In 2012, after a five year hiatus Sweden's prolific progressive rock group The Flower Kings returned to the music scene with "Banks Of Eden", their 11th and possibly best new studio album since "Stardust We Are". It's a prog/rock monster complete with all the bells and whistles you've come to expect from the Flower Kings and much more. The rejuvenated artists are at the top of their form with this impressive collection of tunes, including the prerequisite 25 minute Flower King epic (which actually goes by much quicker than you might expect), and four medium length 6 and 7 minutes tracks. If you're an ardent admirer of the band this is a welcome homecoming, highlighted by virtuoso performances and an energetic collection of adventurous hard-edged and slightly darker compositions. Fans should be quite enthusiastic with the album from beginning to end. Each track is tightly constructed, devoid of self indulgent noodling and endless improvisation. No filler or weak spots. At 55 minutes it's possibly one of the shortest single disc albums from The Flower Kings, and leaves you wanting more. Even the four bonus tracks on the 2-CD Special Edition are polished and hook laden winners, avoiding the pratfalls associated with most 'so called' bonus tracks which tend to be weak throw-aways rejects.
For the discontent naysayers who charge the band with perpetual stagnation, "Banks Of Eden" will simply fan the flames of discontent. This is unquestionably a FLOWER KINGS album. Don't expect them to sound like someone they're not. By now you either appreciate their style and body of work - or you've dismissed them altogether. And no amount of praising or condemnation on my part will alter your opinion.
Roine Stolt and Company have been providing progressive rock fans with their own unique style of easily identifiable music - and lots of it. If you factor in Stolt's 1994 solo album "The Flower King", which could easily be considered part of the band's discography, The Flower Kings have produced nearly 20 hours of music on 12 studio albums, which includes four double-albums ("Stardust We Are", "Flower Power", "Unfold The Future", and "Paradox Hotel"); and six of their single disc recordings were released simultaneously as limited edition two-disc sets with additional bonus tracks ("Space Revolver" - 5 bonus tracks, "The Rainmaker" - 6 bonus tracks, "Adam And Eve" - 9 bonus tracks, "Sum Of No Evil" - 3 bonus tracks, "Banks Of Eden" - 4 bonus tracks).
That's a lot of music from Stolt's and Company, and it's just a tip of the iceberg when you factor in Solt's six solo albums and multiple side projects. When he's not leading The Flower Kings on a new musical sojourn he is recording with off-shoot bands like "Kaipa" (5 albums). Tangent (3 albums). Transatlantic (9 albums), Angels Of Mercy (3 albums); Circus Brimstone (1 album), 3rd. World Electric (1 album), and 3 stints with Karmacanic. He is also in high demand as a guest musician on a number of projects including most recently Steve Hacketts "Genesis Revisited II". And that's just the musical discography of Roine Stolt. The other members of The Flower Kings are almost as busy with side and solo projects of their own. It's truly mind-boggling the body of work these guys have collectively amassed in 14 years.
The Flower Kings have a new face behind the drum kit, as 26 year old German prodigy Felix Lehrmann replaces the on again off again master percussionist Zoltan Csorcz; but the core members: Roine Stolt (guitars, Minimoog Voyager), Hasse Froberg (guitars), Tomas Bodin (keyboards), and Jonas Reingold (bass) are back and highly energized.
The Flower Kings have a new face behind the drum kit, as 26 year old German prodigy Felix Lehrmann replaces the on again off again master percussionist Zoltan Csorcz; but the core members: Roine Stolt (guitars, Minimoog Voyager), Hasse Froberg (guitars), Tomas Bodin (keyboards), and Jonas Reingold (bass) are back and highly energized. The new drummer makes immediate impact right out of the starting gate in the opening moments of the epic track "Numbers". The guy is a powerhouse drummer.
In an attempt to re-capture the warm vinyl sound of the classic analog recording by bands like Queen, Genesis, Zeppelin and Deep Purple the band recorded "Banks Of Eden" by playing live in one room in Varispeed Studio using a variety of vintage 60s' and 70s' recording equipment. A brief tour of the studio and equipment used is included on the supplemental bonus disc.
The album is released as a Jewel-case standard single disc, a Digibook 2 CD special edition, or vinyl gate-fold two LP and two CD collection. The special two-disc CD edition includes an additional four bonus tracks ranging in length from 4:40 to 6:20 - as well as an interview with the band in their recording studio.
A short observation on the interview segment. The interview was conducted by Per Nordin, a long-time acquaintance and photographer for the band; but the tone and tenure of his questions came across as rude and adversarial with questions like: "The new album ... is it just more of the same?" ... "Is The Flower Kings and symph/rock music for today? Isn't it just nostalgia for old farts?" ... "Is this progressive music ... really?" ... "If you can centralize everything in 8 bars, why these gigantuan pieces? Why not just leave 8 bars?"
I give them credit. They endured the grilling with more dignity and self control than I could ever muster in a similar situation. And after watching the interview all I could do was shake my head in disgust and think ... and this was an interview conducted by a friend!
"Banks Of Eden" is highly recommended - and quite possibly one of The Flower King's best recording. That little 5 year break did them a world of good.
Reviewed by Joseph Shingler on February 7th, 2013