July 1, 2011

Friday Review: Hybris

Although the argument about what the first real progressive rock album was is a long and ongoing one, most people will agree that the first real definitive work of prog – it’s mission statement, if you will – was King Crimson’s debut, In the Court of Crimson King. Likewise, I’m sure there are multiple candidates for albums that kicked off prog’s third wave in the 1990s, but Hybris is probably as good a benchmark as any.

In the 80s prog, to paraphrase Frank Zappa, wasn’t dead, it just smelled funny. The genre leaders from the 70s were either defunct or morphing into slickly competent posters or mega sellouts (your millage may vary, of course). The briefly cresting neo-prog wave produced music that was more direct and friendly to pop conventions. Which is not to say it sucked (some of my favorite bands are neo), but to a certain segment of the fanbase it’s not really "prog." Sure, there were a few still pushing the genres of music into the unknown (the aforementioned Crimson for one). But all in all, the heady days of majestic epic music filled with odd meters and weird sounds appeared to be a fond memory.

Then a funny thing happened on the way to graveyard – modern technology stepped in and allowed a revival of the 70s style. On the one hand, recording and distribution technology (CDs, in particular) allowed more bands to produce more albums without the backing of major labels or any label whatsoever. On the other hand, the emergence of the Internet allowed a small but passionate group of prog fans spread all over the globe to find each other, share their enthusiasm, and, most importantly, turn each other on to new bands.

Into that world came Änglagård, the first of many bands from Sweden that have been at the forefront of the modern prog movement. Which is odd, because there’s nothing at all modern about their sound. Honestly, Hybris could have fallen through a time warp from 1973, with the exception that it sounds crisp and clear. Aside from that, the fusillade of Hammond, Mellotron, and Frippish Les Paul definitely evokes a bygone era.

Which is not to say Hyrbis, or the band’s follow up Epilog, isn’t an excellent record. Nor is it to say they sound like copycats of any particular 70s group. Instead, the band sounds like it came of age during that era and let all those influence seep in. Änglagård does what they do better than anyone else. To complain about it sounding dated is to miss the point.

Hybris is one of the definitive symphonic prog albums of the modern era. Thankfully, after several years out of print, it’s available now in revamped form from the band (with a bonus track that first appeared on the After the Storm benefit album). More thankfully, they’ve working together again and promise new music in the near future.

Hybris, by Änglagård
Released 1992

1. Jordrök (11:10)
2. Vandringar i Vilsenhet (11:53)
3. Ifrån Klarhet Till Klarhet (8:04)
4. Kung Bore (12:57)

Thomas Johnson (keyboards and synths)
Jonas Engdegård (guitars)
Tord Lindman (vocals, guitars)
Johan Högberg (bass, bass pedals and Mellotron effects)
Anna Holmgren (flute)
Mattias Olsson (drums and percussion)

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