Anekdoten, 16th October 1999
Vinalmont, Belgium

By Mark Robotham


Anekdoten

Only Anekdoten, of all bands, could have selected a venue in a dark, back-of -beyond Belgian village called Vinalmont with a huge, raised cemetery opposite.... in fact, I'm far from convinced that they don't make a mandatory requirement for their chosen venues....

For the uninitiated, these four Swedes hit the prog scene in 1993 with the excellent, if heavily 'Red' period King Crimson influenced 'Vemod'.
Mellotron-heavy and with a guitarist as adept in tortuous tritones as Robert Fripp himself, they were always going to be a band to watch. To my knowledge, they have still not played a gig in the UK - and after 1995's magnificent and far more diverse 'Nucleus', I was always going to be prepared to travel quite some distance to see them as soon as the opportunity presented itself.

There's a darkness and a majesty in their music that's really quite scary. Certainly not for the neo-prog acolyte. Steve Anderson (Sphere. ex GLD) and I approached the gig with something approaching reverence....

From the opening, it became clear that this was not going to be quite the gig I expected. Rather than a sonic assault, they were quieter than I had expected and also created a brooding, dreamy yet eerily menacing atmosphere. Particularly in the new material, Mellotron predominates heavily and the sound is more textural than guitar-led or solo based. I was reminded as much of early Pink Floyd as of Crimson or the Van Der Graaf Generator influence clearly audible in the meshing backdrops of 'Nucleus'. But very much, they've now clearly marked out their own sound...

Much maligned for their vocals in the early days, Jan-Erik Liljestrom (bass, with serious attitude - more a growl than a rumble...) has deferred most of the vocal duties to Nicklas Berg (guitar) on the newer material. It matters little - their voices are remarkably similar and in both cases can fluctuate violently away from key in places. Given that they weren't exactly featured in the mix anyway, it mattered little, and frankly I find the inaccuracies add to, rather than detract from, Anekdoten's uncanny musical maelstrom!

Peter Nordins, take it from me, is the consummate drummer. Given a tiny four drum kit and a forest of cymbals, his inventiveness and pure feel for the music are a joy to behold.

And those in the know want to ask me about Anna-Sofi Dahlberg? (mellotron, cello). Can I just check there are no women reading this? No, there can't be - this is a prog web page....

Firstly, given the Mellotron-heavy (a real one, of course) nightmarescapes of the newer songs, she has the strongest influence in defining their current sound. No bit-part playing female here. Probably only seated behind her cello for 20% of the gig - an instrument that I imagine is extremely hard to project in a live setting anyway - her keyboard work is now fundamental to the band.

Secondly - none of the artsy photos on the bands' albums do any justice to her. She's utterly gorgeous, and I think I'm in love! OK, so I know it's got nothing to do with the music, but really.... you were gonna ask...

Ah, enough of that.... what did they play? A fair mix across the three albums. From 'Vemod' - 'Karelia', 'The Old Man And The Sea' (complete with its guitar solo that any 73/74 Crimson aficionado would die for...) and 'Wheel' as a quite devastating encore which I experienced from where I wish I'd been the whole gig - crammed at the front of the ~200 strong crowd in a relatively small hall. They were joined for this one song by the sax player from the American band Finneus Gauge, and the power and energy of the whole experience was breathtaking. Standing within touching distance of Anna-Sofi's bow (now, now!), it was so uplifting to look across the stage at Nicklas Berg's gleeful eyes, for once at the Mellotron. This band MEAN it, and they so clearly believe in their music. A salutary lesson for those who support the endless dreary wave of tribute bands, for whom by definition the music cannot possibly have come from the heart?

'Wheel' was greeted by an ovation that can't have been short of ten minutes, despite the band having made it abundantly clear beforehand that it would be their final song. There was a feeling of having witnessed something very special indeed.

Anyway, from their second and strongest album 'Nucleus' - the title track, 'Harvest', and the amazing 'Book Of Hours' (which features a guitar line in 9 over a rhythm in 13, the most beautiful Mellotron line I've ever heard aside from Crimson's 'Starless', and possibly the most gut-crunching metal riff I've ever heard - all in one song!). No room unfortunately, either tonight or on their excellent Live In Japan double CD, for the superb 'This Far From The Sky'....

The new album 'From Within' - with a sleeve as bleak as Spinal Tap's 'Smell The Glove' aside from something unidentifiable and probably extremely nasty on the front - was only days old at this gig, where I purchased it, so I was unfamiliar with the new material aside from 'Groundbound' and 'Slow Fire' - two of the best tracks tonight. The gloriously atonal middle guitar section of 'Groundbound' is really the only thing on the new album which harks strongly back to the overtly Crimson influenced early material. I also recall them playing on hearing the album - the title track, the dreamy if maybe slightly protracted 'Hole', and 'The Sun Absolute'.

My initial thoughts on the new album are, as I've already indicated, its dreamy yet still malevolent nature, its far greater reliance on Mellotron to set the tone rather than guitar, and its tendency to revel far less in sheer sonic attack than the brilliant 'Nucleus'. I like it - but it's their least immediate album yet.

In summary - I may as well book my NEARfest ticket now, I can't wait to see them again next year! Worth every mile of a ~700 mile round trip - and I think we were the only Brits there....

As we left and viewed the churchyard again - and I'm sure that there were more gravestones when we left than when we arrived - I commented to Steve that Sweden is renowned for having the highest per capita suicide rate of any country on earth. Steve replied 'yeah, but those guys have found an entirely different way of letting it all out....'

Compulsive listening for those who believe progressive rock can still be truly progressive. And for the neoheads - live a little and take some chances?

 

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1999 DPRP