It’s probably accepted by many people who have followed the career of The Flower Kings that the prime years for them were the albums that ranged from the official band debut, ‘Back in the world of Adventures’ (1995) through to the peak of the era ‘Space Revolver’ (2000).
The work that followed on from this time was by no means less prolific and has examples of some of their best moments however there was a sense that some of the spark and sheer wonderment of the earlier work was lacking. Indeed by 2007 the experience seemed exhausted for some, with the feeling that the music was going through the motions and as a result the band was put on a break for the next five years.
Last year the return of the regular line-up produced ‘The Banks of Eden’ (2012) which signaled a new charge driven in part by the lively and talented drummer Felix Lehrmann. The heavier, gutsy sound was a continuation of the harder edge that had shaped the group over the past decade, with all the elements that made up The Flower Kings still present.
Fast forward to now and the new release, ‘Desolation Rose’ and we see that the band have embarked on a new methodology which ironically provides the listener with 60 minutes of familiar music which firmly places it high up among the bands aforementioned peak period. Rather than arriving at the studio with the new material prepared, the approach was much more of an organic, cohesive effort of ideas and creativity. The results are exciting and varied and yet the sound is pure Flower Kings, pure Prog and kingly epic.
An initial first glance at the track listings and the die-hard fan might begin to wonder where the regular 25 minute song is this time around. But fear not, Desolation Rose is essentially a continual piece where the melodies and passages that open the first half are revisited in the closing sections. A powerful ascending refrain, very typically Flower Kings, crops up from time to time, effectively bringing it together and ensuring a neatly stitched continuity. The tracks bleed into each other like chapters in a novel adding to the overall joined up assembly. After several listens it begins to feel similar to ‘Garden of Dreams’ from ‘Flower Power’ (1999) in its journey-like experience. The connection to this album is likely emphasised in the input from Thomas Bodin who like ‘Flower Power’ has had a bigger contribution this time in the making of ‘Desolation Rose’.
Bodin’s contributions are spectacular, providing a dazzling symphonic base for the frequently soaring guitar from Stolt. The stand out moments from him are everywhere, but ‘Desolation Road’ (not rose) is perhaps one of the greatest of them, from the gentle piano opening to the glorious choral symphonies – “While the road to desolation….lingers on….” and finishing with a growling angry wild animal of an organ over a pounding Lehrmann beat .
However the darker themes around the realities of war and suffering contrast the dream like qualities of Garden and are more evenly presented than their earlier opus too. That said, after many listens to the ambiguous lyrics and there is still uncertainty about the imagery and meanings. Yet this is a good thing, rather like sitting at an abstract painting in a gallery and seeing something new each time.
It is clear enough to see though that ‘Desolation Rose’ is TFK’s outcry and dismay at the world and its problems. Particularly conflict, and the senselessness of it. The latter is dealt with in ‘White Tuxedos’, a bleak picture of the inevitable conclusions of war, the title referring to the shroud of white over the dead. It’s a tale where there are no winners, neither from civilians or the soldiers who are sent to the four corners of the earth to fight under a flag of peace. The looping mantra of Nixon telling us of his desire for peace over and over again is a particularly chilling bookend to the track.
Following the intensity of White Tuxedos there is the almost certain contender for some of the finest Flower Kings magic anywhere. ‘Resurrected Judas’ ( him again) features some sublime guitar from Stolt over with a driving middle section instrumental, underpinned by some incredible bass and drums which is classic TFK, with shades of Genesis from a time when they made your skin tingle.
The darkest moments of this album are still matched with some regular TFK celebration at the beauty of the universe and the view from space at the earth. In ‘Blood of Eden’, our home is presented, still green and beautiful, -“We are Stardust and we are sun kissed”)- and we hear a pleading call to the heavens to a higher power to provide an answer to the problems we make.
Somewhat coldly though we are returned to the reality of the world in the closing gospel-like lament of ‘Silent Graveyards’-“in silent graveyards we look for saviours” – a reprise of the title track. The lonely desperation builds towards the finale where there is a hopeful prayer for a promised land and for an end to suffering, closing with a desperate agonising scream, from the impressive vocal abilities of Hasse Fröberg. There probably isn’t a Flower Kings album that closes as powerful as this, with the exception of the majestic end of ‘Stardust We Are’ (1997)
Without doubt the band have produced something spectacular again with this album, If there is such a thing as a flawless release this would be nudging to be a member of that club. Quite how they have pulled it off again is a mystery as it was written and produced in a time frame that is almost beyond belief. Much more than a stop gap between now and the next Transatlantic, this is an album that should be regular favourite for many fans and still talked about as one of the very best.