- Best epic of their career
With a long history stretching back to the 70’s in Sweden, Kaipa is a band that has definitely passed through several stages of evolution. With the release of their latest album, Vittjar, we see Kaipa once again proving to us that they are not getting tired at all. Taking a step forward from the direction they set out on with In the Wake of Evolution, Kaipa delivers a sound which is familiar to their fans but still manages to move forward as they continue to adapt and employ more modern touches.
The opener, “First Distraction,” tells us right away that Kaipa isn’t afraid to put new things on table. You can definitely hear Per Nilsson’s influence on the instrumentation here as we get some heavy, prog metal influenced syncopated riffs that add a great deal of freshness without ever detracting from Kaipa’s sound they have been developing over the last few years. This piece is a kind of foreshadowing of things to come: lots of great folky melodies blended with guitars that walk the perfect line between the prog and the metal fan, and of course, Lundin’s fabulous keyboard playing. As “Lightblue and Green” begins, we quickly see that they’ll be fulfilling on their promises with some shredding jazz fusion lines mixed with something that recalls the opener to their album Keyholder. Other pieces hailing back to the Keyholder / Angling Feelings period is “A Universe of Tinyness,” which boasts ultra catchy melodies blended with solid violin playing that is definitely folky, but in a somewhat covert way as it cleverly melds folk with prog. In fact, powerful violin seems to be quite the thing on this album, as demonstrated by both the title track, “Vittjar,” and “The Crowned Hillsides.” “Vittjar” does a great job at combining very simple yet powerful folk arrangements with more modern sounding vocals, mesmerizing chord progressions, and upbeat shifts which sometimes even recall reggae, all of which contributes to this being a short but very fun piece. “The Crowned Hillside,” like “Vittjar,” opens up with powerful violin which becomes quickly pushed along by Reingold’s powerful bass playing and some enjoyable grooves from Agran on the drums. After a delightfully surreal ambient section in the middle, Kaipa really treats us to a fantastic sonic experience in the second half of the track full of driving power, lots of melodic bassplaying, great guitar soloing, and lots of fun snare-work.
The real treat of Vittjar is the epic track, “Our Silent Ballroom Band,” clocking in at a whopping 22 minutes of what I consider to be Kaipa’s finest work in their career. This is no joke, Hans Lundin and the clan mean serious business on this bold, emotional piece. After getting off to a somewhat light start with some mellow and somewhat happy sounding folky flute parts, we start to see the piece morph and develop in ways that are somewhat unexpected but prove extremely satisfying; Kaipa delivers some great ambient spacey sections, splashed with warping chord changes and background vocals that add significantly to the lush texture. To a certain degree, the male vocals on this section mirror the original female ones that kicked off the track, but there is a great new intensity and sense of urgency starting to rise. The piece builds as the cymbalwork gets more intense before dying down to dark and mysterious atmospheres once again while vocals return. Reingold’s bass calls out as soundsscapes start to swirl and drums start to grow, the latter resting strategically as the keys swell before we suddenly come to a short burst that never releases the tension; in fact, it builds it that much more into an extremely satisfying banquette of sound. “Our Silent Ballroom Band” proves itself to be a masterful crash-course in pacing and development of music. It always takes its time to progress through what proves to be a long journey that feels quick because of its magical shifts in mood. These Swedes seem to do just about everything perfect on this piece. Before you know it, it gets upbeat; you start tapping your feet and bobbling your head and are thereafter carried away into a world of first class drumming and bass playing complimented by interweaving guitar and keyboard melodies. Hearing a great song like “Our Silent Ballroom Band” gives me great hope in a bright future for Kaipa.
I’m not going to lie, Vittjar has seriously rejuvenated my interest in Kaipa and is going to force me to keep my eyes and ears peeled for future releases; too bad Lundin says they aren’t a live band because this would be one record I’d love to see performed on tour (not that the likelihood of a USA show would be very high). Bottom line is, in just about every instrument department Kaipa has outshined what they’ve previously brought to the table and, compositionally speaking, Vittjar shows the band taking important steps in refining their sound. Wrap that up with the fact that they’ve kicked the folk dial up a few notches and we have an album in front of us that should satisfy the cravings of many eager prog fans. Without being what I would call a “bold” album, Vittjar manages to hit that sweet spot that so many bands are seeking, which is something that I thoroughly congratulate them on.