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Rokstenen - 2010 - "A Tribute to Swedish Progressive Rock of the 70s"

(233:15 3CD, Musea Records)


*****+

Prolusion. The Finnish fan organization Colossus has been actively inaugurating and releasing a number of different projects for the last decade or so, and while the majority of them have been elaborate productions paying tribute to influential movies, movie creators or other contributors to the world of culture they have also crafted a fair few releases honoring artists influential on today's purveyors of art rock, emphasizing ones with a Scandinavian origin. "Rokstenen" is one of these creations, and on this occasion it is the Swedish progressive rock artists of the 70's who are honored by those who more or less have followed in their tracks.

Disc 1 (76:33)
*****+

PERFORMERS / TRACK LIST: 

1.  The Samurai of Prog: Drottningholmsmusiken Sats 1 (Blaakulla) 2:20
2.  Jinetes Negros: Mars (Blaakulla) 6:18
3.  Contrarian: Sirenernas Saang (Blaakulla) 6:11
4.  Simon Says: Tajgan (Kaipa) 7:02
5.  KBridge: Den Skrattande Grevinnan (Kaipa) 5:35
6.  Progchard: Fraan det Ena Till det Andra (Kaipa) 3:57
7.  Willowglass: Oceaner Foder Liv (Kaipa) 10:06
8.  EDO: Paa Gata (Atlas) 8:09
9.  Revelation: Bjornstorp (Atlas) 6:04
10. Beardfish: Pop Poem (Made In Sweden) 4:09
11. Bootcut: Gaanglaat Fraan Ovanaaker (Merit Hemmingson) 2:45
12. Anima Morte: Den Gamla Skogen (Bo Hansson) 3:10
13. The Grand Trick: The Black Riders (Bo Hansson) 5:00
14. Echoes: Andra Sidan (Trettioaariga Kriget) 5:47
Analysis. As many will have noted over the years, tribute projects can be a so-so experience. Often regarded as an easy way to cash in on the interest in one or more highly profiled artists, such endeavors can be found in the collections of most music fans, and in more cases than not these creations have a tendency to sit on the shelf gathering dust as the contents don't really warrant listening to more than a few times at best. The series of tribute projects from Colossus and Musea are thankfully not among those. They focus on numerous artists, include obscurities even ardent fans of the fields covered may be unfamiliar with, and the general quality of the contributions is high. An additional feature few others include is an extensive booklet, presenting the background of the project as well as the contributors in detail, adding a great deal of informational value to a package of (usually) substantial musical value as well. The first of the three discs filled to the brim with music on the Rokstenen project is one that typically can be described as solid. All contributions are of generally good quality, few are found lacking and quite a few can only be described as dazzling. Most of the material covered resides in the symphonic parts of the art rock universe, at least originally and as this was the most popular subset of progressive rock in the 70's, that is to be expected. The opening part of the disc covers the mid-70's obscurity Blaakulla, and from what I can gather from the descriptions about this band, these cover versions should be an improvement over the original material. Jinetes Negros version of Mars, Blaakulla's most well-regarded piece of work, is worth mentioning in particular, a dazzling and enthralling piece of symphonic art rock that can only be described as a tour de force of the genre in this take: breathtaking material. Contrarian's version of Sirenernas Saang is arguably amongst the weaker efforts on this disc though, and may or may not be an indicator of why Blaakulla today is regarded as an obscurity rather than a central contributor to the art rock genre in their native Sweden. High profile act Kaipa is covered by four different artists next, and as one might expect these efforts are all fine examples of symphonic art rock and should please fans of this act and newcomers alike. And Willowglass is the best of the lot here, their version of Oceaner Foder Liv just as deserving of the tour de force description as any of the other spellbinding efforts on this disc. Other contributions worth noting include Bootcut's version of Gaanglaat Fraan Ovanaaker and The Grand Trick's take on The Black Riders, both of these adding a solid folk-rock spice to their respective contributions, and in the latter case this is a welcome and spirited addition to a composition I thought was perfect as was and one I imagine the late Bo Hansson would have approved of. The task of finalizing this first of three CDs has been given to the Venezuelan act Echoes, and while my personal opinion of their contribution is that it is a stellar creation well worth given multiple listens, others may disagree on this one. Fans in particular may find that listening to Trettioaariga Kriget in a majestic progressive metal guise might just be too alien. I approve though the approach as well as the final result.

Disc 2 (77:17)
*****

PERFORMERS / TRACK LIST: 

1.  Primo Intermezzo 2:41
2.  La Bocca Della Verita: War (Dice) 11:39
3.  Kate: Disease (Dice) 8:20
4.  Karmic Jaggernaut: Greed (Dice) 7:51
5.  Blank Manuskript: Death (Dice) 11:05
6.  JetSet: Into the Mist (JetSet) 2:45
7.  TkingDkeys: Ingenting (Samla Mammas Manna) 2:40
8.  Villebraad: Rockgift (Trettioaariga Kriget) 2:59
9.  Soniq Circus: Stockholm (Pugh Rogefeldt) 4:45
10. Magnolia: Ganska Laangt Fraan Sergel (November) 4:19
11. Wasa Express: Apkalops (Egba) 6:23
12. Mist Season: Promenader (Ragnarok) 7:02
13. Vanilla Project: Gaanglaat (Atlas) 4:48
Analysis. The symphonic art rock universe is just about the dominant expression also on this second disc of the box set "Rokstenen", albeit mostly limited to the opening five efforts. The rest of the tracks cover a much broader scope, ranging from psychedelic hard rock to fusion in style. Following the opening prolog, a multinational interpretation of a piece by Swedish composer Roman done in a distinctly 70's-sounding guise, Colossus has chosen to let the exploits by relatively unknown Swedish act Dice take the centre stage. Its production "The Four Riders of the Apocalypse", which was recorded in 1977 but not issued until the early 90's, is covered in full. A tribute within a tribute this one, a full-fledged homage to one single production tucked away as a part of a CD. Now that's value for money I'd say. It also seems that the compositions that make up that album aren't among the easiest to cover, where the maintenance of a strong identity and flow are aspects that seem to be difficult to master. Blank Manuskript's hard-edged guitar- and organ-dominated take on Death is the best of the lot in that respect, although La Bocca Della Verita's take on War may be a better piece overall slightly losing its way on occasion, but as the track evolves the hard-edged bass and guitars supporting the rich symphonic landscapes frequently craft themes and movements deserving of a true description of brilliance. The remaining eight tracks are a varied bunch in style as well as quality. Magnolia's take on November's psychedelic hard rock is well worth mentioning, a brilliant rendition by a band given the chance to tribute one of their main influences and doing so to perfection. Wasa Express and Vanilla Project also provide some truly excellent versions of their chosen artists, Egba and Atlas respectively, both of these good examples of 70's jazz rock and fusion that may not be the most challenging around, but with drive, energy and passion that will have an impact on most with a soft spot for this type of music. The only contribution that failed to make an impression might be noted as well, which is Jetset's cover of their own track Into the Mist. The pomp rock guise given this effort, originally a piece written with aspirations to follow in the tracks of Abba from what I understand, doesn't quite manage to entice me: Mostly due to the lead vocals, which don't quite manage to add the tension such a mainstream-oriented effort needs according to my musical perceptions.

Disc 3 (79:25)
******

PERFORMERS / TRACK LIST: 
 
1.  Secondo Intermezzo 2:46
2.  Daal: Var Glad Var Dag (Ragnarok) 5:31
3.  Pseudo Sun: En Av Oss (Life) 7:00
4.  Anja: Mount Everest (November) 4:55
5.  The Moor: Gravmaskinen (Pugh Rogenfeldt) 7:00
6.  Divine Baze Orchestra: Har Kommer (Pugh Rogenfeldt) 5:10
7.  Matthijs Herder: Two Hours (Algarnas Tradgaard) 10:15
8.  Moosequartet: Vi Valde Inte Vaaldet (Fickteatern) 5:56
9.  Darxtar: Cosmic Love (Ralph Lundsten) 7:08
10. Pensiero Nomade: Jatten Feeling (Flasket Brinner) 6:10
11. In The Labyrinth: Worlds on Fire (Handgjort) 5:52
12. Orient Squeezers: Odet (Zamla Mammaz Manna) 4:43
13. Jerry Johansson & Dan Froberg: Kontinuerlig Drift 6:59
Analysis. The third disc of "Rokstenen" is a much more varied affair than the previous two. While the first and at least to some extent the second CD were firmly rooted in the symphonic parts of art rock, this third chapter seeks out other and mostly psychedelic parts of the prog rock universe, and some may feel that a few of the items at hand have been pulled from alternate stylistic realms as well. More importantly, the material on this final disc is also the most adventurous included in this mammoth box set. Arguably the strongest as well, if you disregard the drifting experimental sound collage Kontinuerlig Drift which is found at the very end of this musical journey. The highlights are plentiful on this CD, and with the exception previously noted there isn't really a weak track among this lot, nor an average one. This is high-quality through and through. The opening chamber piece Secondo Intermezzo kicks this one off, the second item by Swedish classical composer Roman featured on this compilation. Daal comes next with a synth-dominated take on Rokstenen's Var Glad Var Dag, closer to symphonic-meets-electronic than symphonic rock in style and a truly amazing aural experience. Pseudosun blends the expressions of Deep Purple and Black Sabbath quite nicely on their take of Life's En Av Oss, with a slight touch of blues and art rock added to the proceedings, while Anya's take on November's Mount Everest sounds more like Tony Iommi's men alone with a more blues-oriented sound, with a nice flute solo interlude as the token art rock insert. Following this item, the CD shifts towards the psychedelic part of the art rock universe, with strong and amazing tracks coming one after another. My personal favorite on the entire box set comes courtesy of Moosequartet and their take on Fickteatern's proletarian anthem Vi Valde Inte Valdet, and prior to that piece Matthijs Herder takes us on an enthralling epic journey with Two Hours Over Two Blue Mountains, where the meandering final passages, a slight letdown, are arguably the only weak point on this space-tinged, fluctuating journey. Orient Sqeezers' twisted psych-folk rendition of Zamla Mammas Manna's Odet is another thrilling encounter, and the liberally raga-tinged psych-folk effort Worlds on Fire sits just as well in the version by In The Labyrinth as the original by Handgjort. In short the third part of the "Rokstenen" project is a thrilling ride from start and almost to the end, the highlight of a very well-made, high quality compilation.

Conclusion. The cooperative projects instigated and crafted by the Finnish prog association Colossus and subsequently released and distributed by Musea Records are known for their high quality, and "Rokstenen" is among the best of the lot I have encountered. A joy to become familiar with in itself, and those with an interest in or curiosity concerning Swedish progressive rock from the 70's better note down this item on their must-get list. As it was released in 2009 and in a limited set of physical copies, those who desire the CD box set with the customary thick, detailed booklet better hurry if they'd like to add this one to their collection, though.

OMB=Olav M Bjornsen: March 15-16, 2011
The Rating Room


Related Links:

Musea Records
Colossus


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