Änglagård: Viljans Öga
The legendary, cult favorite, Swedish prog band Änglagård had gone into hibernation after two incredible albums. Most of us thought never to return. Even the two albums, “Hybris” and “Epilog” were out of print. The rarity of the recordings only added to the band’s mystique. In 2002 they decided to test the waters and try rehearsing together, only with Tord Lindman choosing to bow out. This resulted in some live performances and new hope from the fans. It was however short lived as Jonas, Anna, Thomas, Johan and Mattias retreated back to their separate lives. Then in 2009 “Hybris” was rereleased, followed by “Epilog” in 2010. There was also news about the band reuniting and recording again. 2012 saw a new dawn with concert dates and their first new studio album in 18 years, “Viljans Öga.” Änglagård lives!
For those of you not familiar with Änglagård, you should be. There is a reason why the return was a major event in the prog community. Even one original member short (Tord has still not returned), this is one of the best bands you will ever hear. So good in fact, there was little concern about measuring up to the legacy after being gone for so long. I personally just about did backflips when I found out I was going to see them perform at NEARfest. Unfortunately the new album was not available before that time. I did manage to snag a copy before the performance and discovered that “Viljans Öga” is another masterpiece.
Honestly it did take a little more time for me to attach the masterpiece label. Hearing three out of the four tracks live certainly helped but digging into the CD a few times confirmed my original assessment. It is one of those albums that gets better every time you hear it. They seamlessly weave so many ideas through their compositions that there is almost always something new to discover. Plus, these musicians being at the pinnacle of virtuosity are never anything but captivating. Experiencing music like this reminds the connoisseur of why the obsession exists.
The album essentially carries on where “Epilog” left off. Entirely instrumental, dark moodiness and almost schizophrenic ups and downs prevail. I do however see a stylistic shift genre-wise. I’d say symphonic still works as a label but I am hearing much more RIO (rock in opposition) or avant-garde influence. This should come as no surprise as I believe that element was always present. It is what made Änglagård more than just a 70’s prog revival in the first place. Incredibly I think each musician has improved as well. The maturity has seemed to transform them into people that belong more in the company of orchestral musicians than eclectic rockers.
Make no mistake Änglagård still rocks. Their swirling, angular crescendos still exist along with frenetic rhythms and howling mellotron. True to symphonic ideology this is of course blended with sullen softer passages. This may not sound like a stretch from the earlier work and it isn’t. The craft is being further perfected, as any master would do. Moving toward the avant-garde side of things has also made things more challenging for the band and the listener as well. There is no expectation that anyone will be easily brought in through the tightly woven density. Effort will be involved and isn’t that true of anything worthwhile anyway?
American Idol fans don’t waste your time. I highly doubt these are the people that read my reviews anyway, but just in case… “Viljans Öga” is for the educated musical palette. It is the equivalent of an Angelo Gaja Barolo. If you aren’t ready for it, go to the grocery store and get yourself some white zinfandel.
Jonas Engdegård – gitarr
Anna Holmgren – tvärflöjt, tenorsaxofon
Johan Brand – bas, taurus
Mattias Olsson – trummor, slagverk, effekter
Thomas Johnson – klaviatur