|Anglagard: Epilog (1994)|
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When you start up a discussion about the most influential albums in progressive rock history, you expect the conversation to center around such albums likeClose to the Edge, Brain Salad Surgery, Octopus, Foxtrot, or In the Court of the Crimson King. However, for many bands who have gotten their start in the last ten years, they drew a wealth of inspiration from the Swedish legends Anglagard, a band who grew up on the albums listed above and then churned out two of the most impressive prog albums of the 90's, Hybris and Epilog. While much has been said about the near perfect debut Hybris, let's take a close look at the equally impressive follow-up, which turned out to be the band's last studio album. They have however recently re-grouped and are planning live shows and recording, which for many is the best news in years.
If you are new to Anglagard (or the Swedish prog scene in general), they use many 70's influences and weave them into a powerful yet dark tapestry of sounds. Combining elements of Jethro Tull, Genesis, Yes, and King Crimson, Anglagard switch from furious, angular rockers, to twisting, complex fusion vamps, to atmospheric moody passages dripping with gothic imagery as fast as you can blink. While Hybris contained a fair amount of Swedish vocals, this album was all instrumental but for a few brief passages. "Hostsejd" is a 15- minute gem that throws at the listener everything imaginable, yet remains a simply majestic piece of beautiful music. Flutes and Mellotron create a haunting, romantic picture, but are quickly smashed to pieces by complex guitar and Hammond lines on top of a furious rhythm. As quickly as the fury arrives, it is hushed away by gentle flute passages that drop in from the clouds, which slowly pick up steam and volume while drums and bass get more violent. This constant push-pull from quiet to rage is what Anglagard is all about, and they do it marvelously.
The band goes for a more pastoral feel on "Skogsranden", with nimble piano lines from Thomas Johnson complemented by the lush acoustic guitar of Tord Lindman. Again, don't get too comfortable, as about three minutes into it the listener is treated to intense Hammond, weaving electric guitar, and muscular Rickenbacker bass. Backed by the ever creepy Mellotron, the band extends an intricate workout, and to relax and slowly build up the tension once again. In the distance you can hear flickering organ and ethereal female vocals, followed by a gorgeous flute solo from Anna Holmgren. More than once you will be reminded of the great drama that Genesis created on albums like Tresspass, Nursery Cryme, or Foxtrot, combining light acoustic moments with violent outbursts of rock energy. The final two minutes of this piece is quite chaotic, as the Mellotron leads in rampaging and weaving guitar, keyboard and flute blasts that are simply stunning to hear. The last of the CD's lengthy tracks is "Sista Somrar", a real classical sounding tune with cellos, and ominous waves of Mellotron. The Jethro Tull influence can be heard here to great effect, with plenty of rock flute playing and intricate percussion, not to mention heavy use of Hammond. The way these players are locked in and weave such complex lines around each other is just breathtaking, and the music always seems to be heading in a logical direction. The guitars of Holmgren and Jonas Engdegard take on an aggressive tone midway through this tune, snaking around the urgent flute passages while huge amounts of Mellotron provides the dramatic background. Just when you think the band is going to keep plowing forward with this insane intensity, the opening melody line is back, and acoustic guitars, Mellotron, flute, and cellos finish out the song with gentle, lulling ease, accompanied by a tortured electric guitar solo.
The CD ends with the short "Saknadens Fullhet", a nice little piano goodbye from Thomas Johnson. It would almost be a fitting finale, as Anglagard quietly went away after playing some farewell gigs and split up. After only two studio albums and one live release, the prog world was left wanting more. Thankfully, the band is back, and time will tell whether they can capture the magic that was Hybris and Epilog.