The long-awaited sequel to the classic Hybris has brought with it a lot of hype, curiosity, and questions. Epilog clearly squelches any rumors of a sophomore slump, and has answered all doubters with a repeat effort of shocking maturity, serenity, and pure art. Anglagard shows a tremendous amount of growth on this album, and have wisely steered the band in a direction few people would have anticipated. Whereas the band willingly will admit that Hybris was full of a lot of flash (and that is certainly no criticism), Epilog is far more dreamy and pastoral all the way around.
The opening 'Prolog' is a gentle Mellotron/classical guitar/flute passage with a rich but brief melody. The 16-minute 'Hostsejd' opens with an eerie but alarmingly simple organ line which mutates into a full-band extravaganza through multiple themes, all of which are fairly ambiguous and far more angular than anything found on Hybris. This is very challenging material to become familiar with, but that's part of what will make it endure. The 14-second 'Rosten' (nothing but some noise and thumps) leads uncomfortably into the next two tracks 'Skogsranden' and 'Sista Somrar' which follow the style set in 'Hostsejd.' Throughout the album, Anglagard experiment with some new sounds such as wah-wah guitar leads, heavily reverbed pianos, flanged bass guitar, and even brief guest spots on violin, viola, cello, and female voice giving them an even richer sound than before. The solo piano piece 'Saknadens Fullhet' closes the album with little resolution, in an almost Satie-like manner. In fact the lack of resolution of musical ideas is what makes the album more difficult, and more complex, than their previous effort.
While Epilog is sure to reach critical acclaim on all fronts (albeit much of it will be token), its maturity, artistic vision, and genuine integrity make it worthy of such praise. So in the end, is it a better album than Hybris? Maybe, maybe not; it certainly is different, both more simple and more complex, but with the same unique signature sound. All of the minimalist passages will likely disappoint some fans, as will the roller-coaster dynamic ride which takes the listener up and down alternately so many times, perhaps too many. Nevertheless, this is moving instrumental music, epic in its conception and flawlessly performed and recorded. Positively essential, and probably the best album of what has been a very strong year for progressive rock.
(Originally published in Expose #6, p. 32, Edited for Gnosis 8/11/02)
Since Anglagard's superb 1992 debut Hybris, more than a few folks have been eagerly awaiting the follow-up effort from this magnificent Swedish ensemble. Everyone wondered: would they be able to equal the high musical standards they had set on their first release, or even exceed them? The answer, in a word, is YES!
The six tracks comprising Epilog only reinforce the fact that Anglagard is one of the premier progressive outfits around. Brimming with intricate arrangements and trademark sudden dynamic changes, Epilog displays even craftier composition and more thorough thematic development than its predecessor. With dual guitars, analog keyboards, flute, and a monster rhythm section, the band has a wide palette of sounds at their disposal, and the wonderfully orchestrated themes are indicative of their skills as arrangers as well as writers. The three long tracks which comprise the bulk of this album are nothing short of fantastic. The music is at times reminiscent of early Genesis or Shylock, but derivative of neither, and in its best moments goes far beyond what either of those groups ever accomplished.
The album is permeated by an air of darkness and mystery, and the overall mood is generally brooding. Though the powerful and intense moments are here in abundance, the softer, more delicate side of the music is also emphasized, lending a beautiful dreamy quality to the album. As always, the band remains impressively tight through all the musical complexities. Epilog easily gets my vote for the best new CD release of 1994, and it comes with the highest recommendation to any fan of progressive music.
(Originally published in Expose #6, p. 31-32, Edited for Gnosis
Änglagård - Hybris
Änglagård's debut Hybris is without a doubt among the very best progressive rock albums put out in the 90s. Simply put, this thing smokes. While incorporating a definite 70s feel, by way of vintage keyboard equipment such as Hammond organ, Moog and authentic Mellotron, this Swedish band certainly seems to have a modern outlook, visciously attempting to define themselves as a viable entity in the current musical environment. Certainly, the band incorporates elements from giants like King Crimson and Genesis, but the most notable comparisons are to bands like Schicke, Fuhrs and Frohling as well as French group Shylock. Also present is what seems to be a Scandinavian folk feel, especially in the quieter passages where the flute comes in as the lead instrument. The music veers from mellow passages, marked by the serene flute and Mellotron, to explosive ferocious passages of searing guitars and Hammond leads backed by omninous Mellotron choirs.
"Jordrök" is a magnificent opener, energetic and memorable. The middle portion of this cut is completely breathtaking, a moment that defines the potential of progressive rock. Some distance into the track, the bottom drops out of the music completely, leaving only a repetitive organ riff fighting back the silence. Finally, muted chugging guitars come in for support, building tension, then everything explodes in a savage frenzy, behind biting guitar licks and dense, heaving Mellotron. "Vandringar I Vilsenhet" begins innocently enough, with gorgeous flute melodies projecting an air of complete serenity and beauty. Later the song picks up in tempo, introducing angular riffs marked by pinpoint bass and flailing drums. The drumming in particular is a highlight of the album, aggressively propelling the band through all kinds of odd times and complex themes, making it look all too easy as he manages to stuff in his share of bewildering fills.
This is pretty much a classic, one of the few progressive rock albums of the 90s that sits nicely next to the seminal work of the 70s without coming off as a pale imitation, an especially rare quality in the symphonic prog realm.
- Greg Northrup
Hybris contains four long tracks of flamboyant symphonic rock played by excellent musicians. Most of the album is dominated by flashy guitar/keyboard interplay, but to my ears they overdo it at times with their heavy-handed symphonic drama. Luckily they release the tension from time to time with beautiful quiet passages where flute and mellotron usually are prominently featured. Although I would not call Änglagård a retro act, I find the references to classic 70's symphonic rock (Yes, Genesis, King Crimson) a bit too obvious at times. Both their albums contain some excellent music and are well worth hearing, but overall I find Änglagård's music not involving enough to be considered a classic.
Epilog opens with a moody short piece for string quartet and mellotron possibly recalling Scandinavia on a cold, rainy November day. The second track "Höstsejd" opens in full blown symphonic rock mode where both Gabriel-era Genesis (especially the keyboards) and King Crimson (mainly the guitar playing and drumming) are the obvious influences. This 15 minute track has several inspired and beautiful passages with great interplay between guitar, keyboards and flute. The drums and bass are excellent and they play an active role in the music. Still, other parts don't hold my interest very well, rather aimless noodling parts that sound at times like King Crimson having a bad day. The rest of the album continuous in a similar fashion where pastoral chamber music-like sections, dynamic symphonic rock and mid 70's King Crimson alternate. The album ends with a short solemn piano piece. Overall, I find this album somewhat of a mixed bag. There are many beautiful passages with great interplay between the various instruments. On the other hand I find that this album lacks somewhat in originality and Änglagård's compositions never manage to capture my imagination as much as the best output of their influences (King Crimson, Genesis).
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