They’re bloody great aren’t they?
And guitars, big drums and massive amounts of in-your-face bass.
And Mellotrons. Mmmmmmellotrons. Lots of ’em. I’m a sucker for the old “Orchestra in a Drinks Cabinet” but despite being known for their use of them you get so much more with Anekdoten…
Over the last quarter of a century Anekdoten have taken all of the above elements and many more to make, in my very own and very humble opinion, some of the finest rock music there is. I love all of their albums and frequently go back to them, each time marvelling at the beauty and visceral energy meshed cleverly together throughout. Their songs excite and soothe me in equal measure as they weave intricate and otherworldly sounds one minute and batter you to death the next. Like a velvet and glass grand piano falling down a lift shaft they make one hell of a racket but can still float you away on waves of silk and beautiful melodies when the mood takes them.
Eight years I’ve been waiting for this. Eight years. The despair of the cancelled gig in London in 2011 now a distant memory and here, at last, is the new Anekdoten album, Until All The Ghosts Are Gone. I can barely believe it’s actually arrived! It’s unseemly to be this excited about a rekkid at my age but I’m like a kid in a gothic sweet shop.
For those of you not already in the know, thus speaks Wikipedia:-
“Anekdoten is a Swedish progressive rock band, composed of guitarist/vocalist Nicklas Barker, cellist/keyboardist Anna Sofi Dahlberg, bassist/vocalist Jan Erik Liljeström and drummer Peter Nordins. They are notable for the use of the Mellotron and their heavy sound dominated by a pounding bass guitar. Their music is associated with the tradition of 1970s progressive rock music, especially that of King Crimson.”
This does not tell the full story by any means.
Starting out in 1990 as King Edward, Nicklas, Jan Erik and Peter played King Crimson songs. Anna Sofi joined in 1991 and they changed the name to Anekdoten. KC references still hung heavily over their cataclysmic early releases but they always had a unique core and this has developed, expanded and matured over the years – now through six albums – the spectre of The King now far more subtle and consumed within a whole that is all their own.
Another name that often springs up when thoughts turn to Anekdoten – and a topical reference given their recent run of U.K. shows – is Änglagård but these two bands are markedly different. Yes, they both use copious amounts of Mellotron and up-front bass but, metaphorically speaking, Änglagård might ease a perfumed note under your door then chuck a brick through your window as they run away whereas Anekdoten would knock politely then kick the hinges in before you can answer, gaffer tape you to a chair and whisper sweet nothings in your ear whilst smearing you with jam. I expect.
Anekdoten’s music is all about contrasts. Yes, they utilise the “quiet/loud” thing but there is genuine subtlety about it and the main focus is on textural shifts from sparseness to density, delicate sections with the purity of the vocals from Jan Erik and Niklas set against the wall of sound Mellotron-heavy parts, both elements often occurring a number of times in the same song.
There’s certainly something special in the crystal clear waters of Sweden.
Of the first released fruits of this latest recording, Get Out Alive, Jan Erik says: “How to pick a first single from the forthcoming album? Choose a song that is fairly representative and has a bit of everything in it, but is less than 10 minutes long. That the first line in the lyrics is ‘Hello my friend!’ is a bonus in this case.”
Boom, instant classic.
Typical of much Scandinavian fare, there is often a downtrodden melancholy about Anekdoten’s music but here there are flashes of an uplifting summery vibe, such as in the gorgeous If It All Comes Down To You which in other hands and another time would have made an excellent single. But not in these hands. Jan Erik says “When we started out we had the ambition to take things to a higher level and I believe we succeeded”. I believe he’s right. “Listening to one song will take you to quite a few different places and listening through the whole thing is quite a journey. I feel this is music to get excited about.”
And so do I. The swooning listener is certainly taken away on a journey here, songs such as Shooting Star, Get Out Alive and the thundering instrumental Our Days Are Numbered start from a point and end up somewhere completely different via a number of locations of interest.
I’m not going to go into great detail about the tracks, suffice to say that they’re all fantastic and there isn’t a moment of flab or downtime anywhere on this disc. A little over 45 minutes and it’s just right. Not over-extended or padded in any way, enough to make you eager to hear it all again. CD has spoilt us with capacity but vinyl always had the timings about right and this album is bang on the money.
To give a flavour, Shooting Star opens things up, ethereal Fripp-like soundscapes bursting out into a typically pummelling riff, the guitar line and a psychedelic edge funkily at odds with the pounding rhythm. Ex-Opeth man Per Wiburg, back after helping out on Anekdoten’s debut many moons ago, adds exhilarating organ that duels with Barker’s guitar. Energy crackles right through this one. And them the Mellotrons really kick in…
Here are a few of my many highlights from Until All The Ghosts Are Gone: the aforementioned swell of the Mellotrons as Shooting Star expands to epic proportions six minutes in; the mesmerizing resolution to Get Out Alive; the beauty of If It All Comes Down To You which just makes me melt; the so right and hauntingly beautiful ensemble playing of the band in full flow on Writing On The Wall; the flute and angular guitars that help to give the title track such a spellbinding quality; the typically Anekdoten loping rhythms of Our Days Are Numbered as things head towards a shatteringly demonic conclusion on the back of some squalling sax from Gustav Nygren.
It makes me smile and feel warm inside just thinking about it all. So many great things have been packed beautifully into an album that will engage, entice and excite for, well, probably forever.
As well as Nygren and Wiberg, the quartet are aided and abetted by some other guests. Marty Wilson-Piper of The Church adds some dazzling electric and 12-string guitar to the title track where it melds with perfect flute from the ubiquitous Theo Travis (a man with a CV that gets more impressive with each passing week), his solid gold contribution to If It All Comes Down To You also sublime.
The sleeve should come with a sticker on the front that says “For Best Results, Play Loud” but that would be far too vulgar. Even the quiet bits were meant to be played loud. The swooping and soaring vocals. The plaintive melodies. The big bass notes, Nordins’ skittering drums, washes of ‘Tron – all of it. Marvellous. Play loud for maximum majesty. Emotion oozes out of every pore and it’s albums like this (not that there are many) that keep me coming back for more. No posturing or “look at me” histrionics, this is the real deal; a group of like-minded individuals going quietly about the business of making the music they want to play. I’m so glad that I’ve discovered it.
Achingly beautiful, poignant, thundering, this is widescreen stuff, expansive and opulently realised – shot in black and white of course. Ethereal sounds mixed with hard hitting rock ‘n’ roll. It isn’t about fiddly solos, it’s about moods and emotions. It’s about the wide open spaces and the darkest corners of your own mind. It’s about visceral angst and quiet contemplation and we all have the capacity for both of those.
With the words of Jan Erik Liljeström and music of Niklas Barker, all of the band play a collective blinder and should be hugely congratulated. They deserve to have legions of “We’re not worthy!” audients lying prostrate at their feet. The world being what it is though they’ll probably have to make do with a few pats on the back plus some very warm handshakes and garbled words of thanks from we happy few.
But is it Prog? Yes. No. Whatever, it’s just fucking great!! Human music for humans, creatures of emotion, rage, fear and exhilaration.
This may all come across as the wide-eyed rantings of a serious fanboy but it isn’t meant to be. Until All The Ghosts Are Gone has really touched my soul, much more than I ever thought it would.
Isn’t it great when a band you really love completely delivers?
Just don’t leave it so long next time, OK!
01. Shooting Star (10:11)
02. Get Out Alive (7:32)
03. If It All Comes Down To You (5:53)
04. Writing On The Wall (9:03)
05. Until All The Ghosts Are Gone (5:07)
06. Our Days Are Numbered (8:36)
Total Time – 46:22
Nicklas Barker – Electric & Acoustic Guitars, Mellotron, Organ, Vibes, Voice
Anna Sofi Dahlberg – Mellotron, Organ, Rhodes
Jan Erik Liljeström – Bass, Voice
Peter Nordins – Drums, Cymbals, Vibes, Percussion
Per Wiberg – Organ (on Shooting Star)
Theo Travis – Flute (on If It All Comes Down To You & Until All The Ghosts Are Gone)
Gustav Nygren – Saxophone (on Our Days Are Numbered)
Marty Wilson-Piper – Lead Guitar, Electric Guitar & Acoustic 12-string (on Until All The Ghosts Are
Catalogue Number: VIRTACD006
Country of Origin: Sweden
Music by: Nicklas Barker
Lyrics by: Jan Erik Liljeström
Produced by: Anekdoten