Thursday 29 April 2021

Trettioåriga Kriget - Till Horisonten (2021)

Country: Sweden
Style: Progressive Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 25 Mar 2021
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It's a sign of the internet age that I've been familiar with Mongolian folk metal outfit Nine Treasures for quite some time, but hadn't heard of Trettioåriga Kriget until now, even though they're from a lot closer to home and they've been around for longer than I have, albeit with some breaks. They formed in 1970 and their debut four years later may well be the first heavy album ever released in Sweden. It did well and they put out four more before first splitting up in 1981. Their fourth reunion in 2003 took and this is their fifth album since then, for ten thus far. That's not a lot for half a century, but it seems like this discography is quite the journey.

They play progressive rock, though it appears to have changed considerably over the years. Their first album supposedly sounds like what Rush would six years later, which means Permanent Waves, so I'm intrigued. Over time they gradually softened up, though they continued to play their brand of prog in a traditional way without a wild instrumentation set. They're primarily based in the usual guitar, bass and drums setup, plus a keyboardist who occasionally plays saxophone but not, I think, this time out. I thought I heard a flute on Vägen till Horisonten though and I see a credit for violin.

I do like this sound, which includes long instrumental stretches and is often laid back, though never so far as to seem safe. The vocals are capable and never seem out of place, but I found that I didn't miss them at all when the band toggled into instrumental mode. By the time I got to the end of Vägen till Horisonten, which is a delightfully varied prog epic that almost reaches fourteen minutes in length, I couldn't remember if it had ever included vocals. It doesn't matter. It's a journey of a piece, as befits its title, which translates to The Road to the Horizon.

I'll have to take it on faith that they started out sounding like Rush would sound like later, but this has little to remind me of Rush. It's there, but it's rarely obviously there, such as perhaps towards the end of that fourteen minute epic. I heard a lot more Pink Floyd, from their more laid back era, though this isn't quite as commercial, even to Swedes who understand the lyrics. It's always prog rock, never quite right to crossover to a pop music audience, even though some of it comes really close.

While, there are passages obviously reminiscent of the Pink Floyd style and there are certainly solos where Christer Åkerberg is channelling Dave Gilmour, but the band is never derivative. What I believe they took most from the Floyd is their ability to mix a laid back sound, where less is always more and a guitar is meant to be fluid, with dark undertones, often provided by the bass of Stefan Fredin. While I don't speak Swedish, the translations of the song titles don't seem particularly negative, with only In Memoriam inherently suggesting sadness and loss. However, I caught darkness in Tidigt, Till Horisonten and especially Staden, which titles translate simply to Early, To the Horizon and The City.

Staden, which, along with the epic, is easily my favourite track here, starts off more experimental, with King Crimson the obvious influence, but it gets softer and more laid back. There's King Crimson in Vägen till Horisonten too and whenever the band decides that it wants to do something wild, often in a change or a breakdown. At the other end of the spectrum, I'd say that there are points where they go all the way through Pink Floyd to reach a Dire Straits level of laid back. In between, there's quite a lot, including some surf guitar that I really wasn't expecting.

It seems almost an insult to describe a prog rock album as pleasant, because that inherently suggests that it's unimaginative and safe. This isn't either of those things, but it's pleasant nonetheless. I felt like I could lie back and just let the entire album wash over me, enjoying the sensation of it passively and ignoring the depths that I could happily explore later in a different mood. Because those depths are there. I wonder if knowing what the lyrics say would help with that. Somehow I don't think that it matters. The music speaks volumes on its own and in a universal language.

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