Bjørn Riis of Airbag has released his third full-length solo album, A Storm is Coming, describing a failing relationship with great emotional honesty and starkly beautiful progressive rock music. His previous album Forever Comes to an End was also clearly an emotional release, infused with fragile feelings, but on this album, Riis takes that more personalised approach even further, and as he does so he also moves increasingly away from Airbag’s Floydian soundscapes.
The naked emotion and fragile grace of Riiss’ art is most encapsulated in the truly heart-breaking You and Me. A guitar motif and wistful vocals are joined by simple piano notes and windswept sound effects, evoking a bereft atmosphere, which feels like it can only have been borne from personal experience. The song gradually builds in intensity, but at its core, the depth of emotion remains until the sad, regretful coda returns us to the initial guitar line. There are clear echoes of No-Man in this song as Riis intones:
You and Me underlines just how much Riis has carved out his own distinctive style and his true voice. First track, When Rain Falls, establishes the atmosphere so well, striking in its creative combination of delicate sounds and powerful but restrained rock music. Riis creates cinematic sweeps of music filled with images. A very quiet synth opening slowly develops atmospherically before suddenly grungy guitar noises shatter the quiet, and layers of guitar fill the yawning metaphorical void. A brief soaring solo elevates above a wall of dense guitars, thundering bass and crashing drums. These musical storm clouds then recede and we are left with light splashes of cymbals and smatterings of drums alongside droplets of piano – like rain on water, almost late Talk Talk-like in nature. This imaginative and evocative opening lasts over six minutes before we hear the fragile and emotion-filled voice of Riis and a plaintive slide guitar – but SO much has already been said without the need for any words. Pain filled guitar stabs float over the stark backing and we immediately feel we are in the presence of a truly broken soul – indeed this is real ‘soul music’
The pace changes significantly with Icarus which rolls in on a wave of flowing acoustic guitars. The lyrics mirror the mythological tragedy as he aspires to reach high, to save his relationship. However, like Icarus of myth his efforts are doomed:
I’ve been high and low just to make you see, to make you feel
I see the sun with rays of light call to me, but I fly too close and I burn – my Ashes fall to the ground.”
The initially airy guitar sounds transform into distinctly heavier and darker riffs, presumably mirroring the Icarus-like fall. Riis’s cries accompany the flight of the guitars in their spiral downwards. They finally crash in a mighty crescendo of excellent drumming from Henrik Bergan Fossum.
Stormwatch is introduced by an undulating, gentle keyboard, and a vocal so delicate and gentle from Riis it barely disturbs the surface of the song. To underline the central narrative dialogue of a couple breaking up, Riis is joined by female vocalist Mimmi Tamba, backing him word for word as restrained drums and bass add to the pathos. Acoustic guitars add tempo and the vocals rise in intensity as they both play out a crumbling relationship. A quietly hypnotic passage of softly programmed beats and subtle brush strokes of guitar follows, threaded through with ethereal female vocalisations… but this is clearly the lull before the storm. A shattering blast of guitars, bass and thunderous drums crash over the song before we settle back into a deftly picked electric guitar section. The doubled up vocals return over strumming guitars and Riis throws in a short Gilmour-esque guitar solo (he couldn’t really help himself at least once – it’s in his musical DNA!) The musical storm recedes gradually with weirdly distorted drums and low guitar noises – it’s a remarkably evocative and rather poetic song conveying a range of emotions. This House continues in the same vein as much of the rest of the album as the singer laments the emptiness of his home with aptly icy tones and melancholic guitar lines. The whole album subsides in a wash of eerie synths in a bleak musical landscape of Epilogue. Sonically the production is perfect – this song and the whole album exudes feeling and atmosphere.
Steven Wilson once said that sad songs made him happy and happy songs made him miserable – by that measurement if he hears this release he would be deliriously happy! There is a delicate, fragile beauty that can be borne out of sadness, loss and regret, and Riis’ album is clearly inspired and indeed saturated with great emotion and personal meaning. It remains to be seen whether Riis will ever revive Airbag, but it is in his solo work that he has now really come into his own with great music filled with poetic and genuine emotion, played with tremendous sensitivity and consummate skill.
01. When Rain Falls (10:40)
02. Icarus (7:00)
03. You And Me (7:05)
04. Stormwatch (14:21)
05. This House (8:18)
06. Epilogue (3:36)
Total Time – 51:00
Bjørn Riis – Vocals, Guitars, Bass, Various other instruments
Henrik Bergan Fossum – Drums
Simen Valldal Johannessenn – Keyboards
Ole Michael Bjørndal – Guitar
Mimmi Tamba – Vocals
Record Label: Karisma Records
Country of Origin: Norway
Date of Release: 3rd May 2019
– Lullabies in a Car Crash (2014)
– Forever Comes to an End (2017)
– Coming Home (EP) (2018)
– A Storm is Coming (2019)