Finally the third and final list in the Album Of Year 2017 series has come to its completion. This was probably the absolute toughest list to compile. Due to the very tough nature of this list, I decided to sit on it a month before release it here at Power Of Prog . Another reason these sorts of lists are becoming tougher with every passing year is due to the immense volume of music out there. There seems to be too much music out there with the advancement of technology through social media. Therefore due to all these factors it is become more challenging to compile these lists. Thank you all who joined in for the Top 10 Album Of Year 2017 Melodic Hard Rock/ Melodic Metal/ AORlist and Top 10 Progressive Metal Album Of Year 2017.
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 CenturyRenaissance 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.
It is always a very curious anticipation when a band releases a second album. The term ‘Sophomoric Jinx’always enters the conventional discourse. This is so especially true when the band puts out a very ambitious and colossal debut album. This is exactly what Gentle Knife did in 2015 with their debut. The typical cliched comparisons always come into the conversation along with a much higher expectation. The band has safely avoided all these cliches and stereotypes with their second album Gentle Knife – Gentle Knife II – Clock Unwound.
Gentle Knife are now made up of 11 very different yet interesting members that make up the beauty of the sound of the band. Veronika Hørven Jensen – Vocals has replaced Mina Oz for this run of Gentle Knife. However that takes nothing away from the vocal quality within the female narrative. If anything it adds more depth to the band. Although it may have a hint of being a conceptual piece, this album this time around has more of a common theme to it instrumentally. The band also returns with a greater maturity to the songwriting process, the production and growth as individual musicians. The six tracks that make up the album are a true testament of a band growing and maturing. Now for a track by track analysis into this ‘Orchestral Labyrinth’ known as Gentle Knife – Gentle Knife II – Clock Unwound.
Prelude: Incipit (Instrumental) opens up the album with a beautiful piano that works in harmony with the trumpet. This combination brings about almost a very ‘Baroque’style about it displaying influences from Handel, Bach or even Vivaldi style registers within this opening composition. This track also allows the listener to get settled in for the remainder of the album.
The Clock Unwound transitions very seamlessly and smoothly from Prelude: Incipit (Instrumental) with a elegant opening guitar solo. Immediately the saxophone and other woodwinds, along with the a heavy prog guitar, begin to establish a very unique and signature sound for the band. Soon a thunderous drum/bass rhythm section enters in with more a tuned down chord progression. The male vocal comes into the narrative and seems filtered through a megaphone. The keyboards are of a more modern style, however playing perfectly on time with both the stringed section and rhythm sections. The woodwind instruments add total depth and layers to the composition as well. The band certainly knows how to hook a listener and keep their attention for the duration of the track. The female vocal narrative gives the track a very heavy hint of RIO or (Rock In Opposition) / Avant Prog vibe with the way it appears diminished in the composition and structure. The band even plays well with off rhythm section time signature beats on this track as well. Towards the end of the song their is a beautiful eclectic mix of jazz fusion with the alto saxophone and progressive chord patterns.
Fade Away starts off with a semi electric guitar in a atmospheric isolation before the flute comes in and adds a beauty and depth to the song. This opening instrumental works on perfect time to the isolation of both the male and female vocal narrative. The horned woodwind sections remind much of Gentle Knife’s peers Thank You Scientist where there is a huge and beautiful cacophony of various stringed. rhythm and horned sections all in perfect harmony making the track a trek into the spirit of the listener.
Smother comes in with a very up tempo rhythm section that is soon met with a overlaying atmosphere created by both keyboards and other woodwind instruments. The female vocal narrative comes in in perfect time with the drums and the male vocal follows in suit shortly after adding more vocal depth to the song. This song is lyrically about somebody’s best intentions and trying may not be the best for them. From here there is a beautiful jazz style chord progressed passage with the female vocal carrying much of the middle of the song. This is all rounded out with a neo progressive keyboard enabling such a atmosphere.
Plans Askew opens up with a vast pastoral acoustical folk styled guitar that sets the tone for the composition. The vocal sounds both isolated yet in harmony to the instrumental. The woodwind instruments alongside with the rhythm section opens up and sets the heavier more up tempo portions as the song progresses. Throughout the track the bands steadily builds layers upon layers towards a plateau before transitioning onto different chord progressions that would lead to a beautiful duet between the male and female vocals.
Resignation has much of the same instrumental narrative to it. This instrumental narrative starts out with a big rhythm section that increasingly builds as the track moves forward. The track adds layer upon layer with the various instruments that the individual musician brings to the table as a collective. This track also is arranged perfectly as the final song on the album. Although the song seems steeped in melancholy, it still has a smooth instrumental backdrop. It is that backdrop that allows the lyrical content done through spoken word.
For a sophomoric effort this is a masterpiece. Gentle Knife have now firmly set themselves up to be a major progressive rock unit going forward for the next 10 to 15 years. Clock Unwound will be looked at as one of those pivotal albums that will be talked about in the evolution of progressive rock 15 to 20 years from now. Due to the band’s continuous maturity I am giving Gentle Knife II Clock Unwound a 5/5.
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