Due to the f.... coronavirus, 2020, has turned into a disastrous year for the music industry, no gigs, no festivals, no nothing!! Luckily, lots of bands have released more than excellent albums this year - Kansas, Pendragon, Soul Secret, Fates Warning, Magenta, Joe Satriani - and that is at least a small comfort in these utterly horrible times! Now, with Islands, The Flower Kings new album, another awesome prog rock gem has been released, and it is a must album indeed. For frequent visitors of this site it is rather obvious that I am a real Flower Kings aficionado as I truly relish and “love” previous TFK albums such as Flower Power (1999), Banks Of Eden (2012, see review) and Waiting For Miracles (2019, see review).
Islands, being a double album featuring 21 new tracks, is a true prog rock highlight, although some critics and musicians like e.g. Steven Wilson, consider The Flower Kings to be totally retro and “boring”! I utterly beg to differ as Islands really sounds awesome; of course the sound of The Flower Kings is very recognisable and the new album does not have any musical surprises, but the music is so emotional, well composed and extremely well performed that it is a delight to listen to Islands over and over again. Islands is a complex, bold, bombastic, beautiful concept record and the theme of the album is isolation. All the 21 songs relate to themes that weave in and out, comparable to classic concept albums like The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway or Sgt.Pepper! Roine Stolt's prominent, omnipotent guitar playing is amazing as ever and the vocals of Hasse Froberg, the extraordinary drumming of “newcomer” Mirko de Maio and the shimmering keyboard phrases of Zach Kamims are again top notch and spot on. On Islands you will not discover the traditional long Flower Kings epic, as most of the songs do not exceed the five minutes mark, except for Solaris, which clocks just over nine minutes. Islands opens with Racing With Blinders On, which sets the tone for the entire album, being a typically beautiful TFK song, filled with exquisite instrumental parts and truly inventive song writing. Broken will turn out to become a classic TFK track, while the symphonic and orchestral masterpiece Solaris is a delight to listen to via your headphones. CD1 ends with the instrumental Man In A Two Peace Suit. All I Need Is Love showcases the best guitar work of Stolt on this album, meaning overwhelming choppy and bouncy guitar solos galore! In fact, there are too many highlights on this album, the only weird, quirky track being the very short, only 53 seconds, Hidden Angles. This prog rock milestone ends with the amazing title track, an instrumental classic TFK song, with Roine's guitar solos leading the way; what a way to end an album!!
Islands is another highlight in the musical career of The Flower Kings, an album that will surely end up very high in my top 20 of this year. By the way, check out the fantastic cover of the album, designed by no one less than the famous Roger Dean!!
****+ Martien Koolen (edited by Tracy van Os van den Abeelen)
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