Review Summary: A great contribution to the band’s catalog that leaves room in the future for them to continue down the path they have carved in progressive rock music.
The Flower Kings began as a solo project created in 1993 by former Kaipa guitarist Roine Stolt. Since their beginning, the band has released a multitude of albums that harken back to the glory days of symphonic progressive rock giants such as Yes, King Crimson, Genesis and Pink Floyd. The musical palette of the band is bright and whimsical with a strong sense of scope for modern epics rivaled only by a few in the genre. With their most recent 15th album By Royal Decree they have turned a corner in favor of shorter songs, a choice which comes at the certain expense of the depth and breadth offered in previous releases.
Revitalized by the warm critical reception to their previous double album Islands, the band’s sights are set on a repeat endeavor of similarly structured tracks that adhere to their core sound, and expand upon their strengths perhaps like no other album in their discography has done before. The band is focused and energized on this release, the whimsical beauty has returned in spades and the strongest elements of their songwriting have been refined and developed into short bursts of genius framed in a sequence that is both easy to follow, and digest.
The musicianship displayed on this release is similar in delivery to previous releases in the band’s discography, in that it is performed extremely well, yet not wholly original. There are few surprises to be discovered in this release when compared sonically to all other output The Flower Kings have released in recent memory, but perhaps that is the charm. At this stage in their careers the band has proven itself time and time again to be consistent composers of grand masterpieces such as The Truth Will Set You Free (Unfold the Future, released 2002), and Stardust We Are (released 1997). The lack of a grand epic on this sprawling double album may come as a disappointment to some, but what this album lacks in inflated track lengths, it makes up for with some of the strongest songwriting this band has ever produced.
Tracks such as the lead single Revolution tears through its runtime with cartoon keys and focused melodies that bend and soar above the familiar timbre of frontman Roine Stolts voice. The drums are tight to the core of the song and the snare rolls throughout the verses add a sense of wonder and urgency to the warbling synths and symphonic backdrops. The textures are lush and full yet the band does a wonderful job toeing the line between the perfect arrangement and the pompousness of overproduction.
A Million Stars calls to mind the yesteryears of Yes’ And You and I (Close to the Edge 1972) with its abundance of strummed guitars and chiming keys weaving their way between lyrics touching upon the nature of wonder in this universe. The song breaks through to a melodic touchstone solo delivered by Roine that twists and turns through the length of the bridge before the chorus returns in all of its grandeur, an album highlight to say the least.
The familiarity and charm of the music wears a bit thin as the runtime of the album reaches its final third. Filler becomes apparent during certain portions of the less refined tracks embedded at the back of the album and the predictable delivery of sounds and structures can be grating at times once an idea fails to land at its intended mark. Should the band have opted for this release to be a single album instead? Perhaps, but the cutting room floor would be littered with segments of each track rather than the full removal of songs entirely in order to make that notion a possibility. At a certain point one starts to wonder if each idea is necessary to the whole, a fault in a number of this band’s releases over the years that are largely forgiven due in part to the high points of their catalog overshadowing the lows.
All things considered, this is a great contribution to the band’s catalog and leaves room in the future for them to continue down the path they have carved without them fizzling out or resting on the laurels of the masterwork that has been consistently doled out by The Flower Kings throughout their tenure in the realm of progressive rock music.