Norway seems to the booming goldmine of Prog these days! Many bands that spin the Prog machine well like; Airbag, Ossicles, Elephant9 and this band, Gentle Knife who tells tall tales of; adventure, danger, journey, exploration, sight and sound in revelations of Prog epics and enlightenment here. With a very Prog album cover the band consisting of ten, YES ten members that makes them the Lynyrd Skynyrd of Prog bands! Ha ha ha, and they rival bands like Gentle Giant for number of people in one group but they make it work and good on them for that because I think that having that many people in one group other than orchestras would be difficult but they are soundly wired together mind to mind and instrument to instrument to create vivid mental images and take you on a quest in to dark forests of uncertainty and the vast unknown.
Norway has always been the country of controversy in music, mostly because of the Black Death Metal bands and their incessant need to destroy churches,temples, assaulting people and gross indecency on stage as well as actually killing one another. The one major incident being the murder of Mayhem’s guitarist, Øystein “Euronymous” Aarseth by Varg Vikernes of the band Burzum who stabbed him 23 times and was later sentenced to 21 years in prison (Norway’s max penalty) and he served 15 of those before granted parole in 2009. So when one thinks of Norway if you are familiar with its history in the music scene the press sadly isn’t forthcoming in their revelling of the country’s beauty but the dark and gloomy side of controversy, brutality and destruction of things. But we are not here to discuss anyone or their taste in music, you like what you like and I’m not going to judge you for it but I do not approve of destroying anyone’s church, temple or inflict injury to anybody because it will make your music more powerful, that’s just wrong on so many levels. Thankfully the country has also produced and given birth to many wonderful Prog bands like the above mentioned ones in the beginning and has continued to shy away from their ominous clouds of less attractive scenes. As well Norway has some of the most beautiful landscapes and villages that flourish under their flag. Gentle Knife has given us their debut record of Prog wonder here and has done so in the classic telling of a tale through sound and allows the listener to envision the sites and smells of the enchantment they bring to the record.
Eight songs that spin around campfires and in small hovels where shamans, hermits and shrews dwell and tell of high adventure and tragedy through song for a price, the price of listening that we will gladly pay that honour here and commence with the album now…
“Eventide” opens up the record with a smashing 10:08minute inauguration of musicianship and a crashing wave of sound to start us off. Full on synthscapes, stout and proud drum patterns, solid bass lines and guitars that stand shining in the bright sun as they bring the mids to the foreground. Then the classic piano song that is swooned with woodwinds and the lone guitar note that pulls from the rear to add spice in just the right spot before the rest of the band glides back in. The smouldering fire feel gives the song a causeway to be mellow here and rightfully so as we are blessed with the first vocal sounds just passed the two minute mark. A blending of both male and female voices here making a brilliant mix of the two to add flare and a unique balance to the song. Not a heavy gate crasher of a first song but then again neither was Pink Floyd’s “Shine on you Crazy Diamond parts i-v” now was it? This song has a wonderful beginning and follow through as it strolls through the forest paths and to the villages amongst the smells of trees, running waters, fires cooking something on a stick as the vocals are enchanting telling us tales from days long ago. The band also follows the Eastern band methodology of singing in English as well allowing the majority of us over here in North America to understand the lyrics. The horn section here is very 70’s Prog in style a la Pink Floyd’s “Us and Them” or King Crimson’s first couple of albums bringing in a striking additional tone to the song. The guitar solo is well crafted here as the tempo/timbre changes to coincide with the Prog recipe of song structure and doesn’t disappoint at all. A classic build up to end the song and it doesn’t even fall short here, defined in a genuine manor of skill, style and grace. “Our Quiet Footsteps” is next as it militaristically enters with a drum march and a looming synth drone as we are almost ready for battle here as the song builds up adding instrument by instrument every few bars in an almost Emerson, Lake and Palmer motif then WHAM! we are tossed in to a King Crimson-esque jazz ensemble that draws on your memories of “Pictures of a City” from 1970. The start/stop element is well choreographed here as the song quiets down to a gentle synth pattern and woodwinds section that enlightens your senses with the tinkling of branches snapping in the trees from woodland creatures stirring as the haunting female voice shuffles in gently as if from being called upon by the male voice in the village. This band encompasses every facet of every instrument as if placed on the map of an architectural design laid out on the floor and assembled accordingly and everything has its place in the song as well as being given its script to follow along with every well constructed composition on the album. The tempo/timbre shifts here are great as the song(an whole album for that!) grabs its forefather albums by the horns and gives them a shake vigorously and says PROG IS NOT DEAD! WAKE UP! The guitar work here is exquisite and not over done by useless notes thrown in to show off, no way, it’s carefully selected notes to make the solo just the right amount of spice and flare the song has already going for it here in this very free form jazz Prog sound that brings back so many great memories it’s like hearing it all over again for the first time!
“Remnants of Pride” the classic and ever popular ballad type song as the third track on the album, falls right in to place with the Prog recipe perfectly to soothe the savagery of what is now our intensified nerves and anticipation for more of this album that has invigorated us in to this journey and crusade in to their wall of Prog sounds that are truly epic in their stature and energy coming out of our speakers here. The use of two singers here is iconic of some of the Prog metal bands and progressive type metal bands usually from Sweden and Germany where the female vocals are the softer gentler touch and the male vocals are the grinding and harder edged sound but with Gentle Knife they utilize the tones from both singers often to create one unified voice and also to use separately giving us so much more dynamic to the vocals. Even the guitar solos in this song are two different voices, one harder edged and the other more compressed and fluid to accentuate the variances in tones and diversity of influences as well as being able to incorporate a medley of strings held within the song’s walls. “Tear Away the Cords that Bind” strikes with a sudden fury of guitar notes and solos right off the top and the vocals here reminisce of “Being for The Benefit for Mr. Kite” by the Beatles as they sound hollow and through a bull horn almost creating a different style of sound for a song as the track itself is stomping through the grounds via the drum patterns and the guitar solo that plays out like walking through a brush of thorn bushes. The sultry horn tracks on here are so early Prog and Krautrock style it’s amazing how they’ve added this element to their music like this because it’s almost a forgotten trait now so it’s really an amazing addition to their music. “Beneath the Waning Moon” starts off with some beautiful guitar picking and synthscapes that have a dreamlike draw to them as they pull you away from your senses and whisk you off through the greenery of the forests paths and down to the valleys where gentle waters flow and wave throughout the flute and guitar solos that electrify the air and calm the waters from rushing over the shores edges to flood the smouldering fires on the sands. Under five minutes long and you’ve lost an hour to your dreamworld escape.
“The Gentle Knife” the band’s title track to the album and their name seeminglessly completes this track with a fluidity of soulful vocals and music creating a wave of excellent examples of what Prog’s softer side is like and they fill in all the cracks here with lush synths and flange pedal filled guitars to heave a sensuous song here along with some subtle horn sections that again conjure up some early King Crimson elements here that is by far NOT a bad thing at all but rather a joy to hear this many horns and woodwind instruments in their music. A deep guitar solo stretches out to reach the edge of time as it glistens darkly here through the mountainous regions of the song and the fretboard only to give way to a synth solo that is as crisp as fresh formed ice off of a rooftop in winter. “Epilogue Locus Amoenous” brings us to another serene synthscape of gentle stirring sounds and thoughts of solitude and peaceful passages through electric sounds of wave upon wave then halfway through the soft play out of an acoustic guitar serenades the air along with the synths and a slow drum dirge as we are quietly led away in to another realm of emerald grounds and sapphire skies with this calming and eloquent instrumental. This track is placid and has a calming harmonious timbre to it, haunting and memorable as it seeps its way throughout the room in which you are sitting in and fills the air around you surrounding your very being to touch your skin in a royally graceful way that you don’t even want to move afterwards. The last track on the album, “Coda Impetus” comes in with a snap and jaggedly walks down the street smug and stout as it has an attitude here that has your foot tapping along and a constant smirk on your face. The song has a very Prog rock beginnings but in the middle the jazzy horns come back in for a final fling here and give us something that strays and swaggers down the hallways along with a sneering guitar solo that strikes out of nowhere and cuts in front of the horns but they fight back and get back in the pocket. Mel Collins would be impressed with the work done on this album and even jealous I think as its filled with the very essences of Prog and this album has reignited the 70’s breathtaking style that first brought us the genre back in around 1969.
Gentle Knife has well represented the genre here with a wonderful first album and has given new light to old forms as they incorporate so many different instruments and sounds and styles to even now an ever growing genre known as Progressive Rock. One can hear their; heroes, their influences, their aspirations, visions and much more in this album that covers all the bases and leaves you wanting nothing more than to play it all over again. A splendid album that is surely to grace the shelves or folders of your Prog Collective and one that you will go back to time and time again. Looking towards the future one can only imagine what their next outing will sound like and how they will approach it but however they choose to do this it will be equally as epic and grand as their debut album has been. An absolute joy to listen to. Enjoy