The Flower Kings – Waiting for Miracles
I can’t be the only one who was slightly confused about the status of the Flower Kings as a band in 2018. First, Roine Stolt releases The Flower King – “Manifesto of an Alchemist”. It’s hard not to interpret this returning to his (solo) moniker from before he formed the Flower Kings as a deliberate statement. Then a tour was announced for 2019, originally billed as The Flower Kings Revisited. Roine Stolt brought along long-time collaborators Hasse Fröberg on vocals and guitar and Jonas Reingold on bass, together with newcomers Zach Kamins on keys and drummer Mirko DeMaio. The official billing was changed later to simply The Flower Kings, and with the release of this album, the new lineup of the Flower Kings is official.
‘House of Cards’ starts off the album – this is only two minutes, so it’s more of an intro than an actual song. We start with the wind and some seagulls before the piano comes in. As the final notes fade, ‘Black Flag’ picks up with a twelve-string guitar and Roine starts singing – the seagulls are back too, by the way – of black flags, treasure troves and the open sea. You’d think a pirate song would be a bit rougher, but as always, the Flower Kings keep it pretty gentle. Don’t mistake gentle for boring, though. This is a band that has perfected the art of subtlety.
Not everybody appreciates politics in music, as a quick look in the comment sections of the first single ‘Miracles for America’ will tell you (perhaps unsurprisingly, mostly Americans). The social criticism is also kept very subtle though, so I don’t see what all the fuss is about. This is perhaps the most “complete” song on the entire album – it’s also the longest. The song is a typical Flower Kings arrangement, the keys sound like they come straight out of early Yes or Genesis and well, the fact that Jonas Reingold plays bass for Steve Hackett should tell you all you need to know.
The Flower Kings – Miracles for America (click here if video does not play)
Some great fretless bass licks in ‘Vertigo’, a mellow song where the main chorus almost becomes a chant before giving way to an extended instrumental bridge section. After some more guitar solos the chanting picks up again, but where you would expect the intensity to build up, it actually starts fading out and the song is over.
The fragility of the vocal melody starting off ‘The Bridge’ is perfectly complemented by the simple piano underneath. Every part fits so well here, from the soft singing, the subtle acoustic guitar in the background to the dark melancholic lyrics. The song finishes off with a guitar solo that, while finely executed, feels a bit detached from the rest of the song and might have been better left out.
The intro to ‘Ascending to the Stars’ would fit great to some fairy tale movie, The Dark Crystal comes to mind, and the rest of this (instrumental) piece is equally cinematic. The mood shifts every minute or so, so there is no risk of boredom. Some of the best melodies on the album, epic choirs, and great orchestral arrangements.
‘Wicked Old Symphony’ is the most poppy song on the album, and the main chord progression in the verse reminds me a lot of ‘I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)’ off “Selling England by the Pound” by Genesis, and the vocal melody has a vibe reminiscent of The Beatles. The bass drives the chorus forward, with its very singable melody, before a typical Flower Kings extended outro, bringing in a bit of sitar, very gently brings this song to a close.
The Flower Kings – Wicked old Symphony (click here if the video does not play)
Now (finally) it’s time to put the Rock in Progressive Rock again with ‘The Rebel Circus’, starting out with what sounds like the cries of some monster. The (instrumental) song itself is quite upbeat though. As we would expect for any prog album, the main theme of ‘Miracles for America’ returns here in a different guise. Even after listening to it multiple times this song just doesn’t click with me though and feels a bit like filler to me.
‘Sleep with the Enemy’ has the darkest tone on the album so far. The lyrics are great, and vocally this is the high point of the album for me, as both Hasse and Roine deliver their lines with a conviction that goes right through you. “It’s a scary world out there, if you know what’s coming”. The main melody has a very mysterious air, from the moment it comes in in the intro, played with perhaps the best guitar tone on the album, to the very heartfelt performance of Hasse in the chorus. My favourite song on the album.
‘The Crowning of Greed’ has another interesting buildup, and just as you find yourself questioning whether an instrumental song is a right choice to close off disc 1 of this album, Roine starts singing again, this time bringing back ‘The Bridge’.
The start of disc 2 is ‘House of Cards Reprise’, a bit more up-tempo this time, but whereas the first part fitted relatively seamlessly with the next song, this one ends a bit more abruptly and the next song, ‘Spirals’, starts building up from scratch all over again. Is song the right term for this though? It mixes instrumental themes, in an ambient style with more electronic drums and simple instrumentation, with some isolated sentences, mostly referencing “miracles”, which is the album’s main theme. This is definitely a grower – if you’re anything like me you will think “what exactly am I listening to?” the first time, but it somehow works. As a song, it reminds me of ‘This is the Picture’, the penultimate track off Peter Gabriel’s 1986 masterpiece “So”.
With a song called ‘Steampunk’, you might expect something especially futuristic, but it isn’t. Singing is only sporadic, but the cries of “Guide me through the darkest waters” fit the general, pensive atmosphere of the song well. This is interspersed with humming of the main melody, bringing a mix of optimism and despair that is very typical for the Flower Kings. The outro brings in a bit more 12 string guitar, which of course you can never have enough of on a prog album.
‘We were always here’ starts with a marimba melody that immediately makes you think of world music, especially with the percussion (a lot of toms) and the synthesizer paradoxically adds to this vibe too. As the last real song on the album, its feel-good vibe leaves you on a high. ‘Busking at Brobank’ is this album’s closing sequence, and quite a quirky one at that. Not a song, just a bunch of musicians having some fun in the studio, which is always nice to hear.
Will this album bring new fans for The Flower Kings? Maybe not, seeing as there is very little new here, and the entire album sounds like it could have been made in 1973. Whether this is something negative is entirely up to the listener. Of course, the execution instrumentally is absolutely flawless, and Hasse’s and Roine’s voices blend together as well as any two singers I can think of. It’s definitely an album to listen to more than once, to appreciate the cohesion of the recurrent themes, since the band only very rarely adheres to traditional song structures. The album also doesn’t feel too long (although it is a double album clocking in at 85 minutes altogether) and the songs are varied, but never stray far from the recognizable Flower Kings sound.
Of course, I have to offer some criticism too. There are no songs over 10 minutes (only 2 of them even hit this mark), but this means quite a lot of the instrumental stuff is condensed into separate songs. Some of these are great (‘Ascending to the Stars’), but others don’t do much to keep the album moving forward and make it lose a bit of momentum (‘The Rebel Circus’ especially).
All in all, a very solid album with memorable songs, great solos and a sound and feel that seems to come straight out of the early 1970’s.
- House Of Cards
- Black Flag
- Miracles For America
- The Bridge
- Ascending To The Stars
- Wicked Old Symphony
- The Rebel Circus
- Sleep With The Enemy
- The Crowning Of Greed
- House Of Cards Reprise
- We Were Always Here
- Busking At Brobank
The Flower Kings live 2019:
1st December – Bahnhof St. Pauli, Hamburg, Germany
2nd December – Musikzentrum, Hannover, Germany
3rd December – OK Andaluzia, Piekary Slaskie, Poland
4th December – Klub U Bazyla, Poznan, Poland
6th December – Burgerweeshuis, Deventer, Netherlands
7th December – De Borderij, Zoetermeer, Netherlands
8th December – Scala, London, UK
9th December – Piano, Dortmund, Germany
10th December – Columbia Theater, Berlin, Germany
11th December – Amager Bio, Copenhagen, Denmark
12th December – Brewhouse, Gothenburg, Sweden
14th December – Kraken, Stockholm, Sweden