Talk about epic! I’ve said this before, but I just don’t know how Roine Stolt and The Flower Kings are able to create such monstrous progressive rock statements on such a regular basis. Unfold the Future is the latest 2 CD package from the band, and third in five years in case anyone was counting. Where most other groups struggle to create an extended recording that doesn’t ramble and meander, The Flower Kings have proven that they are the kings of the trademark long form progressive rock statements.
Yes, there is plenty of music here, in fact, fourteen tracks are sandwiched between two mind-blowing epics called “The Truth Will Set You Free” and “Devil’s Playground.” The former is a strong Yes flavored song that will remind the listener of grand and majestic pieces like “Awaken” or “Close to the Edge” with its intelligent and beautiful instrumental passages and wonderful vocals harmonies (not to mention thirty minute length!) with lyrics that seemingly portray homage to 9/11. Stolt’s guitar work is exceptional here, as he takes his Steve Howe inspired style to the next level with searing runs, intricate rhythms, and gentle acoustic strums. Tomas Bodin, who inject layers of Hammond, synths, and Mellotron for a huge wall of sound, once again mans the keyboard helm. It’s no surprise that Bodin was once considered as a replacement for Rick Wakeman in Yes, as he is that good. The band’s recent penchant for chunky rockers continues with “Monkey Business” a tune with up-front intricate guitar chords from Stolt and Hasse Froberg. What is really interesting is that the band seems to want to take a stab at the fusion and “jam band” styles with this release. Tracks like “Black and White” and Disc Two’s “Soul Vortex” are steeped in improvisation, with spiraling guitar and sax solos, spacey keys, and complex rhythms. At times you will think you are listening to some long lost Miles Davis or Phish recording, and it will be fascinating to see if the band does more in this direction in the future. Mixing hard rock with complex prog on tracks like “Christianopel” and the fourteen-minute “Silent Inferno” works real well, as the more aggressive side to this band steers them away from the many generic neo-prog groups out there, but by no means does this approach metal status. Memories of vintage Genesis come to mind on the lovely “Vox Humana”, complete with acoustic guitars, piano, Mellotron, and gorgeous vocals from Stolt and Froberg. The same can be said for the tender “The Navigator”, a keyboard and horn drenched piece that, while short, is a great mood piece that breaks apart some of the bombast on Disc One.
Disc Two starts off with the rampaging “Genie in a Bottle”, a seriously nasty rocker with nimble bass lines from Jonas Reingold, wicked slide guitar from Stolt, and mounds of Mellotron. I’m sure no one will confuse this with the Christina Aguilera song of the same title! “Fast Lane” is a fun song, yet confusing at the same time. I’m not sure what the band was trying to do on this one, as it has a later day Genesis-meets the Police with some jazz influences as well, but it does feature a great vocal performance from Froberg and stabbing Hammond and Moog work from Bodin. The throbbing “Roll the Dice” is an angry tunes with a huge bass presence from Reingold, while ‘The Devil’s Danceschool” returns to the fusion format in serious Miles Davis meets Weather Report fashion. Hearing Reingold’s Jaco Pastorius inspired bass work here is astounding, as well as the stabbing trumpet blasts that are like vintage Miles. “Man Overboard” is a hauntingly beautiful tune, and so representative of the Flower King sound. Featuring walls of Mellotron and Stolt’s angular guitar work, the emotional vocals just pull you in and grab your heart. The grand finale is the twenty- five-minute “Devil’s Playground”, a symphonic lovers dream. Combining all sorts of keyboard textures from Bodin (including some neat church organ) with blistering guitar and manic percussion from Zoltan Chorsch, this is complex and aggressive progressive rock at its best. There are so many twists and turns throughout this track, as well as gorgeous melodies, that any fan of Yes will have goose bumps. Listen carefully towards the middle of the song for some neat sax/keyboard/guitar lines that rival some of Frank Zappa’s best intrumental work.
The Flower Kings have taken old-school 70’s prog into the 21st Century, using their influences well and creating some of the most refreshing and challenging music currently on the market. With the future of Spock’s Beard a bit unsure, it seems as if the Flower Kings are poised to capture the leadership role in the world of current progressive rock bands. Unfold the Future is an epic statement, a grand collection of symphonic and complex rock music that is perhaps their finest recording. No other band has consistently created such monumental works of art at this high a caliber. All hail The Flower Kings!!!