Album Title: A Day At The Beach
Label: Karisma Records
Date of Release: 19 June 2020
It is no secret that I have a soft spot for the music of Airbag. The Norwegian progressive rock band first came to my attention, via their second album, ‘All Rights Removed’, a record that I checked out based on a recommendation from an ex-boss of mine who shared a passion for most things prog rock. It was love at first listen thanks to their ability to create beautiful, atmospheric and emotionally-charged music with the kind of effortlessness that is beyond many other artists.
When I reviewed ‘Disconnected’ in 2016, I concluded that review with the following:
“‘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.”
I actually listened to that album again recently at the behest of my eldest daughter and I stand by everything I said about it. Naturally then, news of a new record was greeted with real enthusiasm and I delved immediately into album number five, ‘A Day At The Beach’ with high hopes.
By and large, the high expectations I had for it have been met, although as I sit here and type this review, I’m coming to the conclusion that maybe, just maybe, I prefer ‘Disconnected’ over this album.
Some of this may, inevitably, have something to do with the fact that Airbag have gone through some significant changes since ‘Disconnected’ was released. The quintet has reduced to a trio, now comprised of guitarist, keyboardist, and backing vocalist Bjørn Riis, alongside lead vocalist Asle Tostrup who also handles keyboards and programming, and drummer Henrik Fossum. With them is also guest bassist Kristian Karl Hultgren.
What goes without saying is that Airbag, regardless of the line-up changes, are consummate professionals. Each member of the band knows their role and they execute it with precision but also with real depth of feeling. And that’s the key with Airbag for me, the way that they inject a sense of passion and emotion into their compositions. In many ways, the songs are not overly technical or immediately complex, the band preferring to create atmosphere, textures, and a richness of sound rather than seeing who can play at warp speed or bend minds with frequent tempo changes. In that respect, the band will draw the inevitable comparisons to Pink Floyd, with guitarist Bjørn Riis sounding incredibly reminiscent of David Gilmour thanks to his enviable touch and feel with the six-string.
And it is Riis who is honestly the central figure within Airbag, being the main songwriter as well as delivering some gorgeous and powerful guitar work on this record as with all four albums before it. That said, now that they are a trio, it has allowed for a slight shift in approach and that shift sees the musicians dabble more strongly in keyboards and electronic elements.
This trend can be easily noticed within most of the six tracks that comprise ‘A Day At The Beach’, but I want to begin rather perversely with ‘A Day At The Beach (Part 2)’, a moody, slow burning piece of music that features some of the most overt electronic elements throughout its five-and-a-half minute length. At the outset, thanks to the monotone opening note and the pulsing beat that joins it soon after, I am left thinking that I’m listening to the opening credits of the BBC news, especially as yet more recurring sounds join the fray. It takes a while, over 90 seconds to be precise, for the guitars and drums to kick in. Without vocals, it is up to Riis and his eloquent solo work to tell the story contained within the composition, something he does so effortlessly.
By now, you’ll all have heard the lead single from the album, ‘Machines Of Men’ that opens up this new record. And whilst there are some bold electronic sounds to be heard within it, you’ll also know that the song does not, overall, offer up a radical departure from the trademark Airbag sound. Comparisons with the likes of latter-day Marillion and Porcupine Tree once again are relatively inescapable, although the vocals of Asle Tostrup do a great job in providing the band with some differentiation.
I’m not one for delving deeply into lyrics, at least not at the very beginning, but I get the feeling that there is an angrier tone to the content to ‘A Day At The Beach’, certainly more politically-driven than previous efforts. The title of the opener and the caustic delivery of a few lines, not to mention the slightly more abrasive heaviness and tone of the latter stages would seem to underline this observation.
Then there’s the closing song, simply-titled ‘Megalomaniac’. I can’t possibly think who this song is directed at, given that there are so many individuals who might fit the bill these days.
‘You always get what you want, always get what you need, more than anyone.
You, with your suit and tie and your firm handshake, we’re the best of friends’.
The opening lines speak volumes whilst the song gently builds from very humble beginnings, led by a pulsating bass from Kristian Karl Hultgren. It is a fitting finale that once again takes the listener on a poignant and thought-provoking journey through deeply rich and artfully-constructed soundscapes, topped off by yet more beautiful and emotive lead guitar work from Bjørn Riis.
I could go into each song but instead, for once, I’ll let you discover what they deliver. It goes without saying that ‘A Day At the Beach’ will appeal to long-term fans because for all the additions, it is typical Airbag to its core. You know, by and large, what you’re going to get before you press play and you’d not be too far wrong. It is a lovely album that I thoroughly enjoy listening to, but as I said before, I do prefer ‘Disconnected’ in particular. And I wonder whether this record might signal the start of a dramatic change in the band’s sound, with a move more into electronic soundscapes. Only time will tell on that score, but for now, I certainly recommend taking a listen to this album because there’s really nothing to dislike.
The Score of Much Metal: 88%
Check out my reviews from 2020 right here:
Re-Armed – Ignis Aeternum
Atavist – III: Absolution
Frost* – Others EP
Darker Half – If You Only Knew
Atavistia – The Winter Way
Astralborne – Eternity’s End
Centinex – Death In Pieces
Haken – Virus
Pile Of Priests – Pile Of Priests
Sorcerer – Lamenting Of The Innocent
Lesoir – Mosaic
Temnein – Tales: Of Humanity And Greed
Caligula’s Horse – Rise Radiant
…And Oceans – Cosmic World Mother
Vader – Solitude In Madness
Shrapnel – Palace For The Insane
Sinisthra – The Broad And Beaten Way
Paradise Lost – Obsidian
Naglfar – Cerecloth
Forgotten Tomb – Nihilistic Estrangement
Winterfylleth – The Reckoning Dawn
Firewind – Firewind
An Autumn For Crippled Children – All Fell Silent, Everything Went Quiet
Havok – V
Helfró – Helfró
Victoria K – Essentia
Cryptex – Once Upon A Time
Thy Despair – The Song Of Desolation
Cirith Ungol – Forever Black
Igorrr – Spirituality and Distortion
Nightwish – Human. II: Nature.
Katatonia – City Burials
Wolfheart – Wolves Of Karelia
Asenblut – Die Wilde Jagd
Nicumo – Inertia
The Black Dahlia Murder – Verminous
Omega Infinity – Solar Spectre
Symbolik – Emergence
Pure Reason Revolution – Eupnea
Irist – Order Of The Mind
Testament – Titans Of Creation
Ilium – Carcinogeist
Dawn Of Ouroboros – The Art Of Morphology
Torchia – The Coven
Novena – Eleventh Hour
Ashes Of Life – Seasons Within
Dynazty – The Dark Delight
Sutrah – Aletheia EP
Welicoruss – Siberian Heathen Horde
Myth Of I – Myth Of I
My Dying Bride – The Ghost Of Orion
Infirmum – Walls Of Sorrow
Inno – The Rain Under
Kvaen – The Funeral Pyre
Mindtech – Omnipresence
Dark Fortress – Spectres From The Old World
The Oneira – Injection
Night Crowned – Impius Viam
Dead Serenity – Beginnings EP
The Night Flight Orchestra – Aeromantic
Deadrisen – Deadrisen
Blaze Of Perdition – The Harrowing Of Hearts
Godsticks – Inescapable
Isle Of The Cross – Excelsis
Demons & Wizards – III
Vredehammer – Viperous
H.E.A.T – H.E.A.T II
Psychotic Waltz – The God-Shaped Void
Into The Open – Destination Eternity
Lunarsea – Earthling/Terrestre
Pure Wrath – The Forlorn Soldier EP
Sylosis – Cycle of Suffering
Sepultura – Quadra
Dyscordia – Delete / Rewrite
Godthrymm – Reflections
On Thorns I Lay – Threnos
God Dethroned – Illuminati
Fragment Soul – A Soul Inhabiting Two Bodies
Mariana Semkina – Sleepwalking
Mini Album Reviews: Moloken, The Driftwood Sign & Midnight
Serenity – The Last Knight
Ihsahn – Telemark EP
Temperance – Viridian
Blasphemer – The Sixth Hour
Deathwhite – Grave Image
Marko Hietala – Pyre Of The Black Heart
SWMM – Trail Of The Fallen
Into Pandemonium – Darkest Rise EP
Bonded – Rest In Violence
Serious Black – Suite 226
Darktribe – Voici L’Homme
Brothers Of Metal – Emblas Saga
A Life Divided – Echoes
Thoughts Factory – Elements
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: