even including ‘The Hobbit’) is just 576,000 words, so much less than half the length. Knowing this, one can see why so many Stephen King fans (including myself) think that while Idris Elba was a fine choice for Roland Deschain, and the film is good on many levels, it has been merely influenced by the books and misses many of the main element and twists others.
Unfortunately, the same is true of this album, and I really wish they had taken another lyrical approach as for me this just does not work. To shoehorn the story into an album they have taken the same approach as the film and have concentrated on just three main characters, whereas in the book there are at least five with others coming in and out as the story progresses. I believe they were influenced far more by the film than the books, and the result is something which is even further removed from the original. The first time I played this it just jarred, and the same has been true on continued plays, but musically this is their finest album to date, and the different vocals and harmonies are just wonderful. Part of me wishes they had recorded this in their native German and then I could have simply enjoyed what is a superb piece of music, without finding the words causing me problems as I love the original story so much.
I do believe those who enjoy the books will cringe when they hear this, but if people have not read the books and only seen the film then they may well get far more from it than I. When the film was released one of my daughters asked if she could borrow the book and was rather surprised when I told her there were so many, and even more surprised when she saw just how big they were and declined. The whole album is full of flourishes and flicks of skill, it moves and breathes, and is triumph on so many levels. The vocals are what really set this off, so while the instrumental CD is interesting and enjoyable, it does not contain the raw power and emotion from the main disc. Me, I just cannot get past the words, which for me reduces an album from one which undoubtedly should be marked as being absolutely indispensable to one which is excellent on many levels, but may well be one which book lovers may have to pass by.