“The two albums by Änglagård are so far the apotheosis of the new scene’s accomplishments.” So said New Sonic Architecture’s Matthew Martens in the NSA catalog a few years ago. That was then, this is now. The new progressive rock scene he mentioned has lost much of its creative steam. Many of the new scene’s original movers and shakers have moved and shaken right out of existence or drastically decreased their output. And recent newcomers have made little lasting impact. One thing seems to remain true: even ten years after their arrival on (or should we say creation of?) the new prog scene, Änglagård’s contributions to the prog rock revival remain unequaled. It seems that no new band or artist has had more impact or become so legendary. Fueling the legend of Änglagård are the facts that the band broke up almost as quickly as it burst onto the scene and that the band’s two studio albums have been out of print for many of the last few years. Hybris was re-released a couple of years ago, but Epilog remains out of print and routinely commands nearly double its original price on Ebay only eight years after its release. How ironic it is that one of the best prog albums of the ‘90s revival is also among the hardest to obtain.
What makes Epilog magnificent is what so many of the ‘90s prog revivalist bands sought so hard to achieve: an almost perfect amalgamation of the old and the new. The most obvious aspect of the old is the use of authentic instrumentation that was common in prog’s heyday. Extensive use of Hammond organ and Mellotron as well as a lack of obviously modern guitar tones/effects and recording techniques help make Epilog sound like it could have been recorded in the 1970s. The sound is entirely authentic and vintage, yet without any sort of campy, contrived ‘70s vibe that is so often constructed for the sake of luring Generation X. On the other hand, however, Änglagård’s compositions seem just a bit more radical and uncompromising than what most of the major ‘70s prog acts ever did. Epilog sounds as if Änglagård takes up and continues on the progressive path near the point where so many of the classic bands left it. One could argue that Änglagård’s first album sounds fairly derivative of prog’s past, but Epilog finds the band in relatively new territory, treading unbeaten parts of the path Genesis and Yes never got to travel.
While Epilog is a remarkable album, it is not necessarily an easy listen. If Epilog has any flaw, it is the lack of “hooks” or catchy sections that the listener can easily look forward to. This is complex, ever shifting music that rarely stays in one place for very long. Epilog requires close attention for full enjoyment, but it can be difficult to devote such attention over the course of the whole album. It is easy to drift away mentally during the many sections of delicate guitar arpeggios and subdued Mellotron chords. These lulls, however, are often rudely broken by short violent outbursts that shake the listener back to attention.
When one can devote the attention Epilog deserves, the results are quite rewarding. One may find the album seems much more relevant in the fall or winter months, when the atmosphere outside seems to match perfectly with the somber, lonely mood that pervades the entire album.
Epilog is comprised of six all-instrumental tracks. The album begins with the two-minute “Prolog,” which sets the tone for the entire album quite well. It begins with a quavering, diaphanous melody on solo Mellotron. Then the entire band restates the same melody with increased drama and vigor. The effect is melancholy, yet powerful. “Saknadens Fulhet” serves as the opposite bookend of the album. Like “Prolog,” it is exactly two minutes long, but it is a poignant piece for solo piano. Its effect is bittersweet and ends the album on a somewhat uncertain, unfinished note.
In between these two pieces are three very long tracks – the meat of the album – and a peculiar 14-second track of barely audible ambient noise. The three long tracks are all wondrous, massive studies in contrast. It is in the stark, sometimes jarring contrasts between light and dark, loud and soft, masculine and feminine that one can most easily see the often-cited influence of early King Crimson. The instrumentation and melodies, however, usually speak of early Genesis. This is especially true in the beautiful flute and acoustic guitar passages.
In almost every way, Epilog is a much more mature, “serious” sounding album than Hybris. A string quartet augments the band on much of the album, lending a strong baroque feel to the music. It should be no surprise that several of the members of Änglagård pursued classical music studies after the band broke up. It must have seemed like the only logical direction for them after recording rock albums of such complexity and quality.
Epilog is not music for parties or for trips to the grocery store. This album is like a fine wine. It should be brought out only on occasions when one can sit down and quietly savor the artistry and quality of this masterpiece. – SH