Review Summary: Airbag find their identity and produce some of the best progressive music of 2013.
Pink Floyd. Everyone's heard of them, and every self-respecting music lover's listened to Dark Side of the Moon at least once. The breadth of their influence is immense and the number of bands that take after them are endless, but every so often one emerges at the top of the pile as something striking and distinguished - and here we have Airbag.
While their previous effort All Rights Removed
had moments that could have been outtakes from Wish You Were Here
, it managed to enchant with near-flawless musicianship and some truly breathtaking moments such as violin-led interlude "Light Them All Up" and the mostly instrumental 17-minute "Homesick" but left the band with nowhere else to go other than changing their sound or spending their career producing the same album over and over.
Luckily then, The Greatest Show on Earth
sees them developing a much more varied and distinct sound.
Airbag are masters of atmosphere, "Redemption" and the title track developing a concept that the CD sleeve hints at and press release describes as "the individual and its growing feeling of alienation and distrust in society and the established authorities" with swirling keyboards and low basslines, as well as Asle Tostrup's melancholic vocals creating the feeling of frustration and despair in an even more refined way than their previous effort.
The former track in particular smells of Porcupine Tree
, featuring harder-edged riffs than they have attempted before, but this does not simply mean Airbag have moved from imitating one band to another, as "Silence Grows", easily one of the most astounding progressive songs of the proves.
Its second half crescendos in a hugely powerful way, Bjørn Riis' always impressive soloing leading the music in a way that pours with emotion and easily stands up to the best tracks the band, and their influences, have produced before. Uncle Gilmour should be proud.
Strangely, the longest two songs are where they stumble, completely contrasting their earlier work. It's clear that if he really wanted to, Riis could keep soloing for as long as his fingers remained attached to his hands which turns out to be a bad thing in "Call Me Back", where you can't help but feel he's exhausting your capacity to weep to the beauty of his music. It's not self-indulgence but simply that the band hasn't yet found a way to write a song that carries its length (Call Me Back is 11 minutes long) without resorting to another
solo; some stand-out moments from the rhythm section would certainly be nice.
The 17 minute closer experiences the same problem to a lesser extent, and also with a bizarre and completely out of place metal riff that emerges out of nowhere halfway through, showing there's been some growing pains.
I'm not at all trying to say these two are bad songs - to the casual listener, there's a lot of atmosphere and thrill to be found. With The Greatest Show On Earth, Airbag have merely tired out the extended crescendoing-solo formula and made room for further variation from their already newfound triumphs to help them reach that looming magnum opus and seat as one of prog's modern heroes.