- Headspinning Rhythms
Just in case you were find yourself believing that Sweden is a magical fountain of good prog, well guess what, you’ve been proven right again. Out from Gavle appeared the young artist Fredrik Larsson 3 years ago with his debut album under the name of FreddeGredde, boasting a title that pretty much screams out prog rock: Thirteen Eight. Interesting to note, however, is that Larsson has actually been quite the Youtube sensation in his homeland, doing a variety of playful medleys of music from tv shows, classical music, video games, etc. While the videos are fun and all, when it comes to prog FreddeGredde is the real deal. His latest release, Brighter Skies, kicks it up a couple notches from where he left off with Thirteen Eight, showing increased technical and compositional skill as a musician as he plays just about everything on this stellar new release that recalls what we love about bands like Moon Safari, Spock’s Beard/Neal Morse, early Dream Theater, and a slew of other prog influences.
The record kicks it off with “Welcome the Bright Skies,” immediately recalling Moon Safari in its ‘feel good’ nature, melodic approach, and dense layering. Very quickly, however, we see that there’s going to be a strong technical side to the album, with lot’s of headspinning rhythms happening and drums that often lead towards prog metal despite the light-hearted nature of the tune. Boasting pleasant chord changes, tron style flute, the occasional pulverizing riff, and a big ritard towards the end for dramatic effect, and we’ve got a killer opener on our hands. Next up is “The Autotelic Self,” a song that just makes me grin from the way it matches so much virtuoso playing with a song that, when you boil it down, is really based around a few basic melodic ideas that Larsson simply decides to take all the way to the moon and back. Earlier I mentioned Dream Theater, and let me just say that what FreddeGredde is doing on this song is what I wished DT was doing at this moment instead of releasing lukewarm music. The shift from melodic sections to staggering polyrhythms is incredible, and the texturing of sparkly keyboards over heavy and complex sections is masterful. But like I said, in the end, what we get are great, quickly recognizeable motifs spun through labyrinths of instrumental wizardry, broken up by wailing high vocals, unison runs, and even some beautiful quiet sections, all along the way showing us his skill at alternating mood between heavy/dark and bouncy/bright. At this point, Larsson decides to give us a bit of a rest with the relaxing, celtic-flavored tune “Your Life.” This fun little folky piece will certainly get you jigging with its upbeat, jolly feel. While it’s a simple piece, small additions here and there build it up nicely and keep the interest alive. Nothing wrong with giving us a short and simple tune from time to time, and in this case it’s a great way to calm things down after so many crazy rhythms displayed in the first two tracks.
Of course, it is only a short rest from the madness as FreddeGredde throws us right back into the action with “This Fragile Existence.” Even though this piece starts off with some pretty menacing riffing, to say this is simply a metal song would not do it justice. There is something subtly theatrical about this song, and just as quickly as it threw down some brutal riffs it quickly moves to bright and poppy, keyboard given sections, delivering plenty of catchyness a la Moon Safari as it takes us through some lighter sections full of strings, flute, little bells, and dense vocal arrangments that become quite personal. All in all, “This Fragile Existence” shows us some of the coolest of the album thus far, but what comes next, “The Tower,” is sure to top it. This is a track that is powerful right from the start, conjuring up a heartfelt intro with epic atmosphere delivered by vocals, piano, cymbal swells, and dramatic moments. The transition to guitar and flute screams out Voyage of the Acolyte in fantastic ways before developing the drum parts little by little, introducing bits of Mellotron, catchy basslines, amazing use of syncopation, and impressive vocal harmonies. From start to finish this is a song with amazing flow, and what’s more, it’s one of the prettiest tracks on the album, perhaps less wild than some others, but somehow delivering a more determined sense of purpose. On top of that, it never hurts when you deliver an ending of epic proportions, this time in the form of proggy playing suddenly hitting a straightforward, slow, doomy beat as the ambient keys and heavy guitar chords ring out, drenching the song in emotion.
To close off the album FreddeGredde essentially gives us two pieces which are polar opposites in nature but both are excellent in their own ways. “Shining” is a compact song, four minutes of very straight-to-the-point prog while “Ocean Mind” comes in at a whopping 18 minutes. For the former, imagine if Dream Theater and Moon Safari had a baby, it’s about what you get: four minutes of proggy riffing, happy melodies, and theatrical nuances. Throw in an uber catchy chorus and we have a fantastic, easy access song with fabulous melodies, uplifting feeling and all around awesome. The closer, “Ocean Mind,” as is typical of prog epics, maintains a certain casual flow between sections in the sense that the structure becomes very loose and gives room to exploring a variety of moods and timbres through long instrumental passages. Main themes are heard to appear throughout and we get Larsson delivering about every angle we’ve explored on the album thus far from catchy melodies to uplifting sections, and even the occasional brutal heavy riff with eerie tron strings laden over the top. All in a all, this is certainly the right way to wrap up a prog album.
While Larsson isn’t necessarily blazing new trails in the prog world, his take on prog rock/metal is supremely convincing and incorporates the best of influences, tying them together in ways that are fun, challenging, and above all, just plain cool. He’s certainly not afraid to push the musicianship as far as he can and at the same time makes sure to include nice little personal flourishes. Brighter Skies is an album that particularly the younger proggers will get into, but simultaneously contains enough dense composition to please the more experienced fans who are wanting to dig into the songs multiple times and always find something new.
**INTERVIEW with FreddeGredde coming out on September 5th, stay tuned!
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