In the year 2003 I wrote in my review of the Isildurs Bane album “Mind Vol.4: Pass” that in my opinion the Swedish Isildurs Bane is one of the few real progressive bands on this planet who are playing progressive contemporary music. Well I think that this statement is still true. The band was “Off The Radar” for years because leader Mats Johansson found that it made no sense to work on a new album because the avalanche of torrent sites and illegal uploading during the mid 2000’s undermined the prospects of any release to break even and make return the musician’s investment. Last year the band made a glorious return with the album “Colours Not Found In Nature”. An album that includes the vocals of Marillion vocalist Steve Hogarth. For me it was one of the most remarkable albums that have been released in the year 2017. If that was not enough the Swedish rock ensemble is now presenting their 14th studio album to the public ... and yes the album is entitled “Off The Rader”.
Katrine Amsler - keyboards, electronics; Xerxes Andrén - drums; Klas Assarsson - snare drum, toms, bass drum, marimba, vibraphone, tamtam, crotales, clockenspiel, shaker; Luca Calabrese - trumpet; Axel Croné - bass, bass clarinet, bb clarinet, add. synthesizer, add. electric guitar, tenor saxophone, add. guitar, alto saxophone, electric guitar, grand piano; Samuel Hällkvist - electric guitar, add electric guitar; Mats Johansson - Yamaha CS-80, prepared piano, varispeed organ, Arp 2600 sample & hold, Kurzweil 2600, Arp 2600, miniMoog D, Mellotron, Pro One, Roland V-synth, Nord modular, Oberheim xpander, Grand piano, treatments; Liesbeth Lambrecht - violin; Pieter Lenaerts - double bass; Kjell Severinsson - drums, cajon; Adam Sass - trumpet; Lukas Wikström - electric guitar, add. guitar; Leif Jonsson - congas, timbales, timbau, repinique, pandeiro, overtone flute; Pat Mastelotto - electronic and acoustic percussion, Fx; Christian Saggese - acoustic guitar
Isildurs Bane was founded in the year 1976 and after several changes in personal and straying far from their Symphonic Rock and Jazz Fusion origins, the band has become a rock based chamber ensemble with keyboard player Mats Johansson in the role of visionary, principal composer and artistic director. Under his leadership the band mixes various elements drawn from Rock, Prog, Jazz and Classical music to create an unique melting pot with a dynamic and cohesive sound. Much of the music on this album is written between 2011 and 2017.
The album opens with a song called “Drive Part 1-3”. It has an opening with a fiddle melody reprised from their previous album, “Colours No Found In Nature”. Then it moves forward with rock beats, marimba, trumpet and electronic soundscapes. Part 3 of this excellent progressive rock piece develops into a more electronic and experimental piece with Cinematic qualities. The title-track “Off The Radar” has more influences of Avant-garde and Jazz music. But towards the end the song becomes more and more melodic. “Under Your new Moon” could have been a collaboration with Richard Barbieri and Steve Janssen. Like Steve Hogarth, Richard Barbieri was also a guest at one of the IB-expo conventions which the band organizes each year. But the use of the bass clarinet gives this slow electronic piece a unique character. It is a beautiful piece of music.
The bass playing in the electronic opening of “Xenolith” reminds me of the late Mick Karn. You can find a lot of keyboards and electronics on this remarkable album. The marimba is of course typical Isildurs Bane. But as a little reference there are some short and up tempo bits that reminds of Frank Zappa. This slow and dark piece of music slowly develops into an amazing piece of progressive rock with some freaky saxophone parts before the Karn bass returns. This highlight with a duration of ten minutes is a great piece of contemporary music. Guest Pat Mastelotto of King Crimson fame contributes with electronic and acoustic percussion. He can also be heard in the following two pieces “Goodbye Berlin” and “Endless Air”. In “Goodbye Berlin” you can find some nice melodies. It is remarkable how all those electronic, jazzy and classical atmospheres are melted into strong multilayered compositions. In “Endless Air” the wind instruments like saxophone, trumpet and clarinet are combined with acoustic and electronic percussion and the keyboards and prepared piano of Mats Johansson. An intriguing and brooding piece with some freaky grooves. The album comes to an end with a 2016 live recording of a beautiful acoustic guitar piece (“Uvertyr / Open”) played by Christian Saggese.
Musically speaking the year 2017 is for me the year of the triumphant return of Isildurs Bane. With “Colours Not Found In ” (in collaboration with Marillion singer Steve Hogarth) and this “Off The Radar” album Isildurs Bane restore their leading position as progressive rock band with the most innovative development. This said “Off The Radar” is an album for the open minded music lover. If you take your time to give this remarkable album several spins in your CD player, the album will reveal its true beauty.
Together with the 2017 albums of Amber Foil (EP), Kotebel, Kant Freud Kafka and Nau Aletheia, Isildurs Bane will be present with two albums in my personal top 10 of the year 2017. So open your mind and enjoy the music!
Tip for Prog festival lovers; Isildurs Bane & Steve Hogarth will be headlining the prestigious Night Of The Prog (NOTP) festival at the Loreley in Germany this year. Special guest is Richard Barbieri ... Need I say more? ... See you at the Loreley!