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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Änglagård

Hybris

Review by Julie Knispel

Is it possible for a band to have released only two albums and yet achieve legendary status? Well, if that band is the Swedish group Änglagård, the answer is unequivocally yes.

Bursting forth in 1991 with a sound that hearkened back to the giants of the genre (King Crimson, Genesis and Jethro Tull influences heavily inform the band’s sound), the group’s 1992 debut release Hybris amazed listeners with a heady and addictive sound based around lengthy compositions, filled with complex arrangements and lush, orchestrated layers of sound. Mellotron, Hammond organ and flute compete with shifting rhythms and blazing electric guitar to complete a sound like no other band on the scene at that time.

The band would release one additional album (Epilog, 1994) before taking a decade long hiatus. A brief reunion in 2003 saw the group (minus founder member Tord Lindman) presenting two new compositions which seemed the logical extension of Änglagård’s work on their two studio efforts. Despite rapturous response at the 5 reunion concerts, these tracks have not yet ventured beyond the stage, as the band has returned to its lengthy hibernation.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Jordrök (Earthsmoke)
A deceptively gentle, yet haunting, piano line opens this first composition on Hybris. Bells and glockenspiel tones build from this foundation, along with that sound like distantly mixed ‘tron voice tapes. Suddenly an angular series of guitar chords slice through the mellowness, competing with a tightly arranged counterpoint bass/drum rhythm. Tord Lindman and Jonas Engdegård shine on guitar here, mixing ice-cold electric playing with warm nylon and steel acoustic to add depth and variety. Anna Holmgren’s flute playing, relying on lengthy held notes, contributes still more warmth while maintaining musical tension. While the opening piano line is what many people hold most fondly when thinking about this composition, one must not overlook Thomas Johnson’s sudden burst of church organ leading out of a lengthy quiet section, giving way for quieter organ lines before the full band reiterates the main heavy musical theme.
Vandringar i vilsenhet (Wanderings in Confusion)
Vocals enter the mix on Hybris’ second track. Holmgren opens the piece with a plaintive, elegiac flute line, which is then joined by plucked acoustic guitar and chimes. The mood suddenly shifts to far darker regions as a church-like organ line over bass pedal tones replaces flute and guitar, only to give way to a reiteration of the flute/guitar part. Drums and mellotron join the mix, moving the track to alternating counterpoint and latin-esque rhythms with heavy keyboard and strummed guitar accompaniment, respectively. Tord Lindman is credited with vocals on this album, yet these vocals, sung entirely in Swedish, have a very distinct feminine timbre and feel to them. “Vandringar i vilsenhet” goes through so many changes over its nearly 12-minute length, occasionally sounding like three or four songs played one after the other without break, yet this is one of the qualities that makes Änglagård so enjoyable: always changing, the band refuses to give in to entropy, and wrings as much emotion and honesty out of each composition as possible. If “Jordrök” was a showcase of Johnson’s vast battery of keyboard sounds, Holmgren’s flute playing takes the MVP award here.
Ifrån klarhet till klarhet (From Strength to Strength)
The opening of this third composition should put to rest concerns that Änglagård’s music only deals in mood and colour. Lindman and Engdegård drive intense heavy progressive rock on electric guitar, while Mattias Olsson and Johan Högberg lock into some very tricky changes rhythmically. The mood changes noticeably as Lindman begins to sing, the band moving back and bringing the mood down to allow him the spotlight. Shakers, brushed drums, synth and flute develop out of the opening vocal section, the lengthy section showing the band’s debt to groups like Genesis and Tull most noticeably. The interplay between Johnson’s organ and Lindman/ Engdegård’s guitar playing is the highlight here...alternately playful and intense, it makes it difficult to believe that Hybris was only the band’s first album, as the tightness is more indicative of a group that had been playing for years, not months.
Kung Bore (King Winter)
As befits a song about the mythical king of winter, chilly acoustic guitar arpeggios are the lead in to the final track on the original Hybris pressing. Högberg’s warm Rickenbacker bass rolls underneath, allowing ample space for Johnson to join in on organ and Korg, while Holmgren’s flute lines add still more chill. A single guitar part bears uncanny resemblance to Jethro Tull’s “Cold Wind to Valhalla” here...it is not a rip off at all, yet the similarity is there, and fitting as well. Lindman’s vocals are soft, plaintive, and hair-raising; in fact, there are perhaps more hair-raising moments on this one 13-minute composition than many progressive bands achieve over a career. Vocal harmonies, flute fanfares, terse, restrained guitar playing...on “Kung Bore,” Änglagård is playing for the song, pouring every bit of their musical training and passion into the piece - and it shows in every note.
Gånglåt från Knapptibble (Marching Tune from Knapptibble)
The original Mellotronen release of Hybris ended after “Kung Bore.” Between the release of this album and their final release Epilog, Änglagård offered up one additional piece from the Hybris sessions. “Gånglåt från Knapptibble” was first heard by purchasers of Ptolemaic Terrascope Volume 4, Number 4, on a free vinyl release. The piece bears much resemblance to “Skogsranden” from Epilog, but with the addition of vocals (“Skogsranden,” and in fact all of Epilog, was instrumental). In this early form, the song fits well on Hybris, yet feels somewhat less finished than the other 4 tracks on the album. As the original vinyl release of this song is incredibly difficult to come by (perhaps as difficult as acquiring a copy of Hybris at this point, as both the original pressing and reissues are long out of print), the addition of “Gånglåt från Knapptibble” to the album is a welcome one.
 
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