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Wobbler moves towards Yes territory
on May 24, 2011
Rites at Dawn is the brand new release from this retro-prog band from Norway. At least the wait wasn't as long for this release as it was with Afterglow (there was a nearly four year gap between Hinterland and Afterglow). The band brought in a new vocalist, Andreas Prestmo, who I feel is quite a bit easier on the ears. Lars Fredrik Frøisle gives us tons of great Hammond organ, Moog, and Mellotron, and this time around, he acquired himself a Chamberlin M1 and puts it to good use here. That makes this, along with the 1976 debut album by Indiana-based prog rock band Ethos called Ethos (Ardour) (released on Capitol Records, of all things) one of the rare examples of an album that uses both Mellotron and Chamberlin. Apparently the Chamberlin Lars bought (from an American seller) is one, of maybe three Chamberlins on Scandinavian territory (Mattias Olsson of Änglagård fame has a MusicMaster 600, and a Rhythmate at his Roth Händle studios), if not all of Europe (Chamberlins were not sold commercially outside of the United States).
Wobbler creates yet another fantastic album, this time a more melodic approach. Vocals are much more dominate, but emphasizing Yes, Gentle Giant, and even Crosby, Stills & Nash-like vocal harmonies. In fact, Yes is a valid comparisons, but unlike Yes, this group will often shift into minor chords, and while I can't point a finger at it, there's a Nordic vibe in the music (maybe that's no surprise, given they're Norwegian). What you get is more great, creative prog passages, and nothing but analog gear. Lars Fredrik Frøisle completely avoids digital gear like the plague. I can't believe I'm hearing a CD recorded between 2009 and early 2011, because it sounds so genuinely '70s. Play this to some unsuspecting proghead, one who never heard of Wobbler, don't show them the CD or even tell them anything, and they'll swear they're hearing a '70s recording! What's more unbelievable is the band members were born at the end of the '70s/early '80s (I know that Lars Fredrik Frøisle was born in 1981), and they have a full knowledge and love of '70s prog, and successfully created that '70s sound and style!
I really love "La Bealtaine". Here the lyrics have strong Pagan overtones, references to Spring. Beltaine is, after all, a springtime Sabbat. This cut is full of great melodies, you can actually hum some of these, something you wouldn't have been able to do on Hinterland. Many of the other songs often start mellow, with acoustic guitar, and then they get in a more rocking mood. "This Past Presence" features some great classically-influenced piano passages, while "A Faerie's Play" has a more rocking, almost Gentle Giant during their more rocking phase-feel. I notice how the vocals sometimes remind me a little of Jon Anderson, at other times, Derek Shulman. Although a real flute is used on the CD, there are plenty of passages that uses the Chamberlin flute. Both "Lucid" and "Lucid Dreams" are bookends. It seems that "Lucid" is really "Lucid Dreams" played in reverse. "Lucid Dreams" features vibraphone and some rather dreamy keyboard textures, giving a more ambient feel.
While I don't feel the CD cover is much to look at, dig the band photo in the CD booklet! It so much reminds me of the back cover of Jethro Tull's Heavy Horses that I am convinced the band was thinking of that album when that photo was taken. Even one of them was doing that similar pose Ian Anderson was on the back of Heavy Horses.
Another thing worth pointing out, is the length. If you thought Hinterland was overlong, and Afterglow was too short, Rites at Dawn is just right, at 46 minutes. The music never gets a chance to outstay its welcome, and can easily fit on an LP.
Did these guys find a time machine and record this in the '70s? It sure sounds like it. Of course, it wasn't, since time machines don't exist. Regardless, I highly recommend this to fans of old-school symphonic prog!