Review Summary: Not straying too far from their comfort zone, Beardfish successfully explores the alternative rock genre in their own unique way.
What are the boundaries of Beardfish’s comfort zone" And does the band dare to step outside these imaginary lines"
The somewhat awkward title of their latest release “+4626 Comfortzone”, raises these questions, especially since 2012’s critically acclaimed “The Void” was somewhat of a sidestep in the band’s discography, with it’s hard rocking approach and balanced aesthetic.
The animated cover art makes one suspect a return to their former sound and listening to the album this indeed is largely the case. Luckily the hideous cover art does not reflect the music on the album which is daunting and exceptional as always.
The album revolves around the central theme of feeling like a prisoner in your hometown, being forced into mediocrity by the people around you and not being able to break free from this. The album title actually is the area code of Beardfish’s hometown in Norway so there’s an autobiographical aspect to the album’s concept. Lyrically however, the concept is approached with a certain sarcasm making the negative emotional content easier to digest as a listener. Furthermore, the sound of the album is more uplifting and accessible than before resulting in an album that sometimes feels a bit disjointed from the central concept.
The basic musical theme of the album is delivered in three different songs; “The One Inside” part 1 is a short, instrumental version of the theme with a string ensemble playing the theme melody. Part 2 is a beautifully restraint, mainly acoustic pop-rock song, something quite out of the ordinary for Beardfish. A great opportunity for singer Sjoblom to also display his vocal qualities in the lower registers. Part 3 is an amazing emotional rock song and a fine ending to the album. Parts 1 and 3 serving as bookends for the rest of the songs is a wise decision; on previous records the band always struggled to give their releases a proper “album” feel. This is nicely taken care of here.
Besides displaying a more structured approach to the album format, the band also deliver some of the finest songs of their career. The title track is the ideal combination of beautiful melodies, virtuoso musicianship and emotional song writing and an example of what years of writing experience can boil down to; no over the top soloing or overly long or difficult song structures. Just the prog-rock essentials mixed in a brilliant song and executed in a solid, confident way. “Hold On” is another example of this.
The musical palette is diverse as ever on ““+4626 Comfortzone” but the pop-rock influence is more apparent here than on previous albums. “Can You See Me Now” is reminiscent of the early ‘90s band “Jellyfish” and even sounds a bit like “Queen”. “The One Inside part 3” with it’s grungy sound is also a foray into new territory for the band, think “Mother Lover Bone” or “Temple Of The Dog”. It’s a simple yet beautiful and emotional song.
The typical ‘70s prog sound however, is never far away and the exquisite vintage organs sound better and more detailed than ever. The quintessential 15 minute magnum opus “If We Must Be Apart” is a great example of this.
Unfortunately, there’s also couple of less interesting songs. “King” and “Daughter / Whore” are two of the heaviest songs of the album and feel like they’re leftovers from “The Void”. They lack any memorable melodies or hooks. “Ode To The Rock ‘N’ Roller” is a charming rocker but with it’s tongue in cheek lyrics and cabaratesque musical quirks it feels out of place on this album.
In the end Beardfish doesn’t stray very far from their own comfort zone musically but there does seem to be a tendency towards a more song orientated style.
Only truly great bands progress through time and create a “raison d’etre” by doing so. Beardfish seems to slowly move away from the Zappa-esque, ‘70’s prog towards a more straightforward and serious alternative rock style, with successful examples being “The One Inside” parts 2 and 3, “Can You See Me Now” and “Comfort Zone”.
The ability to write beautiful music and deliver it in an interesting and convincing way has always been very apparent with this band, so exploring a more mainstream style could lead to more commercial success.
And that, they would deserve!