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Hidden Lands: Halcyon

So far in my musical landscape, Sweden's Hidden Lands have lived up to their name, their very existence kept a secret. Two previous albums have arrived in the shape of In Our Nature in 2012 and Lycksalighetens ö, two years later. Previously (and possibly currently) having worked within the band Violent Silence, keyboard player and guitarist Hannes Ljunghall is also Hidden Lands' chief songwriter, only the instrumental track, "Ulleråker", incorporating the compositional skills of bassist Philipp Bastin and drummer Gustav Nyberg. Vocal duties in the band handled by Bruno Edling.

Interestingly Bastin and Edling were also part of Violent Silence alongside Ljunghall, but not the iteration of the band that he resurfaced with in 2013, eight years after the previous album by the band, Kinetic, and a year after Hidden Lands' debut. Complicated back story aside, what has become apparent through Ljunghall's own thoughts and those of long term onlookers, is that from a starting point that involved little, if anything, in the ways of guitars, the six string has slowly made its presence felt in his writing. Now to the extant that it is an almost equal partner in this band's make-up, alongside keyboards.

Tying this outfit's sound down is equally convoluted. There's an undoubted neo-prog element strongly in play, but there's also an inkling of avant-garde, some psych prog and the more modern outlook bands such as Haken or Sound Of Contact are bringing to the old school approach. Add in an individual vocal attack from Edling – think an upbeat, almost cheerful Mikael Akerfeldt and then add in Simon Collins (Sound Of Contact) and a hint of Daniel Tompkins (Tesseract) – and one thing you're assured of is that he's not copying anyone else.

Unusually the album feels structured in such a way that initially you're put on the back foot, Edling heading off into unexpected vocal melody lines as Ljunghall sets his keyboards and guitars on collision course during "The Prince Of Goofs". With organ droning and synths chiming, it's like Haken took their foot off the gas and somehow still upped the intensity. "Water Spirits" brings a more moody atmospheric base – almost Opeth like, but much less claustrophobic – Bastin's bass suddenly leading the charge in a song that joyfully refuses to provide the release that the enigmatic build up promises before pulling the rug from under your feet. Continuing to climb the ladder of uncompromising, "Ulleråker" throws an unexpected curveball of jazz and avant into the mixer, steps back and watches it splatter its surrounds.

From there it's almost as though Hidden Lands feel like they've weeded out the lightweights, the casual fans, the easily scared off and they relax. "No One Is In This For Love" is possibly the heaviest track in sight – not that it's that heavy, but we have riffage – but it's also the first moment on the album to rely heavily on melody to get its message across. "The Silent Service" slips into Genesis meets smooth Opeth mode, "Songbirds" becomes almost playful and light, while the short "Octavius" sets out to remind us that Hidden Lands have chops and they're not afraid to use them, a faintly funky bass hooked round popping drums and off kilter keys. However, instead of the towering blast of prog that you expect closer "Rooftop Farewell" to be, an acoustic guitar rings out an uplifting jaunt where piano and glorious vocals are allowed to flourish. A mid song guitar solo confirms that Ljunghall can roll out any manner of licks whenever the mood takes him, before the gleeful main melody motif surges back to the fore. At first this unexpected easing off from the intensity of the opening trio of tracks on Halcyon feels a little underwhelming, but strangely the longer I've lived with this album, the more it is the closing half of it I yearn for – good though the more technical, proggy fare undoubtedly is. Either way this third offering from Hidden Lands is excellent from start to finish, an album complex enough to have you thoroughly engaged throughout, also packed with the ability to leave you wanting more, and subsequently yearning to begin the journey all over again.

Track Listing
1. The Prince Of Goofs
2. Water Spirit
3. Ulleråker
4. No One Is In This For Love
5. The Silent Service
6. Songbirds
7. Octavius
8. Rooftop Farewell

Added: June 4th 2017
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: Hidden Lands at facebook
Hits: 1913
Language: english

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