Isildurs Bane has been around for a fair time now but has somehow managed to fly under the radar of many proggers, and indeed other music fans. The band has been together since 1976, originally based in Halmstad, Sweden, congregating around keyboard player and producer Mats Johansson. The music produced is an intricate form of what is considered symphonic progressive rock, although their chamber rock-type approach frequently leads them to more avant garde pastures. This is the band’s fourteenth album, releases which are very varied and has seen them occasionally working with various collaborators through the years, including Marillion’s Steve Hogarth on 2017’s interesting Colours Not Found In Nature.
On this release they are joined by Van Der Graaf Generator’s Peter Hammill. It is obvious, even with a cursory listening, that rather than being just a collaborator, the singer is very much integrated into the band. Hammill wrote the lyrics for the songs, which in this case are key elements to the sound. Hammill’s abrasiveness adds an edgy feel to the songs. One of the elements of Peter Hammill’s music is that he sounds like he is thinking about the subject of the song as he sings. On this release, the subject seems to be the thoughts of persons who have reached the point where significant choices have to be made. (I could be wrong there, of course. Gleaning the meaning of most songs is difficult, never mind in prog rock!).
The opener, “Before You Knew It”, is quite dramatic and builds to booming drums. The balance between all the instruments is noticeable here, as throughout the album. At times the music is relatively calm and almost ambient, though Hammill’s voice keeps the listener alert. Even though the CDs title is In Amazonia, the overall feeling is more oriental than anything mainly due the prominence at times of Karin Nakagawa on koto. There are plenty of references to South America though. On “Aguirre” we appear to be dealing with Lope de Aguirre, a mad Spanish conquistador who styled himself as “Wrath of God, Prince of Freedom, King of Tierra Firme”. (Werner Herzog famously made a film about him in 1972 starring Klaus Kinski). History has remembered him as a cruel and treacherous man, ultimately dying after sailing down the Maranon and Amazon rivers in search of El Dorado. Such expeditions have had the drama taken out of them by being described as “fateful”. Here that is not the case and the atmosphere of the song becomes quite otherworldly at times.
Although there is a lot of varied instrumentation on the album, it is effects laden and that gives the music a lot of its distinctive feel. No instrument dominates, although the booming of the drums at times is hard to miss! But the fact that no instrument dominates gives a real ensemble feel to the music, and Peter Hammill’s unique approach to vocals only enhances this. It is an album of great movement and angularity, and piecing the lyrics together is quite absorbing.
“In Amazonia” is an intriguing listen, with lots of innovation, and is filled with twists and turns. Relatively short by modern standards at forty minutes, it leaves you wondering whether, or should that be hoping, there could be more to this particular collaboration in future.
You Know It (7:46)
2. Under the Current (4:46)
3. Aguirre (5:17)
4. This is Where? (10:07)
5. The Day is Done (9:05)
6. This Bird Has Flown (3:02)
Hammill / vocals, composer
Samuel Hällkvist / guitar
Karin Nakagawa / koto, voice
Mats Johansson / synths (ARP 2600, MiniMoog, Moog Sub 37, Nord Lead A1, Roland RS202, Sequential Circuits Pro One, Yamaha CS80, Kurzweil 2600, Oberheim Xpander), Mellotron, piano, e-piano, treatments, composer & producer
Katrine Amsler / keyboards, electronics
Luca Calabrese / trumpet (1-4)
Liesbeth Lambrecht / violin (2,3), viola (2,4)
Axel Croné / bass, bass clarinet, tenor sax, guitar, synth, grand piano, clavinet, percussion
Kjell Severinsson / drums & percussion
Klas Assarsson / marimba, vibes, tam tam, gong, glockenspiel, octobans
John Anderberg / backing vocals (1,6)
Adam Sass / trumpet (1)
Zhazira Ukeyeva / violin (2,4)
Mette Gerdle / violin (6)
Xerxes Andrén / drums & percussion
Pat Mastelotto / e-drums & percussion (3)
Ataraxia - ATX3LP (2019, Sweden)
CD Ataraxia - ATX6CD (2019, Sweden)
Release date: 10th May 2019