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Beardfish - +4626-COMFORTZONE Review

Posted on January 12, 2015 at 6:10 AM

Prog rock and comfort zones? Strange bedfellows!




With a career spanning eleven years and seven albums, Beardfish are another Swedish export (along with Opeth, The Flower Kings, Blues Pills, H.E.A.T, Pain Of Salvation, IKEA and Abba) who slowly are working their way into the consciousness of the more discerning rock appreciating public. Having become an established and accepted part of the prog set - support slots with Spock’s Beard, Neal Morse and Flying Colors which adds the significance of the ‘Portnoy mark of approval’, their new work seems set to cement their position firmly on the road to becoming prog heavyweights.

 

In footballing terms, they may not be Premier League, but a solid Championship side with some experienced players who have an annual good cup run, doing well against better positioned clubs and have a long term highly respected manager, getting them ready to make the leap into the big time. This could well be their shot at mixing it full time, week in week out with the major players.

 

Not only that, with the new record containing the best of what prog fans hope for and dream of, there’s the added bonus of a conceptual link throughout the album. With the writing of the album underway, the band realised a lyrical theme was emerging which seemed to be all about growing up in their home town of Galve and took on a dark turn by looking back at how things were and how the population “were never encouraged to believe that they were somebody”. The age old issue of settling for what you’ve got.


"Their new work seems set to cement their position firmly on the road to becoming prog heavyweights, containing the best of what prog fans hope for and dream of."


The idea of breaking free from expectation and of lacking the motivation to test and push yourself became the challenge, reaching beyond the comfort zone and providing the inspiration for exactly what progressive rock aspires to. They call the comfort zone “the invisible protective suit of negative thinking” about challenging yourself – and if prog isn’t challenging, what is?

 

With their past couple of albums leaning more towards the heavier side of prog, this time they have by their own admittance delivered something which is not lighter but certainly on a more accessible level , so – with over an hour to convince us that the way forward is with Beardfish, does the content match the promise?

 

Varying the compositions between the short link passages, with the three part The One Inside providing soothing mellow bookends and intermissions to the album, and moving between longer, more intense pieces, all roads lead up to the epic If We Must Be Apart (A Love Story continued) which evolves over fifteen minutes of ticking a shedload of progressive boxes. Led by a distinctive and recurring ELP/Deep Purple reedy keyboard/Hammond organ – what Keith Emerson used to term the ‘graveyard sound’ – it builds to crescendos and dips in and out of tempo changes and vocal passages accompanied by gentle acoustic guitar. You can just imagine the heads back air keyboardists having a field day - the only thing missing is a kitchen sink credit. One notable reviewer who has picked the title track as the best Beardfish have written must have skipped this piece; no excuse for failing to recognise If We Must Be Apart as setting the bar for contemporary prog rock composition and musicality.


"All roads lead up to the epic If We Must Be Apart (A Love Story continued) which evolves over fifteen minutes of ticking a shedload of progressive boxes."


The track chosen as the single, Hold On flits between bass led instrumentals in the way that Chris Squire would have taken charge with Yes in 1972, with the vocals coming across rough and raw as he intones something to “crawl back in your dirty little hole” – whether he’s addressing the elephant in the room which is the comfort zone or something else may become clearer in time as the music and words become ingested. While the title track itself contains some nice understated guitar, it’s quite a laid back and reflective sounding piano led piece with washes of keyboard, a theme which is continued into Can You See Me Now where the inevitable reference to The Beatles quirkiness arrangement to which many proggers allude is apparent. Penultimate track, Ode To The Rock And Roller is particularly cutting lyrically and perhaps the angriest jibe at the comfort zone philosophy; what Sjoblom has called “a furious comment from me on society’s attitude to creativity”

 

Musically, the ensemble playing is exceptional and there are chances for all four instrumentalists to shine through; a classic example being the stop start rhythms of Daughter/Whore with David Zackrinsson’s guitars ranging from chunky rigging to fleet fingered soloing and maybe a result of his role of taking charge of the album mix.

 

So yes, with +4616- Comfortzone, Beardfish certainly have earned and deserve a shot at major league recognition. With the concept, the songwriting and the performance, they have taken the notion of the comfort zone to defy the norms and expectations imposed by others. Using the creative and boundary free nature of progressive rock music they’ve done what prog rockers have been doing for years and openly addressed the concept of challenging the accepted and predictable. .

Words: Mike Ainscoe 

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Categories: CD REVIEWS

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