Tuesday, September 4, 2012

"Hybris:" Making Amends with Änglagård

In the 70s, progressive rock was almost popular, but by the 80s it collapsed under its own weight.  In the rubble, the vigilant fans of Marillion and other neo-prog bands kept the style alive, but by the early 90s, prog had become aggressively marginalized by the mainstream media. To be labeled a prog band in the United States was dreadfully unhip, and as a result, bands wishing to “make it” kept their odd time signatures and instrumental passages to themselves or faced the threat of obscurity. Despite this cultural climate, there were still progressive bands out there (particularly overseas) that connected with a relatively small, dedicated audience through word-of-mouth and fanzines, and this scene had its own classic albums that kept progressive rock alive. Swedish band Änglagård bore torch for this era, and the band’s 1991 release Hybris is, for the serious prog fan, a classic.

For the early 90s progressive rock scene, there was virtually no hope for radio airplay, so writing a “crossover hit” like Roundabout, Turn it On Again, or even Kayliegh, was futile.  As a result, the prog from this era was written for a relatively insular and discerning audience, and, like Hybris, it was often unapologetic and demanding. The album is mostly instrumental, and the few lyrics it does contain are exclusively in Swedish. Its somewhat gothic undertones ground a dynamic and angularly explosive reinterpretation of early Genesis and 70s King Crimson.

When Hybris was released, prog’s popularity had dimmed to a flicker, but by the decade’s end, it was reignited via the internet. New conduits of information brought older, less visible bands from prog’s heyday to light, and revealed that the reports of prog’s death were greatly exaggerated. This is where I found out about Änglagård, which was the good news. The bad news was that despite the significance of Hybris, it was out of print and had been for some time.

Here’s where I hang my head in shame. This was also during the time of Napster. Now, I considered myself was one of those “principled” file sharers. My small download library was little more than a research venue for my upcoming CD purchases, which skyrocketed due to my adoration of the album as a format. I never downloaded an entire album by any band – with one exception, that being Hybris. After all, it was impossible to get. When I found used copies, the price was exorbitant, and Änglagård wouldn’t get their cut from me purchasing a used album, anyhow.

Or at least, that was my justification.

Additionally, I was living in the country at the time and using dial-up internet that I was ganking from a friend's start-up company. The signal was hardly reliable, and downloading an acceptable version of Änglagård’s long-form songs was frustratingly difficult. It became my white whale. I would often set file up before bedtime and tie up the phone line all night long as I slept. It took me months to reconstruct the four tracks that make up Hybris. Finally, I had a version with no bumps or drops, and when I printed off extravagant cover art on high-gloss photo paper, I felt like I had worked harder to get that album than any other in my collection.

Jordrök by Änglagård on Grooveshark

In retrospect, my file sharing practices did not last long. I certainly don’t engage in such morally reprehensible activities these days. Seeing many progressive bands, many of whom are incredibly passionate about their work, quit entirely due to the frustration of releasing music and having it effectively stolen is convincing enough. So, I’d like to make amends. I purchased Änglagård’s upcoming release Viljans Öga (their first since 1994!) directly from their site. Converting from Kroners to dollars was expensive, but in truth, I think I owe it to them.

No comments:

Post a Comment