Dave Baird's Review
After years of being nagged by his fans, Hasse Fröberg has stepped out of the shadow of The Flower Kings to release his first solo album - you can read more in-depth Hasse's own thoughts in out two interviews we have with him here. Of course solo albums and side-projects by Flower Kings members are not at all uncommon, but this is a little unusual insomuch as it doesn't feature any fellow band members, instead Hasse has deliberately chosen to recruit a new band in an effort to establish his own sound. In this respect I have to say he's been largely successful, yes of course he is actually The Flower Kings singer so you'll get some familiarity there, and also working with Roine for 15 or so years has a heavy influence, so there are some TFK moments, but these are very much the exception.
Hasse has managed to put together quite a diverse array of songs, from the up-tempo West-Coast feel of Song For July to the heavy riffing Above. Overall you would say it has a classic-rock feel meets mellow-prog and some funk/jazz moments thrown in for good measure. Hasse's voice is of course the main attraction and he doesn't disappoint with a tremendous range of vocal styles on display - belting prog-metal on Fallen Empire, the countertenor intro to Only My Blood and his best Jon Anderson impression on Piece Of The Sky. He's incredibly versatile and the passion he's put into it is very evident. It's these three songs which are the proggier on the CD, all displaying multiple changes of pace, direction and texture. Fallen Empire starts-off with a very immediate 90's-prog-metal section that really took me by surprise on the first listen, I didn't expect that at all. It shifts gear with a huge, bombastic string-synth break, then mellotron flutes, acoustic guitars with a more folk feel, a few solo and a reprise back to the main song. It's a fantastic opening.
Piece Of The Sky doesn't just sound like Jon Anderson singing at times, it has a huge Yes vibe going on all over. Some really excellent guitar work here and more nice keyboard work - has to be said that the keyboards are superb throughout, not only great playing at the right level for each track, but very tasteful choices of instruments and patches with the focus on classic sounds - organ, piano, Moog, warm strings, a little mellotron. I can't say the same for the rhythm section though, well the bass playing is pretty much fine and 90% of the time the drumming's good too, but occasionally when the pieces get a bit more up-tempo the drumming isn't changing gear to suit. Sure the rhythm is correct, but there are times when they need to be a bit busier and add some excitement, it just isn't always working for me. The album closer Only My Blood is a prog-delight too - moody synths, bombastic and great singing. Sounds like there could be some Rush influence along the way, but there's also a tremendous guitar solo that could easily be Roine Stolt himself - think of the solo on Transatlantic's All Of The Above and you get the idea - it's also played early in the song and reprised at the end. There's a funky feel going on towards the end and some mellow jazz moments too, it has it all.
The Ultimate Thrill is notable that it is surely inspired by Spock's Beard from the classic period around Beware Of Darkness, quite uncanny but it's all part of Hasse's wide palette of influence. The main feature here is the organ - can we be sure that's not Ryo Okomoto? Some great heavy guitar work as well which is in stark contrast to the mellow bottle-neck on Above - Anton Lindsjö seems to be a very versatile and talented player, a great find for Hasse. Everyday is one of the more Flower Kings influenced pieces - well one that may have been written by Hasse and played by TFK, could easily been a B-Side from Space Revolver or The Rainmaker. I already mentioned that Song For July has a West-Coast feel, really this song wouldn't be out of place on a Don Henley album, I really feel it would make an excellent radio-friendly hit, a real foot-tapper. To be fair the drumming and bass are really superb on this piece, plus Hasse is displaying his voice at its very best too - very typical singing for him and crystal clear. This just leaves I Wouldn't Change A Thing to mention and, well this is perhaps my least favourite piece on the album - it's rather too generic for my liking and then it has this weird instrumental section that just sounds too contrived and awkward for my taste.
To conclude, this is a really solid first effort from HFMC, aside my occasional reservations on the drumming the musicianship is excellent, the songwriting good, the arrangements interesting and varied, the range of styles is quite wide and of course it's a great vehicle for Hasse to show his vocal talents more than we've seen in The Flower Kings. The production quality is very acceptable indeed, perhaps I would have mixed Hasse a little higher, especially in Fallen Empire. Huge credit must be given that HFMC have a sound all their own - yes there are influences galore, but this is normal, Hasse has managed to break away from the typical Flower Kings sound and that can't be easy to achieve at all given their long history. This CD is an absolute must-have for any Flower Kings fans and it's also very appealing to general lovers of classic prog/rock.
Jon Bradshaw's Review
Like the rest of his fellow bandmates, Hasse Fröberg has taken the occasion of a hiatus in the Flower Kings’ output to write and record his own music which has materialised on Reingold Records as FuturePast. There the links to TFK end as, unlike his bandmates’ solo projects, there is no collaboration with any of them on this album. This is a new band with Hasse at the helm handling the compositional duties, singing (of course), and playing guitar as well lending his formidable studio experience to produce and mix the material with Petrus Konigsson. He has surrounded himself with a talented bunch of players to form a five piece unit (and they are a unit) that features Thomsson on bass, Kjell Haraldsson on keys, Anton Lindsjo on lead guitar and Ola Strandberg on drums. Mercifully for us, they are vastly better musicians than they are models. The band photography that decorates the booklet is risible. I’m not sure what sort of image they wanted to present but it appears to be an attempt at ‘fun and sexy’ as they pose in one laughable picture after another, including Hasse holding what appears to be a jelly and a couple of Reubens-esque portraits of Thomsson and Anton in semi-recumbent positions. What were they thinking?! I mention this only in the hope that they never allow it to happen again for verily, it offendeth mine eye. However, this small sin has absolutely no bearing on the music.
Hasse’s voice is unmistakeable. Consequently, and unavoidably, one immediately places his inimitable vocal style into the context of a Flower Kings’ song. The remarkable thing is that FuturePast is unlike a Flower Kings’ album and I passionately and enthusiastically applaud Hasse (and the band) for creating something new. Naturally, there’s the occasional nod in a Flower Kings direction, but these moments are subliminal. The overriding sensation is of a new band with a fresh but reassuringly familiar sound fronted by a familiar voice. And what a voice it is! Hasse’s work with TFK has always sent shivers of delight through me and he never fails to raise the hairs on my neck at least once on every TFK album. With his own project, he not only accomplishes this effect in spades, he also seizes the opportunity to swagger his way through a wide range of vocal idioms: from all-out, full-throated rock to sensitive soul; from operatic vocal callisthenics in the same vein as Freddie Mercury, to spitting fire and brimstone. Whichever way you spin it, Fröberg is a versatile, dynamic and massively gifted vocalist – we get to revel in his talents on FuturePast.
Similarly, the song styles here demonstrate a masterful grasp of everything from classic rock to commercial, jaunty, pop-oriented gaiety. Within that broad framework, every track is dappled with a host of progressive shades and colours. The whole thing sounds so effortless and natural that it is almost instantly affecting, with one hook-laden chorus after another giving way to emotional peaks and troughs in a 70 minute carnival of sound that I have hardly had out of the CD tray since the day it landed.
Leaving aside the opening track, which is a minute or so of Sounds From The Empire, the album kicks off with Fallen Empire. Lyrically, this catalogues the short-sighted greed and ruinous brutality of humankind and musically it creates great hefts of sound in a punchy and dramatic 12/8 tempo. Seamlessly, it shifts mood from dark and furious to positive and hopeful then back again by employing richly textured and melodically varied sections with great solo features. You couldn’t ask for more from an album opener. The quality is sustained in Song For July, which follows and is brimming with the joys of summer. Utterly infectious, the melody attaches itself to the aural centres of your brain like a limpet and ‘rings in your ears’ as the lyric suggests long after the album is over. Piece Of The Sky is an elaborate and expansive piece, driven once again by Hasse’s vocal delivery with a heavy, powerful chorus, an up-tempo section that recalls 10cc’s Dreadlock Holiday and a movement of lovely funky organ and skanking guitars accompanying a glorious MiniMoog solo. But all of this pales into insignificance against the closing passage which is achingly beautiful with stunning choral arrangements. This is early Queen, Yes and Led Zeppelin incarnated by six minutes of passion-filled, soaring music. The chord progression may be lifted from Zeppelin’s Rain Song, but I don’t care. For my ears, it’s worth buying the album for these six minutes alone.
I Wouldn’t Change A Thing is catchy as hell with glimmers of Blinded By The Light (Manfred Mann’s Earth Band) and Supertramp in its composition, combined with Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing and some Hall And Oates White-Man’s Soul in the verses. Above begins as a straight-ahead rocker that is echoed in its powerful chorus but the verse consists of a laid-back country-blues vibe to provide a startling contrast. The instrumental interlude is different again with an excellent jazz piano solo and an intricate guitar solo that crescendos in its intensity before ushering in another fine MiniMoog solo spot, after which, the bombast of the chorus is reprised... Another wonderfully catchy chorus stands out in Everyday alongside a clamorous and energetic synth solo from Kjell Haraldsson, whose work throughout the album is majestic.
Like above, The Ultimate Thrill takes a heavy rock groove as its substance with fluid and muscular guitar riffs supported (as in so many of these songs) by swirling Hammond organ and more stellar vocal arrangements. Only My Blood closes the album in that slightly funky style that has cropped up here and there throughout the album and is memorable for yet more excellent guitar and keyboard solos, as well as its anthemic closing passage that rounds out the music before birdsong and running water provide a Zen moment to finally punctuate the album with a blissful ellipsis.
Hasse’s solo debut references some of the greatest rock artists of the ‘70s in its sonic palette. From The Who to Argent, From Bob Seger to Little Feat and from The Band to Todd Rundgren, as well as those I’ve already mentioned. I’ve found it thoroughly entertaining and addictive from start to finish. The band play together like seasoned vets, but the tenor of the whole has a zest and freshness that’s impossible to deny or ignore. Admittedly, now I’ve spent some time with it, I would say there are 5 truly wonderful songs married with four good songs that have wonderful moments or sections, but taken as an entity, FuturePast is peppered with breathtaking musicianship and song writing that blends the best of the old with the best of the new to stand as a paean of what’s possible in modern rock. What’s more, the production is devastatingly good and creates a unique and original sound for the band to cohere around. I find it difficult to find fault with this wonderful piece of work that stands out as one of my albums of the year.