Here we have a new Norwegian group that I hadn't heard of before. Shame on me because they are from the same (greater) area where I work and live. But then, Norway is a large country...
Gentle Knife has no less than ten members: Astraea Antal (flute, visuals and visions), Pål Bjørseth (keyboards, vocals, trumpet), Odd Grønvold (bass), Thomas Hylland Eriksen (saxophones), Håkon Kavli (vocals, acoustic guitars), Eivind Lorentzen (guitars, synthesizers), Ove Christian Owe (guitars), Melina Oz (vocals), Ole Martin Svendsen (drums, percussion) and Brian M. Talgo who is responsible for samples, words, visuals and visions (and published a novel, The Beauregarde Affair, in 2011). The band's self-titled debut album is a concept, built as an eight-part suite that tells the tale of an adventurer's unfortunate demise in an alluring forest.
Right from the start we are treated to a vintage sound that is very Scandinavian and bears clear influences from mid-1970s King Crimson and Yes. Piano and Mellotron contribute heavily to the sound of the 10 minute opener Eventide. We are also treated to good male and female lead vocals and there are horns in the background that make the band's sound rather original in comparison to most other bands. The drums could maybe be a bit more fluently and it's a shame that the trumpet is a bit 'back' in the mix. The CD continues with Our Quiet Footsteps that lasts over 12 and a half minutes and is the first true highlight on this disc. Not that the first track was bad or anything... Our Quiet Footsteps starts most promisingly with chopped rhythms, tense guitars/horns and triumphant keyboards. What a cool opening! Crimson and Van der Graaf Generator fans will drool over this! The female vocals remind of White Willow but are not exactly as clear. But then, any reference to White Willow is positive in my book! The piece brings extremely cool old fashioned prog with duels between organ and vintage keys and guitars - supported by other instruments, obviously. Take special note of the freewheeling wind instruments over the Fripp-ian guitar. And while I was a bit critical about the drums on the first track, I have to praise them now because they are very flexible and hit exactly as and when they should. After this highlight (a must listen for sure!) the songs get a bit shorter. First up is the melancholic ballad Remnants Of Pride that shines with an extremely fine duet between Håkon and Melina. Tear Away The Cords That Bind show that Gentle Knife also manages to do compact yet complex pieces that show the full spectrum of their abilities with quirky horns and Melina in an aggressive Kate Bush mode that suits her very, very well.
Beneath The Warning Moon starts with Mellotron and is led by a fabulous soaring guitar over pearly keys. This is an all-instrumental track that is definitely all too short. It is followed by the album's title track that is opened by Melina's vocals and reminds once more strongly of White Willow. After a rather light and folky-influenced first half we launch into a dark and dramatic part with soaring guitar, low horns and a flashy synth solo. For the closing section the band then returns to the gentle theme from the beginning. At the end of the album we find another of the longer pieces. The 8 minute all-instrumental Epilogue: Locus Amoenus seems to explore electronic music with a pulsating synth and soaring guitar (or is that also a synthesizer?). I'm a tiny bit reminded of “Shine on...”-like Floyd. Then acoustic guitar emerges and other instruments chip in, among which sax and flute. The sax again reminds of Floyd, somehow. The Epilogue isn't the final piece, by the way. The album is closed by another instrumental, Coda: Impetus, that once more brings us in the realms of the Crimson King with its Fripp-inspired guitar. Jazzy saxophone dominates the ending bit until blistering guitar and a Starless-like bass pattern and all around jamming lead into the climax.
Have to play it once more now! And again after that. One of this year's discoveries for me!
**** Carsten Busch (edited by Astrid de Ronde)
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