Sometimes, I’m not always on board with a band’s output, even if the debut really impressed me. Such was the case with Sweden’s Hidden Lands. Their debut, called “In Our Nature”, was one of my favorite albums of 2012, but I wasn’t totally on board with their 2014 follow-up, called “Lycksalighetens ö”, though today I recognize its genius. I’m happy to say that their third album “Halcyon”, which released in February 2017, is a perfect balance between their two previous albums, and I’m quite enjoying it.
The band consists of Bruno Edling on vocals, Hannes Ljunghall on keyboards and guitars, Philipp Bastin on bass, and Gustav Nyberg on drums. Bruno and Hannes you may recognize from prog band Violent Silence. Anyways, the band plays a synth-soaked style of modern prog that is reminiscent of neo-prog. So, we get synth washes and solos, funky bass and drums, and a style of melody that is quite quirky. In a nutshell, Hidden Lands truly is a journey to strange places and lost times. If prog rock were wizards, Hidden Lands would be Radagast the Brown; a slightly off band with real heart, peculiar tones, and balls when they need them.
Concerning their previous output, the first album was incredibly whimsical and funkily delicious. I wasn’t as much a fan of the second album just because they lost that whimsy a little bit in favor of a more serious prog rock approach, but I felt they lost their primary strength along the way. This third offering gets the balance right, featuring plenty of seriously proggy moments (“Water Spirit”) and whimsy (“Songbirds”), but also the humor and quirkiness I was seeking (“The Prince of Goofs”). They also throw in a little madness this time, especially on tracks like “Ulleråker”. Additionally, I feel this album seems to have more “soul” than their previous releases.
Balance is the real key to this whole album, and you will find that in spades in the performances here. As much as I love their debut album, it had perhaps too much in the way of keys, if I’m being honest with myself. Hannes, handling both keys and guitars, has achieved this balance by increasing the guitars and really saving the keys for special moments. I did notice the increase in emotional guitars here, but his keys are as vibrant and eccentric as ever. Philipp’s bass is one of my favorite performances so far this year, as I kinda expected. His bass always feels like he’s taking us on this fantastic voyage of tone and melody. Yes, his bass comes across as melodic, which is pretty rare. I also love the pairing with Gustav’s drums here, as the rhythms they produce are pretty unique to this band and album.
Bruno’s voice is definitely something that takes time to accept. He has a very unusual tone to his voice that I’ve seen brutalized in past reviews, and I really think that he doesn’t deserve it at all. I rather like his voice, as he produces melodies that make sense to me, and his vocal lines are definitely not something you will hear elsewhere. The man has a voice that fits the music like a glove, down to their chosen synth tone, even.
My favorite songs on the album are definitely “The Prince of Goofs” with its humor and longer structure, “Water Spirit” for being surreal and so interesting to experience, “Songbirds” for being pure and beautiful, and “Rooftop Farewell” for being heartfelt and gorgeous. The album really does start with more quirkiness and keys, but it transitions to a gentler, more melodic style in the last half. I didn’t think I would be so taken with the last half of the album because of this, but these songs are more and more gaining my attention, despite the seemingly less colorful personality.
So, “Halcyon” is probably the best Hidden Lands album thus far, and I’m really enjoying it. It combines the colorful personality of the debut with the more serious prog leanings on the second album to great effect, with an added dash of soul and madness. The band has really done such a good job crafting an eccentric and interesting album that I feel needs more attention.