The debut album from Mythopoeic Mind was my introduction to prog rock from Norway, hardly an expected source for a thriving scene in that genre but apparently a thriving one that's endlessly inventive. I liked it, but it proved more of a gateway drug than an instant high because it was the reason why I paid so much attention when I noticed bands like Motorpsycho and Wobbler and, this January, Shamblemaths. This is a step up from that debut and it was released only a week before last year's Leprous, underlining once more just how much the genre has found fertile soil way up north.
It took me a while to get used to this one, because the opener, Fear Fiesta, came across like an odd mix of Yes and Neil Diamond. Sure, the former is mostly because of the vocals of Veronika Hørven Jensen and the latter is because of a refrain that can't help but remind of Copacobana but it's an odd combination to hit us with right out of the bat, especially because the band's leader is Steinar Børve, the saxophonist in Panzerpappa, and he kicks off the album focusing very much on his own instrument. It's a good track, but it never quite sat right with me.
Winter of '73 absolutely did and it's a journey of a song that's my favourite piece here. It's spacey space rock from the outset, full of strange electronic blips and blurps, but Trond Gjellum's drums find a gloriously rolling rhythm and Jensen's voice joins in wonderfully without ever providing one sung word. A couple of minutes in, it completes its groove, with a pair of lead instruments, as the guitar of Anders Krabberød and the bass of Ola Mile Bruland appear to veer off in very different directions that turn out to be utterly compatible. When Børve joins in a couple of minutes later, it ought to be too much for the ears to handle but it's somehow still easy to follow. Every time that I listen to it, it feels deeper and deeper, as if I'm gradually being sucked into it.
I should add that, like the debut, there aren't many songs here and they're lengthy without being epic. Even given its all-encompassing nature, Winter of '73 is actually the shortest song on offer at a breath under seven minutes, but only Hatchling outlasts the eight and a half of both Cottage of Lost Play and Fog Vision, clocking in at eleven and a half. These aren't side-long tracks broken into multiple sections; they're just ideas extrapolated out and given breathing room. They feel a little less grown this time out and a little more planned, but it wouldn't surprise me to see some sort of acknowledgement of improvisation in a few of the songs, especially late in Cottage of Lost Play.
I still haven't heard anything from Børve's main band, Panzerpappa—I missed their 2019 release, Summarisk Suite—but I believe that they play in a very different prog style, entirely instrumental and jazz focused but with a strong Canterbury influence. This was a move away from that for their saxophonist, Mythopoeic Mind usually desribed as symphonic prog, with frequent, if not constant, use of vocals. There is some Canterbury here though, in the experimental backdrop to Fog Vision and, to a lesser degree, Cottage of Lost Play.
Mostly, I find it hard to categorise this album because its songs are very different. Winter of '73 is an immersive journey into parts unknown. Fog Vision is an exercise in contrast, pitting a dissonant experimental electronic backdrop against the smooth sax, xylophone and vocals that are laid on top of it. Cottage of Lost Play feels like an old solo Jon Anderson track, because there's no Yes and no Vangelis to be found, but the Anderson feel runs much deeper than the vocal. And Hatchling is a folky title track to wrap up proceedings in a folky manner. It's clearly folk music from the outset, much of it almost but not quite English, and it occasionally turns into a full on folk dance. I have no problems imagining this performed on the Cropredy stage.
That variety makes it hard to think of this as a complete album, but the tracks are all worthy, even the opener that I struggle with. In fact, Fear Fiesta may be the song that stays with me longest, as it's a grabbing sort of song. However, I'd lean strongly towards Winter of '73 as the best track here and Hatchling as my favourite. It's an infectiously pastoral piece that beckons us in and refuses to let us leave. The silence when it finally ends is almost unbearable, as if we've been wrenched away from the world. The song feels like being captivated by the Fae.
I liked this a lot on a first listen, opening awkwardness aside—which I fully realise may be just me—and I liked it all the more with each repeat. The variety in the songs helps the album spring out in multiple directions and grow. I have a feeling I may be returning to it soon.