I think that a lot of progressive rock lovers were waiting for A Storm Is Coming. In 2018 it was clear that Bjørn Riis was working on his fourth solo album, so the waiting started. His former albums, two full albums and one EP, are a high class standard in the genre. Critics were exceptionally positive and even lyrical. I belong also to this group, so my personal expectations were therefore high.
Actually Bjørn Riis doesn't need much introduction. Most people who are familiar with the progressive rock genre, know that he is the co-founder, songwriter and lead guitarist of the Norwegian band Airbag. Airbag developed itself in approximate 10 years to a leading band in the genre. Often reviewers and fans made comparisons with Pink Floyd and his guitar style with David Gilmour. I will come back on this theme later in this review.
Bjørn Riis is a master in “do it yourself”. When you look at the credits and line up, this thesis is confirmed. Bjørn Riis is responsible for vocals, guitars and a wide variety of instruments. The album features “only” the following musicians: Henrik Bergen Fossum of Airbag on drums, Simen Valldal Johannessen of OAK on keyboards, Ole Michael Bjørndal on guitar and Mimmi Tamba on guest vocals. The album is mixed by Vegard Kleftas Sleipnes and mastered by Jacob Holm-Lupo.
The bio which accompanied the album is very clear of what we can expect. “A Storm Is Coming is both heavier and more tender then the previous releases and Bjørn Riis manages to majestically combine art of rock, prog and atmospheric pop, resulting in his best album to date”. This are firm statements, and I like that. It breaths out something like “believe in yourself”. The album has a concept themes of human relations and loss. It's obvious that when you like optimistic- and some sort of happy progressive rock, this album will be a disappointment.
When Rain Falls, the 10 minute opening track of the album, starts with soft ambient soundscapes and rain on the background. After 2 minutes a very lingering dark guitar takes over. The lingering guitar reminds me slightly of the early Black Sabbath. On this lingering dark guitar layer Bjørn Riis lays subtle-, sharp guitar solo. When you think that you have had all the surprises you are completely wrong. Through a soft jazzy intermezzo the song develops into a more or less familiar Riis song. The vocals are typical Riis, so don't expect surprises in this area. It obvious that the song ends with another phenomenal guitar solo. The colors of his guitar sound and his style have parallels with David Gilmour of course. Deliberately I choose the word “parallels”. This because of the fact that Riis is not a clone of Gilmour. On the contrary, I say firmly. Bjørn Riis has also held his own identity.
Icarus is a typical Bjørn Riis track. With regard to tempo it's rather lingering and the atmosphere is slightly dark. Icarus, a well-known figure from the Greek mythology. Icarus flew to close to the sun with wings impregnated with wax. Icarus was reckless and crashed. Bjørn Riis sings a story of someone who will do anything to save his relation. In the end he reached to the sun, comes too close and crashed. I like the metaphor.
On You And Me the theme of relationships continues. The song starts incredibly tragic. Even the vocals are almost pulling the tears out of my eyes. At the end of the song I was waiting for an explosive guitar solo. But Bjørn Riis decided not to do so. This song is completely in balance, a tragic balance.
The Magnus Opus of the album is the 14 minute song Stormwatch. The tragic atmosphere from You And Me continues in this epic track. Mimmi Tamba is doing the “backing vocals” on this song. Because of the fact that her vocals are brought to the foreground, you can't speak of real backing vocals. The vocals, combined with those of Riis, are bringing extra tension in this exceptionally beautiful song.
The song suddenly shifts into some more heavy dark atmosphere. In a short intermezzo Riis shakes the tree and put some more aggressive- and distorted guitars in. This brings the song to the epic end. The end contains one of the best guitar solos Riis ever produced in my opinion. I am sure many will compare it with David Gilmour. But I dare to say that Riis is “better”. With this statement I am not intending to insult David Gilmour. I am the last on earth who will ever do that. But I think that Bjørn Riis continues where David Gilmour stopped. Of course you here the influences, but I am convinced that Bjørn Riis made his own sound.
On This House the atmosphere is once more rather tragic. The song is also low tempo and has a lingering guitar solo in it. It perfectly fits on this album.
The album ends as it starts, namely with dark soundscapes and samples of rain and thunder. The Epilogue completes the circle of this album.
Is A Storm Is Coming the best album of Bjørn Riis? After a couple rounds of listening I say “yes”. It is definitively his best. Of course I have arguments for this. The most important one is the fact that he has succeeded in developing his music. I think that the heavy guitar parts on this album accentuate the dark atmospheres. Furthermore, he decided to make an album that is not crammed with guitar solos. He choose to do it differently. In my opinion he gave this album much more atmosphere. But as I always say, this is my humble opinion.
At the end there is one thing I have to do: to give this album 5 stars. I think that almost every progressive rock lover can buy this album.
***** Aad Bannink (edited by Tracy van Os van den Abeelen)
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