Änglagård. Despite my efforts to keep my prog box shut with the Jellyfish project, its top was blown off by the release of Rush’s Clockwork Angels and Astra’s The Black Chord earlier this year. Once I caught wind of Viljans Öga, I became determined to purchase a legit copy, hopefully from as close to the band as possible. Unsurprisingly, however, getting a hold of a new release by this incredible but relatively obscure Swedish band involved a little more diligence than a simple trip to the local record store. I lurked and lurked on their site, and when the CD release was announced, I placed my order immediately ….and waited.
It took over three weeks for Viljans Öga to travel halfway around the world to my mailbox in Texas. In the meantime, my eager anticipation was tempered by the nagging fear that, after reforming nearly two decades since their last album, and without founding member Tord Lindman, Änglagård might have somehow watered down the distinctive approach to that put their albums so many “prog classics” lists.
It was quite common for progressive bands in the 90s and early 00s to innovate simply by becoming heavier and more metallic, but one of Änglagård’s many strengths was their ability to keep the classic sounds of 70s progressive rock vital and fresh without nostalgically aping the styles of yesteryear. I hoped that Viljans Öga would be the next chapter in Änglagård’s career, and not a whole new story.
Finally, a package showed up in my mailbox with all variety of customs stamps in unintelligible languages, and I quickly discovered that my apprehensions were unfounded. Änglagård retains their characteristically explosive, complex, and somewhat gothic brand of progressive rock. Viljans Öga is a comprised of four long, linear instrumentals that, at first listen, don’t seem to follow normal structural logic. Superficially, they appear to be unified by a melodic stream-of-consciousness that is driven by an instinctive understanding of the nuance needed to travel through a wide array of styles and dynamic extremes with ease and grace.
Repeated listens, however, reveal the subtle melodic structures that undergird their songs with a sense of cohesion, which, considering the breadth and depth of what they are doing, ensures that their work never spirals out of conceptual control. Often, it is the role of the vocalist to help hold things together, and although Lindman did contribute some vocals on their debut, Änglagård is better known for their instrumental aspects. In his stead, the impressive flute playing of Anna Holmgren takes center stage. This, along with classic Rickenbacker bass, mellotron, and Hammond organ sounds, makes Viljans Öga seem like an aggressive but respectful reinvention of every instrumental break that Genesis ever produced.
(I'm not super-pleased with the sound quality of this clip, but it does show the current band playing a track from Viljans Öga. I've included the studio version below for sake of reference)
Änglagård was, and is, important to the progressive rock community because they successfully tread that fine line between progress and continuity. On the one hand, Viljans Öga doesn’t sound like a rehash of the work that made them progressive rock innovators, but it is a logical step forward by the same band. It was certainly well worth the wait. In a larger sense, however, Änglagård clearly have a predilection towards the sounds of classic prog that aligns them with tastes of even the fussiest prog fan, but their multifaceted and virtuosic compositions are distinctively novel.