Here are some ridiculous things I’ve read about Wobbler.
First, “They’re not symphonic prog. They’re neo-prog.” Frankly, I can’t even believe that’s an intelligent claim that has been uttered, but we are talking about the internet. The wide array of influences, sounds, and complex song structures that Wobbler employ have so much more in common with 60‘s era Italian and Scandinavian prog than 80‘s new-wave, which is far too different to even be in the same sentence. Perhaps they’re not the same brand of modern symphonic prog as The Flower Kings, but they’re certainly closer to that end of the scale than they are to Marillion.
Another frequent comment: “Wobbler are just a YES clone.” Okay. I’ll allow that, during the writing of their first two studio releases, the band wrestled with establishing an identity that was fresh and not merely an homage to the greats (not simply YES, but Crimson and Genesis were frequent touch points as well). However, 2011’s Rites at Dawn and their newest release have firmly established the Wobbler “sound,” which intentionally keeps one foot planted in the eras of influence while stepping boldly into the realms of symphonic prog and post-rock with the other.
One last criticism is that, since their 1999 origin, the band’s vocal work has been subpar. Fair enough, if we’re talking about Hinterland and Afterglow. Although I don’t particularly dislike Johannessen’s work on either of those releases (he admittedly couldn’t land on a consistent singing style), I definitely prefer Andreas W S Prestmo’s, which is comparable to Derek Shulman in terms of timbre, range, and style. With Prestmo having held the lead vocalist role since 2009, this complaint should no longer be a factor – in fact, the vocals and lyrical content on the last two Wobbler releases have been clear strengths. The balladic and often folk-like nature of the band’s writing lends itself to that exploratory, meandering style of singing.
Now that we’re all on the same page… The record.
Released 20 October, From Silence to Somewhere is Wobbler’s fourth studio album, their first to be fronted by Karisma Records. The record continues the band’s delve into the classic, much-sought 1960’s/1970’s progressive rock “sound.” Their vintage style and technical writing both inevitably draw comparisons to Gentle Giant, YES, and Jethro Tull. Since the beginning, the band have not used any midi in the studio for keyboards, utilizing only pre-1975 style instruments (i.e. Mellotron, Moog, Hammond, etc), a practice they have since continued as Lars Frøislie’s collection of vintage equipment has grown. Since the release of Rites at Dawn in 2011, the band’s lineup has remained consistent, adding only Geir Halleland on lead guitar to the core of Frøislie (keyboards, backing vocals), Kristian Hultgren (bass, bass clarinet, bass pedals), Martin Kneppen (drums, percussion, recorder), and Andreas W S Prestmo (lead vocals, guitar, glockenspiel, percussion).
In typical classic prog fashion, From Silence to Somewhere is comprised of only four tracks, each a multi-part composition that surpasses 10-minute duration (with the exception of the interlude piece, “Rendered in Shades of Green”). Thematically, the album expands on lyrical ideas begun with their last release, addressing concepts of metamorphosis, personal transformation, and the identity of the soul.
Opening with discordant volume swell, “From Silence to Somewhere” wastes no time in living up to its name. For much of its 20-minute duration, the composition moves in rapid 3/4, with driving bass and guitar, layered synth and organs. The piece modulates through two major sections, each featuring its own subdivisions of style, rhythm, and dynamics. Part 1, “Humus – All That Becomes and Perishes” features the instrumental, introductory refrain and a slower, tenuous ballad that builds gradually to a double-timed instrumental breakdown. Part 2, “Corpus – That No One of Existing Things Doth Perish, But Men in Error Speak of Their Changes as Destructions and as Deaths,” begins with a downtempo vocal section, which leads into a noisy instrumental bridge driven by Squire-esque bass lines, steadily gaining intensity as it reaches a reprise of the epic’s central theme, and finally concludes with a gentle epilogue. This mammoth piece of writing does so many cool things with theme & variation and song structure. The heady philosophy, focusing on the perpetual existence of matter and identity via reincarnation, reverses the opening lyrics’ progression, rephrasing them at the conclusion for a rebirth of the song’s very concept: “From the mould, the mother womb… to rise again up from the tomb.” In the words of Billy Pilgrim, “And so it goes.”
The brief instrumental composition, “Rendered in Shades of Green,” uses gentle piano overlaid with strings and mellotron, bridging the title track with “Fermented Hours.” This latter piece is a high-energy composition, throughout its 10-minute duration. The opening organ is strongly reminiscent of Kieth Emerson, though the frenetic rhythm and eccentric lyrical content – part ballad, part Macbeth-ian witches’ recipe – nods in the direction of The Mars Volta. The piece is further textured with call-and-response instrumentation, indebted to Relayer-era YES. I particularly appreciate Hultgren’s work on the bass in this tune, which helms sections of the composition and at other times either doubles or harmonizes with Halleland’s guitars. Frøislie’s organs and Moog provide strong textures throughout, and the composition’s rhythmic complexity maintains a forward momentum even through the swirling organ breakdown just prior to the conclusion.
“Foxlight,” the album’s final piece, opens with an ambient palate – acoustic guitar, flutes, glockenspiel, and strings. The 5/4 meter is restless and expectant, though percussion doesn’t enter until nearly the 4:00-minute mark, when the composition turns the corner into steady 7/8. The latter portion of the piece is even parts instrumental and folk ballad in the vein of Gentle Giant or Jethro Tull, bringing From Silence to Somewhere to a definitive conclusion. This song details the endemic human identity crisis, termed as the “vortex of realities [that drags us] under.” Like a foxlight or St. Elmo’s Fire in the underbrush, luring wanderers from the beaten path, the understanding of what defines identity and purpose is elusive. The album therefore emphasizes that, while the particulars are hazy and subjective, it is “only the journey [that] still remains,” and man’s trustworthy “compass” rests “within the palace of [his] mind.”
This is a fantastic release – certainly Wobbler’s most polished effort yet. The band’s Scandinavian and classical influences shine in such a way that From Silence to Somewhere doesn’t feel like a patchwork rehash of old classics, but truly comes into its own material.
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