"The Flower Kings have been performing their brand of symphonic rock since their formation in 1994. Roine Stolt is the "veteran cosmic rocker" who heads this formidable assault on modern prog. They and some of their peers have been responsible for both maintaining and expanding the fan base for modern progressive rock since the '90s.
Although I have enjoyed some of their music over time, I have only slightly enjoyed most of their work. That changes with Desolation Rose. This is a masterpiece in modern prog and it will definitely compete for one of the top spots on my favorite albums of the year list.
Last year, The Flower Kings returned after an almost 5 year hiatus. They released Banks of Eden in the summer of 2012 to a strong favorable reaction from fans and critics alike. I missed that one, but will go back and try to listen to it after hearing Desolation Rose. They celebrated their success with a tour of the world. This year the band hit the road again to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of their label InsideOut Music with old friends, and label mates Neal Morse & Mike Portnoy. They kept the momentum going with a return to Fenix Studio in Sweden to start work on the recording of Desolation Rose.
The band describes Desolation Rose, as a "live" recording made on reel to reel tape to bring back the feeling from analog recording. They also brought out some classic vintage keyboards, like a Hammond B3, Mellotron M 400, Fender Rhodes, Minimoog and a whole host of Tube amps. All to bring back the glorious past. They further describe Desolation Rose as: "Being somewhat of a political statement, the epic theme of Desolation Rose is a logical step in a time where perpetual war, famine, environmental threats, religious conflicts dominate the media and our minds. This is a time to wake up and the music on this album takes you on a journey where you are forced to question what the mainstream media feed us and to rethink your whole world view on all of the above. This is in many ways a typical Flower Kings album but we have also taken it into another realm where we do take chances and where you may struggle to get into the music - or the lyrics - but trust me when I say that you will be rewarded, as this may be our most involved, important and interesting album ever." (Roine Stolt).
Ok, so… "on with the show…this is it".
"Tower ONE" is an over 13 minute epic to start this album off in the right direction. Stolt's vocals opens with, "She'll walk me slowly through burning spear. She'll be my shelter no sign of fear. She'll walk me slowly through wholesome light. She'll be my shelter. She'll be my eye". Stolt describes "an observation by an angel who resides in a mysterious tower, looking down on the entire world's ongoing perpetual insanity, yet unable to reach out and help" (Flower King's Desolation Rose Press Release, 2013). The solid drums, dripping bass, lead electric guitars rock. The band gives you more than you may ever have dreamed of receiving on this epic opener. But for me it's the keyboards that truly shine the best on this track. "Don't we all shine on?" Well…yes definitely on this one.
If you close your eyes and listen to "Sleeping Bones", you may actually visualize Rael emerging from the mist and rain on Broadway. And with all the wonderful string arrangements and soft mandolin, this one will definitely take you immediately back to some of the highlights from "The Lamb". But Stolt enters to provide a new direction, "We're the third from the sun. We're a long way from home. We're between land and sea. We are blessed and we're greed". He then proceeds to uncover the world's many ills as the deep bass, power Hammond, and punching drums march their cadence. A dark march into the current state of affairs delivered with powerful lyrics.
"Desolation Road" opens with limitless grand piano, yes the kind you may remember again from "The Lamb", and powerful slamming drums and stellar synths that create a spectacular grand opening. "Be sure to meet your enemies with open eyes. As you answer drums of war with a lullaby. Battlefields that come alive. You know you cannot hide. But here you know your fears…the man inside". "There are no glittering prizes." Yes, another powerful lyrical commentary on the state of affairs globally. The weeping lead electric guitar licks are perfect for the mood of the song. The keyboards, drums, bass and jams are excellent. Three tracks in and you know you're listening to a winner. Something you will play over again…many times.
Well, when you open with excerpts of a speech from Richard Nixon, you know "White Tuxedos" is going to be full of political angst. "I respect your ideals. I want peace. Bring the boys home". Nice that they decided to go with images of Vietnam, for all of us old enough to remember the ravages of that war. No war or person personifies the evil politician more than Nixon and the unfortunate war he escalated only magnified that feeling globally for many. Modulated vocal delivery helps add swag to the powerful message. The music supports the power of this piece well. Dark and full of some excellent solo electric guitar, accompanied by solid bass, punching drums, and deep keys.
"The Resurrected Judas" is full of wonderful acoustic guitar and elegant keys after the opening explosion of drums and lead electric guitar. The softer transition welcomes you to this tale full of soft synth keys and great vocals. The lead electric guitar soloing adds dramatic flair. The dark tone keys and dripping bass help create a jam session full of piano and melody which at times take you back to Collins era Genesis with its Tony Banks keyboard romps. At over 8 minutes this track is full of imagery and cinematic music that will definitely entertain. I kept hearing echoes of the imagery in the lyrics and music from the song "Squonk", which is not a bad thing at all.
"Silent Masses" opens with bold keys and organ and what sounds like Jonas Reingold singing about factories again, "So you think you can rule all the fools. Staying cool when the walls coming down. Got the world on a string, but your bird cannot sing. All these men in the factory lines. And all the angels who fell from the skies. You tried to say hello, but they say goodbye", while some Beatles "And Your Bird Can Sing" chords fall like rain. "We are just the silent masses" becomes the refrain. The solid drums, bass, lead electric guitar and keyboards build as the drama continues on the second half of the track. Another solid song to add to the discography.
"Last Carnivore" opens with some dramatic flair from drums, bass, and lead electric guitar. The momentum continues to build excitement and mystery. "The nightmare becomes real. You have fallen from your tower". "Seven matches seven". The lead electric guitar solos accompanied by drums are powerful. The keys slide in to garnish the sound perfectly. The rhythm and melody of this track make it one of the best.
With a title like "Dark Fascist Skies", you know it can't be good. The opening reminds me of Jethro Tull's A album classic "Black Sunday"; with its heavy keyboard and lead electric guitar assault. The ominous start forebodes multiple mellotron tones and a full on launch of power keyboards, bass, lead guitar and drums to the ears. This track is full of drama and ominous lyrics and sounds.
"Blood of Eden" is my second favorite track on the album. "We're the third from the sun. We're a beacon and a seventh wonder. We are green and we are growing. We are the one and eternal Mother". Its lyrics like that which will endear you immediately to this song. This is no way as powerful as Peter Gabriel's "Blood of Eden". And at times you can even here a bit of Jon Anderson in the high notes reached vocally. But still it is a solid track for this album.
"In "Silent Graveyards" we look for saviors" is repeated several times as launching guitars, and keys rocket this short song high.
This is a keeper. If you are new to the Flower Kings, welcome to the party. You picked a good time to find them. If you are a fan this is a must buy." - Sea Of Tranquility