Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Anekdoten - Vemod

Once upon a time in the early 90’s, somewhere around 1993-94, in a land not very far away, a friend handed me a really obscure cd by an obscure Swedish band with an equally obscure sounding name.  This friend was someone I had worked with at my crummy pizza place job (actually, I loved that job, mainly because I worked there with a bunch of my buddies, some of whom I remain close with to this day), my first job back in 1990.  By this time, this particular friend had moved on to another job and we hadn’t seen much of each other for a couple of years, and by chance we bumped into each other and decided to hang out.  We had first bonded over a mutual love of Rush and other progressive rock bands of the 1970’s and 80’s, and as it turns out, he had begun finding obscure prog-rock cd’s over the new “internet” and had begun mail-ordering (remember “mail-order” kids???) many titles by bands I had never even heard of.   

Over a few beers he played me awesome amazing prog-rock coolness from around the world.  When our hangout session was coming to an end he handed me a couple of mix-tapes (remember those!!!) that he’d made of some of the bands he had discovered and he also handed me the aforementioned cd.  On the cover was an image that can only be described as akin to the first Black Sabbath album in its harsh light and dark other-worldly coloring, almost with the quality of a film negative.  Barren black trees emerging from pale blue grassy ground stretching into the distance back to a partially obscured large house in the background silhouetted against a white sky; in the foreground to the left a woman in black surrounded by electric irons placed at her feet, to the right, a doll in a white dress in a black rocking chair.  In large angular black letters the band name “Anekdoten” against the stark white sky, at the bottom of the image partially hidden among the blue grass the title “Vemod” in smaller black letters.  I don’t remember my exact words upon seeing this striking image on that cd cover, but my guess would be I said something to the effect of “who the hell is this???”  What happened when I listened to it later inspired the same question.

Upon my first listen I was immediately struck by the thought that I’d never heard anything quite like it before.  Imagine a sound somewhere in the neighborhood of 70’s Yes mingling with the eccentric dissonance of Primus and the ominous and brooding feel of Black Sabbath.  Then add cello, keys, and horns (courtesy of old school mellotron synths), and you’re at least in the ballpark.  Opening the album is the instrumental “Karelia” beginning soft and melancholic with mellotron keys then doubled with mellotron mimicking strings, then erupting with drums and distorted bass guitar laying down a stomping pace with electric guitar backed by cello weaving a melody in and around the rhythm section going through chorus and verse sections before breaking down midway through the song to cello and mellotron then building slowly back to full steam to the end.  “The Old Man And The Sea” is up next beginning with a staccato intro riff on guitar and bass over drums matching the rhythm, before switching to a different melody with the drums foraying into random beats with cymbals and cowbell spliced in with almost random sounding patterns, before settling into a steady beat with mellotron and piano backing distorted bass guitar over the first verse with melancholic vocals, which builds to a frenzied bridge section with the guitar weaving a dissonant melody throughout, before returning to the second verse finishing the song with a mellow fade out.  Wow.  That was a mouthful…and most likely a run-on sentence.  Get used to it, this album is like a winding mountain road on a cold and rainy night…with ghosts chasing you.  

“Where Solitude Remains” begins with a thunderous bass riff followed by mellotron simulating strings on melody, settling into a mellow verse with a laid back flute melody over Stewart Copeland-like drum and cymbal work as the bass drives the rhythm behind jazzy guitar fills, then transitions into a heavy driving bridge as a storm of thunderous bass and drums drives behind a very Primus-like dissonant guitar riff.  The song continues through light and heavy passages throughout as the vocals deliver soft soliloquy and urgent desperation in equal measure.  The lead guitar break around the 6 minute mark stands out especially well, conjuring Yes’ Steve Howe as the mellotron vibes in the background and brings the song to an end with a musical exclamation point.  Up next is the beautifully solemn and dreamy “Thoughts In Absence”, thick with brushed drums, walking bass line and cool jazz guitar riffing, with mellotron setting the mood.  “The Flow” begins with a haunting little flute melody then quickly builds into a dissonant intro section heavy and driving before settling into brooding verses with the drums and bass guitar setting the ominous tone before completely changing up to a double-time syncopated frenzy with a haunting cello solo followed by an equally dissonant and freaky guitar solo and outro as the song builds to a frantic and abrupt halt.   

“Longing” is a melancholic acoustic guitar and cello instrumental that calms the tone and the tempo down in a solemn, beautiful dirge.  Album closer “Wheel” begins with a heavy bass and drum driven rhythm with mellotron simulating horns before boiling down to a simmering verse thick with bass guitar and more mellotron behind eerie harmonized vocals before bursting into an instrumental chorus with the guitar and mellotron-simulated trombone (my best guess!) playing separate dissonant melodies, leading into a mellow section with mellotron-simulated trumpet playing a solemn melody over the steady rhythm section like “Taps” being performed at a Mexican funeral, before building back to another simmering verse and chorus section with even more dissonant lead guitar and mello-trombone before ending in a cataclysm of mellotron synth and Mexican funeral “Taps” mello-trumpet as the album fades into a North Sea gloomy conclusion.

Nicklas Berg’s guitar work is splendid and trippy throughout, Anna Sofi Dahlberg’s cello adds a forlorn longing feel in many of the quieter sections, and both Berg and Dahlberg use the mellotron to tremendous effect to simulate keys, strings, and horns throughout the album.  Jan Erik Liljeström’s bass guitar is prominent as the lead instrument in many of the tracks, and is rich with heavy tone (I suspect a Rickenbacker is at work here but I’m just a guitarist, I could be wrong), and his vocals are smooth and melodic, thick with melancholy and longing, and Peter Nordins’ drumming is nothing short of spectacular, with heavy Peart and Copeland influence.  The combination of all these elements makes for a solemn unfolding of haunted musical landscapes with amazing moments of both light and darkness like trying to peer through a haze of gloomy fog on a cold wet Nordic night with an oil lamp…before a ghost attack.


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