Album Title: Disconnected
Label: Karisma Records
Date Of Release: 10 June 2016
I may be the Man Of Much Metal but occasionally, there’s nothing I like more than to dial down the extremity and indulge in something altogether more relaxed. The scratching post for this particular itch comes in the form of Norwegian progressive rock band Airbag and their fourth album ‘Disconnected’.
Some bands have a knack of making everything sound so simple and effortless. Airbag are one of these bands, a quartet that seem to have something of a Midas touch; everything they write is of the highest quality with a disarming smoothness and sophistication that others can only dream of.
Given their laid back and melodious brand of progressive rock, ‘Disconnected’ is an album that could conceivably be played as background music and it would be very adept in this guise, serenely washing over the casual listeners with chameleon-like stealth. However, to do this would be the biggest of all sins in my opinion because by so doing, you’d miss out on the magic and elegant beauty of the six compositions that comprise ‘Disconnected’.
Not only that, you’d also fail to notice the richness of the compositions, the textures both subtle and more overt, the atmospheres and the depth of the lyrical content too, an ingredient that makes this record such a powerful one.
Airbag 2016 is comprised of lead vocalist Asle Tostrup, guitarist and vocalist Bjørn Riis, drummer Henrik Fossum and bassist Anders Hovdan. And it would appear that they are not averse to confronting big topics to supplement and enhance their musical output. To quote the band directly, ‘Disconnected’ “features six songs reflecting on the theme of alienation between the individual and society, what society expects from us as individuals, and our resultant failure to live up to those expectations. Each of the six compositions depicts the state of feeling on ‘the outside’ and out of touch with oneself and those around us.”
Some might, somewhat disingenuously, dismiss this as being pretentious. However, such a comment would be a gross misjudgement because there is definitely a ‘wow’ factor that’s created through the marriage of beautiful music and the fragility and rawness of the lyrics. Pick any track amongst the six and there will be a line somewhere within it that, unless you’re a robot or lacking in feelings, will leave a lasting impression on you. For me, it’s ‘Broken’, with the line: ‘if I had the chance to take it all back, would you leave me anyway? If I told you I could change again, would you still be here with me?’ So simple but in the context of the song and given the conviction with which Tostrup delivers it, it hits me hard.
But returning to the music, it is here that Airbag truly excel. I referred to their music as progressive rock and that’s where it is rooted for sure. However, there’s no unnecessary noodling or pointless grandstanding with Airbag; each note is precise, each passage is thoroughly thought out and each song delivers exactly what it needs to. At times, the music is modern, minimalist and stark. At others, it is rich, vibrant and full of drama. The word ‘epic’ can be overused, but here it is well-placed and fully deserved.
In terms of reference-points, there are clear nods in the direction of Pink Floyd and Radiohead, but echoes of latter-day Marillion can be heard, alongside fleeting glimpses of Anathema, Steven Wilson, Riverside and a whole host of other progressive rock luminaries. That said, Airbag are very much their own band with a strong identity and a sureness of purpose.
There are no weak links on ‘Disconnected’. As such, every track deserves a mention. And, given that there are only six, I shall do just that.
Not only does ‘Killer’ open the album, it was also the album’s lead single for want of a better expression. It was therefore the first exposure to ‘Disconnected’. I listened to it once, but once turned into three or four spins back-to-back and before I knew it, I was fully entranced. Beginning with a driving beat led by Fossum’s drumming, layers of synth-led textures and a commanding bass line from Hovdan, it immediately grabs your attention. As it develops, the melodies get to work and it soon opens up into a scintillating hook-laden chorus that is impossible to shake from your mind. I also love the mid-section breakdown where Riis’ distorted guitar note cuts through the quiet introspection like a lion’s roar on the sparse plains. I also enjoy the numerous guitar leads and how the track rebuilds to a gorgeous crescendo. The lyrics are actually quite brutal in many ways, but rather than coming across as morbid, sensationalist or morose, they counterpoint the majesty of the music in compelling fashion.
The aforementioned ‘Broken’ is, if anything, even more emotional. Ushered in by a gentle acoustic guitar, the keys behind are almost imperceptible. The atmosphere and emotive nature of this track is stunning, underlined by the mournful lead guitar flourishes and the way that Tostrup sounds like he is a heartbeat away from breaking down throughout the song’s entirety. And yet, by the end, the forlornness is joined by something approaching hope. It’s an exquisite piece of music and one of my favourites of 2016 for sure.
‘Slave’ in contrast, has an angrier and darker feel, albeit cocooned beautifully within a myriad of clever textures and sounds. Nevertheless, when they enter the fray, the guitars offer more bite and controlled aggression, as do the vocals. As the composition nears its conclusion, there’s time for the mood to fleetingly change, to a feeling of elation. Well, almost – this is Airbag after all.
The melodies within ‘Sleepwalker’ are to die for, making it one of the most immediate songs on ‘Disconnected’. The acoustic guitars are once again beautiful as is the piano that becomes more and more prominent as the track develops. If you’re a fan of guitar solos that drip with emotion and soulful melody, then this is the album for you as Riis delivers another scintillating lead, arguably one of the best of many on the album.
The title track is also the longest on the record, clocking in at over 13 minutes. Within that extended period, it ebbs and flows wonderfully, creating tension and teasing the listener. For much of the time the song simmers, threatening an explosion and when it arrives, it doesn’t disappoint. The chorus hits and hits hard but each time is quickly replaced by a new idea woven into the tapestry with real deftness. Airbag talked about wanting to create dramatic music and it is here where this statement is brought to life most prominently.
And then, finally, the album closes out with ‘Returned’. And oh boy is it a real tearjerker. A simple guitar melody is joined by minimal piano notes and further fragile vocals to the point where Tostrup sounds like his voice is breaking. After a brief flurry, the song drops away again and fades out to the subtle sound of just the central guitar melody, leaving me feeling a tad bereft and tearful if I’m honest.
‘Disconnected’ is a devastating album. On the one hand, it sounds so simple, so unassuming. However, give it your full attention and the magic starts to flow. Emotionally charged, epic and beautiful, there’s unlikely to be a more majestic progressive rock album released this year. This really is a wonderful album and I love it.
The Score Of Much Metal: 9.25
If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others right here:
Katatonia – The Fall Of Hearts
Frost* – Falling Satellites
Glorior Belli – Sundown (The Flock That Welcomes)
Habu – Infinite
Grand Magus ‘Sword Songs’
Messenger – Threnodies
Svoid – Storming Voices Of Inner Devotion
Fallujah – Dreamless
In Mourning – Afterglow
Haken – Affinity
Long Distance Calling – Trips
October Tide – Winged Waltz
Odd Logic – Penny For Your Thoughts
Iron Mountain – Unum
Knifeworld – Bottled Out Of Eden
Novembre – Ursa
Beholder – Reflections
Neverworld – Dreamsnatcher
Universal Mind Project – The Jaguar Priest
Thunderstone – Apocalypse Again
InnerWish – Innerwish
Mob Rules – Tales From Beyond
Ghost Bath – Moonlover
Spiritual Beggars – Sunrise To Sundown
Oceans Of Slumber – Winter
Rikard Zander – I Can Do Without Love
Redemption – The Art Of Loss
Headspace – All That You Fear Is Gone
Chris Quirarte – Mending Broken Bridges
Sunburst – Fragments Of Creation
Inglorious – Inglorious
Omnium Gatherum – Grey Heavens
Structural Disorder – Distance
Votum – Ktonik
Fleshgod Apocalypse – King
Rikard Sjoblom – The Unbendable Sleep
Textures – Phenotype
Serenity – Codex Atlanticus
Borknagar – Winter Thrice
The Mute Gods – Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me
Brainstorm – Scary Creatures
Arcade Messiah – II
Phantasma – The Deviant Hearts
Rendezvous Point – Solar Storm
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II
Antimatter – The Judas Table
Bauda – Sporelights
Waken Eyes – Exodus
Earthside – A Dream In Static
Caligula’s Horse – Bloom
Teramaze – Her Halo
Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud
Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle
Agent Fresco – Destrier
Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction
Between The Buried And Me – Coma Ecliptic
Cradle Of Filth – Hammer Of The Witches
Disarmonia Mundi – Cold Inferno
District 97 – In Vaults
Progoctopus – Transcendence
Big Big Train – Wassail
NightMare World – In The Fullness Of Time
Helloween – My God-Given Right
Triaxis – Zero Hour
Isurus – Logocharya
Arcturus – Arcturian
Kamelot – Haven
Native Construct – Quiet World
Sigh – Graveward
Pantommind – Searching For Eternity
Subterranean Masquerade – The Great Bazaar
Klone – Here Comes The Sun
The Gentle Storm – The Diary
Melechesh – Enki
Enslaved – In Times
Keep Of Kalessin – Epistemology
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Zero Stroke – As The Colours Seep
AudioPlastik – In The Head Of A Maniac
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints
Mors Principium Est – Dawn of The 5th Era
Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah
Triosphere – The Heart Of The Matter
Neonfly – Strangers In Paradise
Knight Area – Hyperdrive
Haken – Restoration
James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance
Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days
A.C.T. – Circus Pandemonium
Xerath – III
Big Big Train – English Electric (Part 1)
Thought Chamber – Psykerion
Marcus Jidell – Pictures From A Time Traveller
H.E.A.T – Tearing Down The Walls
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld