Roine Stolt in the World of Adventures: The Birth of Third-Wave Prog

The Flower Kings, BACK IN THE WORLD OF ADVENTURES
1995 Foxtrot Music/Insideout Music

71 minutes; 10 tracks: Back in the World of Adventures; The Prince/Kaleidoscope; Go West Judas; Train to Nowhere; Oblivion Road; Theme for a Hero; Temple of the Snakes; My Comic Lover; The Wonder Wheel; Big Puzzle.

All lyrics and music by Roine Stolt (b. 1956).

The first official Flower Kings album.
The first official Flower Kings album.

In 1994, famed (justly so) Swedish guitarist, Roine Stolt, released a solo album under the title of the FLOWER KING. Less than a year later, he formed—around himself and the band he’d used for the FLOWER KING—the Flower Kings. It’s never quite clear who the FLOWER KING exactly is, but he seems be the embodiment of Jesus. Or, at the very least, a very peace loving Johannine hippie Jesus, and his betrayer is Judas Iscariot. In the opening song of the 1994 album, with the same name as the album, Stolt sings:

We believe in the light we believe in love, every precious little thing
We believe you can still surrender, you can serve the Flower King

And, in the grand song, “Humanizzimo,” Stolt becomes even more blatant:

Did someone pray for the long lost souls
or the tired ones who lost their goal
When the seventh angel rise his sword
Can you hear the one voice of the Lord
With the blood of Jesus on the nail
we turn the balance on a scale
In pain and fearless suffering
lies a message from the King of Kings

I don’t know if Stolt has any particular religious leanings, but he’s obviously very, very pro Jesus. At times I’ve wondered if he’s Roman Catholic, as he possesses a truly sacramental view of the world, but he might also—logically, given the Swedish background—be Lutheran. Again, I’m not sure labeling the song writer with any particular denomination totally matters. Stolt clearly loves what is humane, true, good, and beautiful, and his religious views are more poetic and mythic than “in your face.”

States of Being.
States of Being.

It would be hard to exaggerate the importance of the album to what we love as our current and overwhelming deluge of progressive rock. In 1990, prog looked pretty much dead as a genre. Sure, there were plenty of rock, pop, and so-called alternative bands—Pearl Jam, Dave Matthews, Phish, and Smashing Pumpkins were the most obvious–employing aspects of prog, but almost no one admitted to the label.

Then, 1994 hit.

Marillion’s BRAVE and Roine Stolt’s THE FLOWER KING emerged as though from the gods themselves. How could these albums not be prog? They were as prog as prog could be. Unapologetically, blatantly, and deliriously prog. As our beloved progarchist friend, Andy Tillison, would later explain, this was the beginning of third-wave prog, a wave that has lasted for at least 19, maybe 20, years.

In many ways, though, 1994 would prove a trial run, a glimpse, merely, of what was coming. It was 1995 that witnessed the full arrival and onslaught of third-wave prog. Consider the releases: THE LIGHT by Spock’s Beard; AFRAID OF SUNLIGHT by Marillion; and THE SKY MOVES SIDEWAYS by Porcupine Tree.

And, of course, there was the first official Flower Kings’ album, BACK IN THE WORLD OF ADVENTURES. The title couldn’t be more perfect, and we might as well refer to it as the opening statement of third-wave prog. Stolt, indeed, was joyously leading us back to the adventure that had seemed to have fallen so undramatically in 1980 or so.

The first Flower Kings’ album begins with the title song, an upbeat psychedelic excursion. “Welcome back. . . welcome back to the world.” One of the nicest things about Stolt’s writing is his uncanny and ingenious ability to mix taste and class with exploration. Though his writings fits so nicely in the genre of rock, its playfulness has much in common with jazz fusion. And, Stolt is eminently smart and inquisitive.

Soaring vocal harmonies (rather complex at times), jazz-like runs, and humane and gorgeous lyrics help define almost all of Stolt’s music. In recent years, he’s revealed a darker, more critical side in and with his lyrics, but this has been well earned. On Desolation Rose, the latest album by the Flower Kings, Stolt’s observations are wise and sad rather than bitter and distraught.

Interesting sound effects and atmospherics emerge unexpectedly around every corner of the first album. Whistles, trains, dings, scratches, bells, Latin rhythms, woodwinds, references to Hitchcock movies, and a general state of contentment pervade the entire work. Some songs don’t even reach the two-minute mark, while the opening and final tracks exceed 13 minutes each.

Roine Stolt.  The Pale Rider.
Roine Stolt. The Pale Rider and a Flower King.

Interestingly enough, BACK TO THE WORLD OF ADVENTURES is roughly divided between instrumental numbers and vocal numbers—but the album is merely a shadow of what is and was to come. Mystery had beckoned and Stolt consented. Don’t get me wrong. BACK is an outstanding album in every way, but it really is only a beginning of a majestic journey that continues to this day. Reviewers and admirers almost always point out how “prolific” Stolt is. What an understatement. Not only would 11 more studio albums from the band follow—with Stolt leading all—but there were still solo albums, the Tangent albums, Transatlantic albums, Kaipa albums, Agents of Mercy albums, and . . . the list continues. Looking at Stolt’s complete discography is simply mind boggling. Never a moment of dullness in the Swede’s life. I envy his biographer.

Twenty years old. Happy birthday, Flower Kings. Sadly, I didn’t meet you until your fifth birthday. Still, it’s been a brilliant decade and a half ride with you.

2 thoughts on “Roine Stolt in the World of Adventures: The Birth of Third-Wave Prog

  1. Erik Heter

    I have never heard this album, but will definitely have to fix that. I only became aware of Marillion’s ‘Brave’ several years later, and I really do remember feeling that this was a dark time for prog. Thankfully, the new light was just emerging, and I am ever thankful to all of the musicians who re-lit the torch and carried it forward into the wonderful era we have now.

    On a related note, one album from 1995 I didn’t miss out on at the time (and is well worth a listen) is ‘Generation 13’ by Saga. Saga had always kind of flirted around the neo-prog genre (and some have even advanced the thesis that they were the first neo-prog band). ‘Generation 13’ was by them, at least to my recollection, their first full blown concept album, a rock opera that really captured the zeitgeist.

    Liked by 2 people

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