Back in the days when people were shorter and did what they oughta, and before the advent of the instantly available music fix soon to be supplied by the dubious delights of the interwebs, the only way to buy obscure music was to wade through mail order catalogues, and buy on recommendation, or more than likely, just take a punt.
And lo, for it came to pass in those far-off days of the early to mid-’90s, that the lowly punter decided, for reasons lost to the inexorable passing of time, to re-enter the murky world of prog rock, after many-a-year avoiding the morbid mire, which did become a curious self-referential and nay, self-reverential musical backwater sometime around 1976. Peruse the mail order lists did he (the name of said list will come to me… I’ll enter it here if I remember by the end of this missive), and the name that chimed first was Anekdoten, and rather than procrastinate by reading the whole scabrous parchment through to Z, the lowly punter thought “What the heck, let’s go for this one… and the name before it, fellow Swedes “Änglagård” sounds suitably odd, too”, or somesuch musings. Forsooth! And lo, the shekels were sent yonder, and henceforth and heretofore the album Nucleus, and yet the album Hybris were both in the eager hands of the lowly punter.
That’s enough Biblical shenanigans… Nucleus shook the walls of my mid-terrace like a caged polar bear, and with a visceral power rarely heard, and I was hooked. The neighbours were not pleased. Vemod, the previous and debut album was duly bought, and I’ve followed the band ever since, bought every album, and almost got to see the group at their as yet only scheduled appearance on these benighted shores, back in 2011, pulled by the band at the last minute due to a family crisis for one of the musicians. I doubt we’ll ever get the chance to see them over here now, given the combined strictures of the plague and Brexshit. Heck, I’ve even stopped intermittently badgering band leader Jan-Erik Liljeström about making the trip.
It is some consolation then, that as part of the ongoing schedule of vinyl reissues of their small but perfectly formed back catalogue, that Anekdoten via their Virtalevy record label, now see fit to re-release this weighty document of their first visit to Japan, back in 1997, originally released the same year on CD. Here, it is presented to us in the form of three white vinyl slabs of righteous noise, along with a repro of the original Japanese tour programme, a replica ticket denoting the number of the buyer’s particular set (mine is 110/500), and, a real bonus, a lovely 12×12 book containing previously unseen pictures from the tour, and Jan-Erik’s tour diary, which includes info on the progress and eventual demise of his boil, amongst other hitherto unknown titbits.
The album has been remastered for vinyl, and while the difference in soundstage to the CD version is minimal it is enough to be different. As to which I prefer, my jury is out. I think maybe the bass is better heard on the CD version, but there seems to be more detail in the vinyl version. It is going to take a few listens to both versions to come to a conclusion. Any excuse to wheel this monster out of its pit!
Any lover of heavy prog should know this album inside out already, but if you have never heard it, or even more unlikely, of the band, then I envy you the delights that await you. The album consists of all but one track from their debut, Vemod, a choice selection from the then new second album, Nucleus, and a couple of early, more raw, and in my opinion better versions of tracks from the then unreleased third album From Within. There are also two tracks that never saw a studio release, Road to Nowhere, and the instrumental Tabatah. I will constrain my musical pondering on this release mostly to those “new” tracks.
One of the tracks from From Within (released in 1999) is Slow Fire, and this live version is far heavier and more dramatic than the studio version. Play this loud and it will make inanimate objects do the shelf-shuffle tango before crashing to the floor as black fog swathes of Mellotron create an impenetrable menacing smog that is abruptly cleared by the reintroduction of the verse, before returning to smother the victim/listener, the song marching off on syncopated fast military bass and drums. A quick mention for Book of Hours, which turns the already frightening studio version into a beast-noir of sheer terror, and bloody marvellous it is too! Sitting between those two is the first “new” track, the excellent Road to Nowhere, which contains Niklas Berg’s most scorching guitar work on the record. Quite why this superb track never made it on to an album is anyone’s guess, but it is not in any way substandard.
The remaining otherwise unrecorded track, the instrumental Tabatah (named after a train stop on one of the group’s many rail journeys criss-crossing Japan) becomes a loose and swirling cacophonous headfuck in the grand Anekdoten tradition, led by Jan Erik’s flanged bass. Anekdoten’s roots as a King Crimson tribute band are certainly showing on the concluding and extended version of Rubankh, here split into the recognisable Part 1, and the previously unrecorded Part 2, the latter being an obvious homage to all things Starless, and possibly, Bible Black, as Sophie’s cello howls in death-throes over the seas of Mellotron and the relentless pounding rhythm section. Even I, as an inveterate retro-prog avoider, quite like this, but I would – I’m a fan. I realise that those last three words entirely invalidate this review, but frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn!
When the original double CD issue landed on my doormat all those years ago, little did I know then that it would soon feature in my top 10 live albums by anyone, a spot it retains to this day. As a representation of the brute power of music in the raw, there are few finer examples, and considering the seemingly mild-mannered nature of the Swedes making this gloriously feral racket, that is all the more surprising… or maybe not! The sheer joy of listening to Official Bootleg: Live In Japan 1997 once more makes me yearn to be lifted off my feet by the sheer transformative heft of live music played to the max. At times it seems those heady days may never return, but we live in hope.
In conclusion, if you are already into Anekdoten, you need this fabulous package. Go on, indulge yourself! If the band is new to you, start with the more affordable Vemod and Nucleus, and I guarantee you will be hooked!
A1. Karelia (8:03)
A2. The Old Man & The Sea (8:01)
A3. Harvest (5:45)
B1. Slow Fire (7:50)
B2. Thoughts In Absence (3:37)
B3. Road To Nowhere (4:56)
C1. Book Of Hours (10:14)
C2. The Flow (9:12)
D1. Groundbound (7:49)
D2. Where Solitude Remains (8:00)
E1. Wheel (9:08)
E2. Tabatah (9:11)
F1. Nucleus (6:42)
F2. Rubankh, Part 1 & 2 (12:48)
Total Time – 111:16
Jan Erik Liljeström – Bass, Lead Vocals
Peter Nordins – Drums
Nicklas Berg – Guitar, Keyboards, Voice
Anna Sofi Dahlberg – Keyboards, Cello, Voice
Record Label: Virtalevy
Country of Origin: Sweden
Date of Release: 31st July 2020