Karfagen -
Passage To The Forest Of Mysterious / Birds

(2CD, 2023, 58:37/57:19, Caerllysi Music)

The tracks:
  1- Kingfisher And Dragonflies (Part 4)(3:01)
  2- Mysterious Forest (Part 1)
          - World In A Grain of Sand
  3- Mysterious Forest (Part 2) - The Ominous Ride(4:21)
  4- To Those Who Dwell In Realms Of Day(2:18)
  5- Birds Of Passage And The Enchanted Forest(19:02)
  6- Through The Whispers Of The Wind(1:38)
  7- Mysterious Forest (Part 3)
          - World In A Grain Of Sand Reprise
  8- Birds Of Passage And The Enchanted Forest
          (single version)
Bonus CD from 2023 Limited Edition - "Birds":
  1- Birds (Part 1)(22:08)
  2- Birds Piano Intermezzo(1:14)
  3- Birds (Part 2)(7:09)
  4- Birds (Part 3)(18:40)
  5- The Day Is Done (2023 remastered version)(4:48)
  6- Birds Short Introduction(3:20)

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I assume that Karfagen needs little introduction for most readers of Background Magazine. This Ukrainian symphonic prog act is led by multi-instrumentalist Antony Kalugin whom we also know from other bands and projects such as Sunchild (whose new album I also had the pleasure of reviewing), Hoggwash, AKKU and solo albums. I must admit that I have missed out on what Kalugin has done for the past decade, but I do have warm memories of albums such as the 2009 Key To Perception double album.

What I received for review this time is another double album (titled Passage To The Forest Of Mysterious / Birds), even though that only to applies to the limited edition. The first CD Passage To The Forest Of Mysterious is released as a single CD as well.

The album Passage To The Forest Of Mysterious opens with Kingfisher And Dragonflies (Part 4). There are acoustic guitars which remind me a bit of Steve Hackett, then things are quickly drawn into the realm of The Flower Kings which is the most fitting reference for most of the album as is well-illustrated by the instrumental work of both parts of Mysterious Forest.
The fourth piece, To Those Who Dwell In Realms Of Day is the first to offer us vocals. These also remind me heavily of The Flower Kings (vocal-wise) and also somewhat of mid-1970s Genesis thanks to the acoustic guitars.
To stick in the Flower Kings-references, the first section of the super long Birds Of Passage And The Enchanted Forest could be taken right from for example Back In The World Of Adventures. Interestingly enough, however, it doesn't feel like a rip-off at all and more like a really dedicated tribute. Unsure why I feel like that because there is absolutely no originality here. Perhaps because it is so well done. The threatening and somewhat dissonant saxophones in the second half push the music pleasantly in another direction before fusing together and returning to the archetypical FloKi-sound.
There is also a “short” version of Birds Of Passage And The Enchanted Forest on the album, as a kind of bonus. However, I wonder who would consider a 10-minutes piece a single. Well, not in 7” terms, at least, and definitely not in the sense radio would like it. The shortened version concentrates clearly on the Flower Kings-like parts of the track.

The second CD in the set I received is said to be a "Director's Cut" instrumental version of the Birds Of Passage (see review) album from 2020. I don't know the original, so I cannot compare at this moment. What I can comment on, is the stronger classical orientation (and not quite so dominant comparisons to The Flower Kings) of this disc. Especially the frequently appearing flutes add to the classical feeling of this brand of symphonic prog. Also, I might add that the disc is not entirely instrumental. There are some passages where wordless voices are used as kind of an instrument. Also there is a remastered version of the song The Day Is Done present which also brings vocals.

Now, a critical question to ask might be whether the world needs another Flower Kings since we still have the original band around, regularly delivering albums of at least decent quality. Also, I think Karfagen manages to add some accents to the music that we won't find in the work of our Swedish friends. Most important, however, for me personally is that I love the sound and I'd rather listen to this a thousand times than having to deal with yet another derivate from Porcupine Tree, Pineapple Thief, Riverside or Opeth. As such.

****- Carsten Busch (edited by Tracy van Os van den Abeelen)

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