by Prog Nick
As most fans will know, the music of The Flower Kings (TFK) has often had an element of ‘peace and love’ that harkens back to the hippy movement of the 1960’s. After all, their fourth album was called ‘Flower Power.’ Roine Stolt’s alternative moniker, ‘The Flower King’, therefore means more than just the fact that he is the leader of the band. In my opinion, his music could be described as ‘Ultimate 21st Century Hippy Music – Only Much More Progressive and Symphonic’. That is as close to a genre-description as you will get, so varied are the styles provided by this band. As long as you like melody, TFK are downright genre-defining.
Stolt and his cohorts have been very prolific of late, having released three studio albums since 2019, in and amongst Stolt’s myriad other projects. The Maestro is, of course, a multi-instrumentalist, singer and the main composer and producer, and his partner in TFK is superb vocalist and guitarist Hasse Fröberg. This time around (as with the last album), the rest of the band comprises Stolt’s brother Michael on bass and superb Italian drummer Mirko Demaio. Added contributors are the familiar and excellent Lalle Larsson on additional keyboards, percussionist Hasse Bruniusson, vocalist Marjana Semkina (of IAmTheMorning), Jörgen Sälde on Nylon Guitar and Jannica Lund on backing vocals.
Flower-child tendencies notwithstanding, TFK’s 16th studio album, ‘Look At You Now’ entrenches the fact that their music truly does defy genre. For example, the usual 20-minute Prog epic that TFK fans have become accustomed to on previous albums, is not present. What replaces it, though, is hard to describe without resorting to clichés. Heavier and more concise than other recent TFK albums, this one is, at first listen, more direct and accessible, with sensible edits of the 13 songs that make up a single long suite. So is it an epic album or not? Ultimately, that makes little difference because every musical and lyrical element that TFK fans will demand, is to be heard in one song or the other. At times Proggy, at other times Classic Rock, at times spacey and psychedelic, at other times jazzy, the album delivers the full gamut of musical styles.
Psychedelic music does sometimes tend to meander, but, despite the presence of the band’s familiar bohemian and free-spirited themes, this album does not do so, due to its clear structure. Each of the thirteen tracks gets straight to the point and there is an admirable amount of variation between them. Over the span of the record, everything you have come to love from TFK becomes present – mellifluous vocal harmonies, innovative arrangements, wonderful melodies, quirky lyrics, harder rock moments and overall symphonic excellence. It is just presented in a more structured and less improvised manner.
The first single, ’01 – Beginners Eyes’, kicks the album off strongly with a forthright rocker. It immediately assures the listener that brevity will not prevent the presentation of familiar TFK elements. Soon thereafter, ‘02 The Dream’ continues the reassurance with a gorgeous TFK ballad of hope.
’03 – Hollow Man’ is one of the moments that does not stand out for me as boldly as the rest of the tracks do, since it plods a little. But this is an exception, and such moments are few and far between on the album. Peace and Love, everyone. Brilliance is restored with ’04 – Dr Ribedeaux’, a Stolt guitar-driven mid-tempo instrumental that admirably trades blows with Larsson‘s keyboard runs – a superb, dynamic track with a killer hook.
A capella vocals and Brian May-style guitar are the drivers for ’05 – Mother Earth’, a lyrically introspective view of the state of humanity, done with a Queen twist. The vocals go from the lower registers right up to the top of Fröberg’s vast range. Baroque mandolin begins ’06 – The Queen’ – a high point of classical-sounding symphonic Prog, and ’07 – The Light In Your Eyes’ is a glorious vocal exploration that features Fröberg’s ever-sweet lead vocals. There is a particular warmth in his voice, and the combination of his vocals, Stolt’s guitar and Stolt’s second vocals, make TFK have a sound that is truly unique. Groovy, baby.
‘08 – Seasons End’ features a lead vocal duet by Fröberg and Stolt interspersed with the band’s strident instrumentals. It builds into an assertive march driven by Demaio’s solid groove, always in perfect sync with bassist Michael Stolt. ’09 – Scars’ is, for me, a pinnacle on the album. Built around Michael Stolt’s growling bass, this is a brilliant and heartfelt examination of the state of the world. The song has great harmonies, a solid funk groove and stellar, cohesive drumming from Demaio as well as the most aggressive guitar tone on the album. The vocals, it goes without saying, are next level. Just masterful.
‘10 – Stronghold’ is classic TFK with a spacey, open production that reminds us why we loved earlier albums such as ‘Stardust We Are’ so much. Already released as a single, it is obvious why this one was chosen. The song is a master-stroke of thoughtful melodic Prog and it sounds huge, with a massive, bending lead solo from Stolt. ‘Following the rabbit down the rabbit hole’ goes the lyric, which is somewhat onomatopoeic, because if you are new to TFK, this one will indeed take you down the rabbit hole of one of the greatest Melodic Prog acts of our time. A great song to play to newcomers as a band introduction.
‘11 – Father Sky’ brings the tempo right back up and is a brilliant, fast-paced Prog journey that comes at just the right point on the album. Immensely uplifting, it is about praying for mankind. The instrumentation alone makes this one of my favorite moments on the album. ‘12 – Day For Peace’ is a solitary march based on Demaio’s excellent snare work. The song (quite unusually for TFK) features a guest lead vocal from Semkina, who harmonises beautifully with Stolt. This is a perfectly-placed guest appearance. The album closes with the title track, a cautious yet hopeful, bright and uplifting ballad featuring the always-brilliant voice of Fröberg. He is a special singer indeed, and one believes that no-one else could quite fulfil the role of TFK lead vocalist as well as he does. Fröberg’s voice soars over the weighty instrumentation like that of an angel, and TFK are quite steadfastly where they belong – at the top of the Melodic Prog pile.
The album’s lyrical themes embrace many important contemporary issues such as climate change and man’s ongoing destruction of the Earth, but somehow always in an uplifting and positive manner (this is a case of ‘Flower Power’ after all.) Ultimately, the album’s message is that we, as the human race, should keep “looking high and low for a piece of heaven.” Precisely.
Roine Stolt’s production is, as always, immense, with a warm analogue sound delivered through the use of a Rupert Neve mixing console at Sweden’s Fenix Studios, engineered by Lars Hallback. The album’s psychedelic artwork was done by Joey Tessier. The performers, of course, are amongst the best in the world, as demanded by the impressive compositional fluctuations between warm melodies and technically complex instrumentals. There are sweeping guitar and keyboard solos, intricate bass lines by Michael Stolt, who deserves special mention, multi-layered instrumentation throughout, and superb drumming that only one such as Demaio can deliver.
On ‘Look At You Now’, compositional excellence, high performance levels and detailed production combine to make a complex symphony of layered sound that reflects TFK’s influences, spanning decades. The music instantly sounds pleasantly familiar (in the best way) but with a subtle layer of 2023 innovation. Above all, the voices of Stolt and Fröberg still meld absolutely effortlessly over the top-drawer performances of the band. The net result is that TFK have stayed loyal to their traditional sound while providing an innovative twist with the directness of these tracks.
This record delivers a collection of songs that is one of TFK’s best yet, and it makes no difference whether they are viewed as one epic theme or as 13 separate works, because the album flows beautifully with good sequencing. Whether you prefer fatter guitar sounds or more hippy vocal meanderings, whether you prefer ballads or rockers, it is all there, and it is all delivered to the highest standard. More than that, this album presents a maintenance of form for The Flower Kings that declares once again that this band is simply not to be ignored. It’s rockophonic, baby – in fact it is downright hip.
Released on Sept. 8th. 2023 on InsideOutMusic
Order ‘Look At You Now’ here: https://TheFlowerKings.lnk.to/LookAtYouNow
7.The Light in Your Eyes
12.Day For Peace
13.Look At You Now