When you think of Swedish music in the ‘90s, the first thing that comes to mind might be the radio-ready pop conjured by Denniz Pop and his crew of production underlings at Cheiron Studios. Not quite as immediate in is its output in genres like progressive rock, a market the U.S and England have had solidly cornered since the 1960s. One of the standout prog bands from Sweden to emerge in the last 25 years has been The Flower Kings, a project revolving around singer-songwriter Roine Stolt that could be described in short as Yes and Rush with Donald Fagen on lead vocals (at least now). Their latest output comes in the form of Islands, a double album jam-packed with moments of technicality, melody, feeling and all manner of intriguing twists and turns for the rock intellectual.
“Racing with Blinders On” makes for a strong introduction; essentially an instrumental amalgamation of Moving Pictures and Fragile. Numbers of the likes of “Serpentine”, “Hidden Angles” and “Journeyman” lean more towards jazz fusion in their winding sonic complexity, while “Tangerine” and the Floydian “Telescope” land more on the soulful side of things. Tracks like “Between Hope & Fear” and “Goodbye Outrage” provide the customary quirky, quintessentially prog moments that any record of this ilk inevitably has; “Broken” and “From The Ground” meanwhile are solid ‘70s throwbacks that could be easily confused with early, pre-commercial Styx. Other tracks like “Looking For Answers”, “Islands” and “Man In A Two Peace Suit” free-float and meander along (in a good way), rounding the 21-track marathon of Islands out into an extensive, yet intriguing and versatile musical adventure.
It’s hard to sound as strong as you did in the beginning 25 years later, but The Flower Kings certainly pull that feat off with this album. The sound on this record is not only timeless, but seemingly ageless as well with its pure-as-the-driven-snow approach to progressive rock that shows no signs of weakness or fatigue. If this is what they can put out in 2020, they need not have any worry about declining for quite a while; the best may indeed be yet to come.