Band: The Flower Kings
Album: Banks of Eden
Genre: Progressive Rock
When I first got into The Flower Kings years ago, I quickly learned two things about them. First, that they loved making music. It seemed that they not only put out a single or often double album every year, but the individual members pretty much all put out albums with various side projects as well. Second, they often liked to write longer songs (a rarity in prog, I know). With that in mind it was somewhat stunning to the prog world when the Swedish proggers went on hiatus following 2007’s The Sum of No Evil, but returning now in 2012 with Banks of Eden, it’s only appropriate the band decided to show back up on the scene with the twenty-five minute opening track “Numbers”.
We can remain thankful that the individual Flower Kings stayed busy during the hiatus, as five years would have been far too long to live without the guitar stylings of Roine Stolt, who has a particular shine during the opening number. His guitar solos in particular amaze throughout the track, and his ability to vary the style of the solos (and leads) never ceases to astonish me. While Stolt’s best playing may be on “Numbers”, and as good as the track is, I think the album takes a turn for the better at its conclusion. In fashion counter to the usually Flower Kings style, the final four tracks of the album all clock in at less than eight minutes. While this might come as a shock to Flower Kings fans, if the band was aiming for concise, strong songwriting with the rest of the album, they hit the nail on the head.
Starting with “For the Love of God”, the remainder of the album may lack a bit of the overt catchiness of an album like Paradox Hotel, but it still remains nearly as strong nonetheless. Despite lacking that heavier pop edge, incredibly strong melodies remain, and keyboardist Thomas Bodin in particular seems to stand out. While Jonas Reingold provides his usually solid low end support to the Kings sound, Bodin manages to really power the melodies more than he has in the past, and his playing often matches or exceeds that of Stolt’s. Of course that doesn’t mean some of Bodin’s more traditional, brooding background parts aren’t present. On the contrary, on the track “For Those About to Drown”, Bodin spends most of the track away from the spotlight while maintaining an essential presence in the track.
While new drummer Felix Lehrmann does a good job on Banks of Eden, I’ve always found the drums in The Flower Kings' music to be the least important piece to the finished product, and that trend continues even in this new Kings era. That however is more of a testament to the rest of the band than any Kings drummer, past or present. Along with the already mentioned Stolt, Bodin, and Reingold, vocalist/guitarist Hasse Froberg adds his fantastic flair to the album. Stolt likely has more vocal duties on this album than any previously, but the contrast only serves to help highlight Froberg’s voice as it is reserved for the times when it is best able to shine. Perhaps the best example of this is the final half of “Rising the Imperial”, where his emotive and yet powerful voice sings the final few lines of lyrics with perfection.
Banks of Eden sounds crisp and clean as Kings recordings usually do, and all the way through the album, it manages to be more consistent and enjoyable than perhaps any of their records so far. Although I sadly think none of the new tracks are on par with the very best of what they’ve done in the past, they have managed to cut down immensely on oft criticized “filler” material, giving the album a very cohesive feel. What you have from start to finish are strong songs that are definitively the funky, eclectic musings of The Flower Kings. 2007’s The Sum of No Evil provided too many long, meandering, and quite blatantly boring tracks; it had seemed like the band’s hiatus would pave the way for a new king of their style to be crowned. However, returning now with one of their stronger albums, The Flower Kings have proven once again that they have what it takes to be a leader of their genre.
Nick’s Grade: 9/10