Review of FuturePast by EpicProg (October 8, 2010)

 Future Past is the first effort by Hasse Fröberg and the Musical Companion and the first “solo” album from Fröberg since the guitarist/vocalist joined the Swedish progressive rock giants, The Flower Kings. Known for his theatrical rock star poses and hair flips in concert – as well as his wonderful voice – Fröberg delivers a tour de force opening salvo on this release, singing and playing guitar, while backed by his band, “The Musical Companion,” comprised of Kjell Haraldsson (keyboards), Anton Lindsjö (lead guitar), Ola Strandberg (drums) and the singularly-named Thomsson (bass). The band announces itself with nine tracks clocking in at around 73 minutes, including four epic length songs.

“Sounds from the Empire” is sort of a disposable introductory track, featuring ambient sounds of children’s voices, a train or subway, and footsteps, followed by a single organ note. The note, which seems the only essential part of the track, launches the album into “Fallen Empire,” a 10+ minute epic that kicks off with a rollicking and wonderfully melodic instrumental section. The song slows with an acoustic guitar flourish, then Fröberg’s distinctive voice kicks in. This song features incredibly catchy chorus vocals and guitar riffs, putting the ‘rock’ in progressive rock.

There are some interesting twists and turns along the way in “Fallen Empire,” including a Genesis-sounding interlude, with delicate guitar work. There are huge, sprawling keyboard washes and organ solos galore. Fans of The Flower Kings should enjoy the ride.

“Song for July” is a short number featuring jaunty acoustic guitar and mandolin from Lindsjö and Haraldsson’s keys, while Thomsson’s bass and Strandberg’s drumming provide a solid playground for the melodic instruments. It sounds like there’s a lot going on in this song, but it is put together in such a way as to come off as a very simple, melodic tune.

The second of the epic tracks comes next. “Piece of the Sky” has a chorus that sounds like a cross between Deep Purple and The Flower Kings. Lindsjö’s guitar work and Thomsson’s bass are very strong on this track, as well as the vocals. During its 13+ minutes there is ample evidence of Lindsjö’s talent, but others are given a chance to shine as well in a lengthy instrumental middle section, notably Haraldsson, who utilizes both analog and digital sounds, and also takes a turn on piano. Despite the length, the song doesn’t overstay its welcome. It seems Mr. Fröberg has learned quite a bit about epic writing from Flower Kings bandmates Roine Stolt and Tomas Bodin.

A groovy bass riff from Thomsson opens “I Wouldn’t Change a Thing.” Fröberg gives a soulful vocal performance, a bit reminiscent of The Flower Kings’ track “Touch My Heaven” from Paradox Hotel, but this song is way more up-tempo, so the similarities melt away as the song moves forward into the very catchy chorus. Headphone listening reveals a lot of little instrumental flourishes, yet at no point does the song seem cluttered. There’s a quirky sparse instrumental break two thirds through the song that segues into a great guitar riff before returning to the chorus.

The third epic, “Above,” starts with a rocking intro and transitions into a terrific atmospheric section highlighted by delicate guitar work by Lindsjö. Fröberg croons through the slower sections and belts out the vocals in the more rocking parts. The ten and a half minutes seems to fly by. This song rocks so hard in sections that it strays into prog metal territory, including a keyboard solo that smacks of former Dream Theater keys man, Derek Sherinian. One drawback for me is that it has sort of a weird fadeout during Hasse’s vocals, segueing into an acoustic guitar outro. Nothing wrong with the acoustic guitar, but Hasse was really wailing (in a good way) and I wanted to hear it.

“Everyday” is one of the shorter songs, and the chorus sounds so much like it belongs on Paradox Hotel that I can’t help but wonder if this song was offered up for that particular album. A ferocious instrumental break highlights this song, with another shredding keyboard solo and rock solid rhythm. Lindsjö manages a fatter guitar sound here and shines with another delicate and intricate solo.

The last of the “shorter” songs – clocking in at six and a half minutes – “The Ultimate Thrill” opens with a quirky Flower Kings vibe, which alternates throughout with a heavier, rocking theme, which again summons the ghosts of Deep Purple. In fact, Fröberg’s vocals in this song alternate between sounding a bit like David Coverdale and Ian Gillan. Another melodic instrumental section, which sounds nothing like the quirky Flower Kings-type theme or the heavy Deep Purple-sounding theme, melts seamlessly into the song and then is followed by a shredding keyboard solo and a metallic guitar solo.

The album closer is the 13-minute epic, “Only My Blood,” which opens with a dreamlike sparse keyboard backdrop behind a dark vocal line, dipped in echo. The guitar peeks in as Hasse sings higher and is followed by the bass and delicate drums. Then the song explodes for the heavy, guitar-driven chorus before returning to the ethereal, presenting a fantastic contrast and keeping the listener involved. The Musical Companion shows off its chops throughout this final number, getting funky and a bit jazzy at times through the middle sections, with Haraldsson and Lindsjö shining throughout. Lindsjö even manages to sound a bit like Stolt during the song’s climax.

Quite frankly, this album is astonishing in its ability to easily eclipse the last Flower Kings effort, The Sum of No Evil (2007) – and possibly the two prior TFK albums as well – and illustrates that perhaps Fröberg should be given more room in the writing department. His songs are catchy and melodic, they rock, and yet they still scratch that modern progressive itch. The pacing works well, with the epics spaced out evenly with shorter songs in between, and everything sounds fresh yet familiar and Fröberg’s voice has never sounded better. The mix is good, with all instruments separated so you can hear everything that’s going on. This album appears to be headed solidly into my top ten releases of 2010. I look forward to hearing more from this group of musicians and would love to see this material performed live.

EpicProg

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