Gentle Knife I | Gentle Knife 2015
Label: Bajkal Records
Release Year: 2015
Genre: Progressive Rock/Art Rock/Folk/Eclectic Prog
Astraea Antal – Flutes/Woodwinds and Visuals
Pål Bjørseth – Keyboards/Vocals/Trumpet
Odd Grønvold – Basses
Thomas Hylland Eriksen – Saxophone & Woodwinds
Melina Oz – Vocals
Håkon Kavli – Vocals & Guitars
Eivind Lorentzen – Guitars & Synths
Charlotte Valstad Nielsen – Saxophones
Ove Christian Owe – Guitars
Ole Martin Svendsen – Drums/Percussion
Brian M. Talgo – Samples/Words/Vocals/Visions & Artwork
It is always often a gamble to write, record, engineer, produce and master a concept album. First you need to have a tangible plot or story-line that finds an audience or even a niche. Second you need a band or personnel surrounding you that is willing or actually shares the same vision towards the main concept or story. Many bands that fall under the progressive rock banner usually do not make a concept album on their debut. However there are exceptions to this notion.
As a matter of fact, some bands refrain from making concept albums or wait until they are many years into their recording careers with a established audience before they even introduce the world to a concept album. So when I was introduced recently to Norway’s Gentle Knife and learned that their 2015 debut album was a full blown concept album I could not resist myself and proceeded my journey with the band.
A little history into Norwegian Progressive Rock.
The usual discourse of discussion concerning progressive rock bands from Norway usually leans towards Norwegian progressive metal bands like Pagans Mind, Circus Maximus, Leperous, Borkgnar, Enslaved, etc. In reality there is a whole other community within the Norwegian progressive rock scene that is sometimes overlooked due to the greater progressive metal and black metal exports that come out of this beautiful Scandinavian progressive outpost. Bands like Airbag, Magic Pie, White Willow, Wobbler, Pictoral Wand, Gazpacho and the subject of this review Gentle Knife have also solidified Norway’s place on the global stage of progressive rock.
Gentle Knife are made up of 10 very different yet interesting members that make up the beauty of the sound of the band. These are 10 very unique personalities that really have developed a well cohesive unit both as a band and in their vision into the album creation process. The vocal narrative of the band is carried by both a masculine male perspective so articulately done by Håkon Kavli – Vocals & Guitars and the feminine female perspective eloquently done by Melina Oz – Vocals. The entire concept is about a urbanite wanderer that ventures into the vastness of the forest and gets lost.
The sound of Gentle Knife can be described as very traditional symphonic progressive rock that is rooted into the purity of 1970’s progressive rock with influences of Genesis, Van Der Graf Generator, King Crimson, Amon Dull ii and Renaissance with a modern 21st century twist to it with bands like Magenta, Kingfisher Sky , Mostly Autumn and IONA to name a few. The very fact the band has 10 members makes for quite a very interesting orchestral unit in of itself. There are so many possibilities with more members in a band compared to a typically standard four or five members that seems predominant within the progressive rock community.
Gentle Knife even open up vast possibilities due to three dynamics working in union within the band. These three dynamics are a very beautiful stringed section along with a beautiful on time rhythm section with the well balanced blend of woodwind instruments serving as a base for the band. Gentle Knife’s Gentle Knife 2015 has eight uniquely crafted tracks. I will talk about some of the major highlights going on with track by track analysis.
Eventide is a immediate invitation and intimate look into the ability of the band as a core unit. It comes out on a full cylinders with a deep rhythm section matched by the intensity of the woodwind’s and stringed section. The band automatically begins to show both its technical and melodic prowess all in one time. The band firmly establishes both roots in 1970’s progressive rock and displays the evolution of progressive music to modern standards in their own distinctive way. The deep rhythm melodies along with the woodwind sections takes the track into a level of layers upon layers.
The female vocal narrative and male vocal narrative certainly give the song two different dimensions allowing for the listener to warm up to the story lyrically. The 10 person dynamic continues to amaze the listener with layers that are very unpredictable always bringing something new with every spin of the album.
Our Quiet Footsteps opens up with a deep drum to bass rhythm section with a beautifully well executed Hammond Style organ to compliment the rhythm section. Soon layers upon layers of Gentle Knife’s signature woodwind sound enters into it and takes the rhythm and stringed sections to a entirely different dimension. The band really executes these layers in a perfect balance where all instruments are easily digested by the listener. The band clearly have a great insight to create ‘Pure’ progressive chord progressions and passages that do in fact open up possibilities between the older progressive purists and even newcomers to the progressive lifestyle. The woodwind portions of this particular track remind me a lot of Camel meets White Willow. Mina Oz’s vocal is both beautiful and angelic that works perfectly in harmony with the male masculine narrative. I like how the band executes certain elements of isolation within the vocal narratives where everybody’s vocals can be heard and felt.
Remnants Of Pride is a more keyboard stringed atmosphere in the early seconds of the song. Soon after the beauty of the male vocal comes in with such storytelling clarity. The melody and harmony are always very balanced. The male vocal is met in spot on harmony with the female vocal where the band performs this with a more symphonic orchestral approach. This is the kind of track the band will be able to attract more attention from the audience in live sets. Another unique thing this track has going for it are its odd time signatures both in the woodwind and vocal harmonies that add to its mystique.
Tear Away The Chords That Bind is a much more heavy prog induced track. The rhythm section is much deeper and heavier. The vocal is done with abstract filters much like it is pumped through a megaphone. The bass serves as a more percussive instrument in various spots to lend to the heavy prog atmosphere the band creates on the album. By the time this track comes into the arrangement the band really tighten up in the rhythm sections allowing for both the stringed and woodwind portions to really breathe and shine through. The woodwind’s serve both as 16th Century Renaissance and current jazz fusion style passages.
Beneath The Waning Moon is a another track that serves as full validation of the bands intricate understanding of well written rhythm sections with beautiful wind instruments. There are a lot of elements going on here that make it nearly impossible to compare to other bands or albums. Gentle Knife clearly are establishing their very own distinctive sound by now. A sound that can only be noted as the Gentle Knife sound.
The Gentle Knife truly begins with a heavy stringed section with a beautiful keyboard and deep off step rhythm section that all come together in melody and harmony to anchor the track into a beautiful composition piece. The vocals between the female and male narrative continue to add a layer of elegance and grace to the song. This is one of the few songs where a full guitar and keyboard solo are distinct and can be heard. The absolute interchange between all the instrumental portions is a beautiful testament of the band’s understanding of melody.
Epilogue Locus Amoenus begins with a beautifully orchestrated Hammond style organ with some vintage 1970’s fuzz to it. Even in its vintage sound it is not dated and still stands up to modern progressive rock elements. The guitar comes in as well and has a more center stage appearance about it. This is the most atmospheric track on all levels. At around the 3:45 mark the guitar takes on a flamenco style that is very unexpected but very interesting. This is met with a very smooth and eloquently performed saxophone in harmony to the instrumental. This track continue to explore the depths of where the band can and does go.
Coda Impetus begins with a late 1960’s psychedelic groove laden passage with big bass and drums along with a Hammond style organ and a modern style keyboard. This is a track that builds layer upon layers of various rhythm sections met with equally deep rhythm sections from the guitar’s. In its simplicity this track offers a very complex and intricate look into another layer of the bands instrumental prowess. The saxophone laden jazz sections are a thing of ‘Fusion Genius’.
For a debut album this was one of the most ambitious and thought provoking I have heard in quite sometime. People kept mentioning this band to me all through 2016 and after this I know what the hype was all about because this debut lived up to it. This is a first of two from me concerning Gentle Knife. The next is Gentle Knife II Clock Unwound. I give Gentle Knife Gentle Knife a 5/5.