Oh this is nice.
Gentle Knife, a 10-piece Scandinavian band from Oslo with lots of ’70s influences and not necessarily the ones you would expect. And how they combine, from melodic to discordant, challenging and yet comforting. Conceptually written around a traveller’s journey from city to forest where he unfortunately meets his demise in the Sylvanian utopia. It is a maze of an album with its unexpected twists and turns, the concept, for the erudite amongst you, is loosely based on Grimm, The Rite of Spring, and other European Fairytales.
All of the music is collectively owned, constructed, and performed by the band who formed in name in 2014, the contributors having worked together for a number of years before taking the name, recording in Skotselv, Buskerud county. Nowhere in their biography are the words ‘Fjord’, ‘Elk’, ‘Wolf’, ‘Lemming’ or that rather nasty buried shark meat mentioned. Oh well, there go all my Norwegian stereotypes.
I hear Genesis, King Crimson, Gentle Giant, Curved Air, Van Der Graaf Generator and more than a smattering of contemporary jazz. Nice. No pickled herring here but a smorgasbord of delights, and straight into my “really interesting stuff heard in 2015” pile. Three tracks in and I do have the urge to go to the attic and fish out the paisley shirt and flares, but it is really fun, long tracks within which to immerse yourself and wallow in the music, so much VDGG without Peter Hammill’s growl.
As you might expect from a 10-piece, the vocal duties are spread, but thanks to Astraea who plays the flute this is how the album breaks down song wise. The lead male vocal on tracks 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6 is Håkon Kavli with Melina Oz adding the leading female voice on the same tracks. The male backing vocalist is Pål Bjørseth.
Eventide starts Genesis style and moves through the eye of a needle to find Camel before settling on Van Der Graaf Generator. More VDGG but with hints of the resurgent King Crimson, this is close to the edge of my comfort zone, but to be honest it is refreshing. Loving the brass and saxophone – you can never get too much sax. Strong vocal performances, both male and female, Melina (I think) sings well and as an opener I have to say that her voice gets better over the course of the album.
I think I will revisit my KC and VDGG after this. It is really gutsy in places, think of the first time you heard Trespass or VDGG’s A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers. The voice of Håkon is quite In The Court of the Crimson King and there are some lovely harmonies too.
There is a feeling of progression from urban to rural, in keeping with the concept of the album, and the titles of the tracks are really proggy too. Remnants of Pride is one foot in front of the other, journey music that sets the path. Whilst there is a large element of ‘heart on sleeve’ influences, the songs hold their own. It’s more homage than copy with, as said, a twist.
The best thing about hearing something new, even with certain past influences, is that there are no expectations. With an established artist there is always an element for what has passed before. This album shows the appropriate respect but manages to make its own impression. Tear Away the Cords That Bind, at 19 seconds long, takes longer to read the title than play. Beneath the Waning Moon‘s wailing sax gives a touch of the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, the sound just a little dirty, spine sending shivers, but that might be my saxophone obsession.
Eponymous track The Gentle Knife is female led and chilling. Another great track, the solo vocal is quite folky, the duet a grubby amalgam of King Crimson and Pink Floyd.
The last two tracks work for me as well, the eerie Epilogue – Locus Amoenus and slightly grunge-like with free jazz overtones of Coda – Impetus suitably representative of our adventurers untimely demise; Coda may challenge a few, but the omelette of sound is a dramatic close to what has been an exceptional listening experience.
If you like a challenge without acid voice vocals, this is it. Right, one for the car with no doubt the no prog accompaniment of “what’s that noise”. I shall look out for the CD, the download has been fun. A worthy purchase.
01. Eventide (10:06)
02. Our Quiet Footsteps… (12:34)
03. Remnants of Pride (7:57)
04. Tear Away the Cords That Bind (4:53)
05. Beneath The Waning Moon (4:34)
06. The Gentle Knife (5:17)
07. Epilogue – Locus Amoenus (8:03)
08. Coda – Impetus (5:14)
Total Time – 58:38
Astraea Antal – Flute, Woodwinds, Sax and Visuals
Pål Bjørseth – Keyboards, Vocals, Trumpet, Words
Odd Grønvold – Basses
Thomas Hylland Eriksen – Sax & Woodwinds, Duduk
Håkon Kavli – Lead Vocals, Acoustic Guitar
Eivind Lorentzen – Guitars & Synths
Melina Oz – Vocals
Ove Christian Owe – Guitars
Ole Martin Svendsen – Drums & Percussion
Brian M. Talgo – Samples, Words, Visuals & Mellotron
Ole Michael Bjørndal – Additional Guitars (tracks 1,4,5,6 & 8)
Astrid Lenvik – Additional Lyrics (tracks 1 & 3)
Country of Origin: Norway
Year of Release: 2015