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TRACK LIST: 1. The Haywain 0:55 2. Imperial Winter White 15:02 3. Interlude 2:32 4. In Taberna 13:10 5. Armoury 3:00 LINEUP: Lars Fredrik Froislie – keyboards; vocals Martin Nordrum Kneppen – drums, percussion; crumhorn, recorder Morten Andreas Eriksen – el. & ac. guitars Kristian Karl Hultgren – basses Tony Johannessen – vocals With: Ketil Vestrum Einarsen – flutes; vocals Aage Moltke Schou – vibraphone, glockenspiel Sigrun Eng – cello
Prolusion. Formed in 1999 in the Norwegian town of Honefoss, WOBBLER released their debut album, “Hinterland”, in 2005, though the bulk of the material had already been written prior to 2001. “Afterglow”, their sophomore effort, contains material from their two demos, plus three other songs dating back to the first year of the band’s activity. Wobbler is currently engaged in the recording of their third album.
Analysis. Back in 2005, Wobbler wowed the progressive rock world with the stunning “Hinterland”. Devotees of the lush sounds of vintage symphonic prog were utterly delighted by the album’s unabashedly retro nature, which, however, did not give that impression of blatant derivativeness that often mars other albums. The fact that the tracks on the album had been originally composed at the very beginning of the band’s activity made it an even more amazing achievement – here was an outfit that, in time-honoured prog tradition, spent years working on their sound until they got it exactly the way they wanted it to be. As those familiar with “Hinterland” will know, Wobbler takes their dedication to vintage prog very seriously. In particular, band keyboardist and mastermind Lars Fredrik Froislie (who is also a member of White Willow and the experimental metal band In Lingua Mortua) is an enthusiastic collector of vintage keyboards, which he employs with unfettered enthusiasm (and to great effect) on this album. The band members are also very honest about their approach to music – no attempts at selling themselves and their output as the best (or most innovative) thing since sliced bread. However, like so many Scandinavian bands (Black Bonzo come to mind), they are extremely good at what they do. Indeed, Wobbler clearly follows in the wake of the great Swedish prog bands of the ‘90s, Anglagard and Anekdoten above all. The medieval, Renaissance and folk influences, and that sort of melancholy yet deeply fascinating mood, beautiful and sad like an autumnal forest landscape, are shared by most of the acts hailing from Northern Europe. Wobbler is also distinguished by their wide use of intricate counterpoint patterns in the style of Gentle Giant, supported by an incredibly rich instrumentation. “Afterglow” is a mostly instrumental album, built around two epics, the 15-minute-plus Imperial Winter White and the slightly shorter In Taberna. Both share a similar structure, apparently patchy, but provided instead of an inner consistency that becomes clear after a couple of listens. This above average complexity could have made either composition almost unlistenable, or at least intolerably pretentious. However, against all odds, Wobbler manages to pull it off with enviable aplomb. The tracks are the sonic equivalent of richly detailed tapestries, brimming with different colours that, instead of clashing, blend together smoothly to delight the eye (or, in this case, the ear). In spite of the frequent shifts and changes in tempo, the alternation between heavy, frantic riffing, lushly orchestrated sections full of melody and emotion, and delicate, acoustic moments, the compositions do not come across as fractured or directionless – though they obviously require all of the listener’s attention. Though under one minute in length, opener The Haywain immediately sets the mood for the album with its pastoral, medieval-inspired atmosphere somewhat reminiscent of Gryphon, especially as regards the distinctive sound of the krumhorn. The other two shorter tracks, Interlude and Armoury, share the same subdued, melancholy tone – the former mostly acoustic, based on the interaction between double bass and acoustic bass (which, however, sound like a cello and a guitar); the latter starting much like The Haywain, and ending with the majestic strains of a church organ vying for attention with the whistling sound of a Moog. They are also strategically placed in order to provide a welcome break from the demanding nature of the two epics – which, as previously hinted, are no-holds-barred triumphs of vintage prog blending a number of influences with a distinctly original touch. Imperial Winter White starts and ends with a barrage of guitar and organ riffs that bring to mind not only Anekdoten, but also the unforgettable Blackmore-Lord interaction of Deep Purple’s best output, and develops into an awesome cavalcade punctuated by rumbling Rickenbacker bass, keyboards of every description (listed in loving detail in the CD liner notes), flute and cello. The keyboards indeed dominate the proceedings, but the other instruments do not take a back seat willingly. There are also some brief vocal sections, which in my view are the weakest feature of the track, as they seem to interrupt the flow of the music without really adding a lot. In Taberna, though similar in conception, sounds somewhat heavier on the whole – opening with some guitar-organ-drum pyrotechnics and veering towards prog-metal territory in the final part, though the middle section features some sparse, atmospheric moments, and even a brief, jaunty organ solo with clear jazz overtones. The only fault that could be found with “Afterglow” is its shortness, especially if compared with the modern trend towards 60-minute-plus albums – the music is so good that one would wish it lasted a bit longer. However, this is further proof of how seriously the guys in Wobbler take their allegiance to the prog of the golden era: 35 minutes was the normal running time for a vinyl LP in the Seventies. Also deserving of a particular mention is the cover artwork, a quirky painting by Froislie himself that definitely hints at Hieronymus Bosch’s unique style.
Conclusion. If “Afterglow” had contained another extra ten minutes of music of the same quality, it would have effortlessly got the top rating at my disposal. This is an extraordinarily accomplished album by a real class act, and a true pleasure to listen to – which goes to show that, when there is genuine talent involved, it is not necessary to reinvent the wheel in order to produce great music. While, as can be expected, fans of classic symphonic prog will be utterly captivated by this album, I feel confident enough to recommend it to all open-minded lovers of progressive rock.
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