Over eleven years and seven (now eight) albums, Beardfish have done a good job of carving out their own unique path in the realms of progressive rock. Genuinely progressive rather than simply seeking to emulate the sound of the behemoth rock bands of the seventies, Beardfish not only draw upon the myriad influences of the past, they also imbue their music with a genuinely forward thinking element that marks them out as one of the more intriguing acts currently dabbling in the progressive field. With an album title influenced by the numerous billboard adverts the band pass when out on tour in the US, ‘+4626-COMFORTZONE’ is a ten track journey that neatly sums up the greatest strengths of Beardfish whilst simultaneously moving forward and offering yet another spin on the band’s sound.
The album does not open on a cheery note. A dark hearted orchestral piece, ‘the one inside part one – noise in the background’ carries with it the same weight found in Clint Mansell’s haunting score to ‘Requiem for a dream’, a weight not alleviated by a crackly sample that has an unseen speaker intoning “this town is sad, we like it that way, you’re born here and you stay… put”. With a dark atmosphere building, ‘hold on’, with its springy bassline, does much to alleviate the tension, although the production remains on the claustrophobic side, and the song ends up as a strange mix of (long lost indie band) Strangelove, Porcupine Tree and King Crimson. A lengthy song, it incorporates a number of elements over its seven minutes, but the band are old hands at this sort of thing and the music flows beautifully from one passage to the next, always keeping the listener interested at what lurks around the corner. Next up is ‘comfort zone’, a near ten minute monster that builds in a Floydian vein, with some beautifully understated guitar work and a warm, rich vibe that washes over the listener. Like most Beardfish work, the song has many layers and benefits from multiple listens as each slowly reveals itself with increasing familiarity. There’s a theatrical quality to Rikard’s vocals that further heightens the atmosphere of the song and his keyboard work drives the song whilst the band remain steadfastly in support until David Zackrinsson is allowed to weave his magic, wrapping a delicate, emotive guitar solo around the piece and drawing the song to a suitably ecstatic crescendo. The effect is like emerging from darkness into the light as the song bursts into life, and it’s hard not to feel a surge of hope as the music expands exponentially only for it to fade to a quiet lament at its conclusion. Despite its predecessor ending on a quiet, reflective note, ‘Can you see me now’ is a bright, bold piece of music that relishes in its own idiosyncrasies despite carrying a serious message about the impact of parental influence on the young, and it is soon followed by the thunderous ‘king’ which sees Magnus Ostgren laying down apocalyptic percussion as the band indulge in one of the album’s heaviest songs. Guaranteed to be a live favourite, ‘king’ surges from the speakers and the band clearly enjoy such a pulverising workout, David in particular delighting in unleashing some of his most inventively damaging riffs. It’s not all heavy rock, however, and the song heads off into some gloriously spacey pastures when not threatening to tear the listener’s head off, once again highlighting just how wonderfully different Beardfish are.
The album takes a break for the beautiful, folky interlude ‘the one inside part two – my companion through life’ which does much to recall Richard Hawley’s recent output being molested by Flower Kings. The mood, however, shatters with the dark, brooding ‘Daughter/whore’ which tears into overly judgemental families with a near biblical wrath. The riffs here are taut and brutal, the lyrics delivered at speed and the band insanely tight throughout. It’s as dark as Beardfish get and delivered with utmost conviction, so much so that it’s almost a relief when we enter the fifteen minute ‘If we must be apart (a love story continued)’, a track that sees the band return to the rather more whimsical pastures of early Genesis. Using the extended run time to build the song over Robert Hansen’s brooding bass runs, it takes some minutes before the organ and bass fade away and we’re left with a beautiful pastoral piece of picked guitar and Rikard’s quite lovely vocal, and whilst the lyrics tell a story that is awash with deep sadness, the music points to a beacon of hope however distant it might be. It’s a lengthy and challenging piece of music, but ultimately incredibly rewarding and worth putting aside whatever else you’re doing just to listen to the tale unfold. The album wends its way towards its close with ‘ode to the rock’n’roller’, a perfect summation of what playing in a band can become when the musicians are shorn of support. That it also happens to be one of the album’s most gorgeous pop songs only adds to the brilliance of the concept and it’s a pleasure to listen to whether you choose to follow the incisive lyrics closely or not. The album ends with ‘the one inside part three –relief’ which is, as its title suggests, a more optimistic conclusion than some of the weighty subject matter might have suggested.
In recent years the return of progressive music to the commercial frontlines has resulted in a large number of bands simply aping the sound of the seventies. Whilst paying tribute to genuinely forward looking bands like Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Yes and Genesis is no bad thing it is not exactly progressive in the true sense of the word and so it is refreshing when a band like Beardfish appears to stamp their own unique take on the genre. The fact that their music is coupled with a genuinely interesting lyrical concept and delivered with such panache also helps to make ‘+4626 – COMFORTZONE’ stand out from the crowd and there is no question that the band’s fans will be pouring over the lyrics and the music for some time to come. Like most Beardfish releases the album deftly balances more instant songs (for example ‘ode to the rock’n’roller’ and ‘daughter/whore’) with grander pieces that require diligence to unlock which means that the album is one to which you’ll gladly return, and the end result is an impressive, intelligent and exciting album that looks far beyond simply replicating the past. Too intricate, perhaps, for those seeking an instant fix, ‘+4626…’ is a powerful album that rewards the patient and is an essential addition to the collection of anyone who considers themselves a fan of forward thinking progressive rock.