Artist: Bjørn Riis
Album Title: Everything To Everyone
Label: Karisma Records
Date of Release: 8 April 2022
If you are looking for an album to get the heart really pounding, the blood pumping, and those neck muscles moving, then this is not going to be the album for you. But then, many of you already knew that, didn’t you? Bjørn Riis is best-known as the co-founder and guitarist with Norwegian progressive rock band Airbag, but ‘Everything To Everyone’ is already Riis’ fourth solo full-length album. And, if you’re familiar with the music of Airbag, or any of Riis’ solo material to date, then you’ll already have a fair idea of what to expect here.
And what you get here on ‘Everything To Everyone’ is a collection of six songs that span around fifty minutes, and which provide nourishment for the soul rather than any kind of heavy attack on the senses. The music, as is Bjørn Riis’ way, will more likely put an arm around you, or feel like a warm blanket; it’s melodic, it’s progressive, and it’s also minimalist, allowing atmosphere and emotional depth into the material, making the listener think and feel things at the same time. Having surrounded myself with some uncompromising extreme metal of late, ‘Everything To Everyone’ is a welcome respite from the chaos, and I welcome its soothing tones eagerly.
Bjørn Riis himself undertakes a fair amount of the instrumentation, not to mention the entirety of the songwriting. But he’s joined by an impressive cast of guest musicians to help bring this album to fruition. Featured here are Henrik Bergan Fossum (Airbag), Kristian Hultgren (Wobbler), Simen Valldal Johannessen (Oak), Ole Michael Bjørndal (Caligonaut), Mimmi Tamba, Per Øydir, Vegard Kleftås Sleipnes and Anders Møller.
What I particularly like about ‘Everything To Everyone’ is its flow, meaning that it comes together very nicely as a whole, even though each song is very much distinct from the others. I also like the way in which Riis has provided a mix of shorter and longer songs here; sometimes an album of just longer tracks can become a little tedious or bloated. But on this record, we get the songs that extend well into double figures, but they rub shoulders with other songs that are only for or five minutes. Naturally an album like this is best enjoyed in one sitting, but there are other options for you if time is tight, or you need a quicker blast of music.
For all of the other positives within this record, there are two that stand out for me. The first is the melodic nature of the music, which aids with that feeling of familiarity and warmth, not to mention the richness of sound and the emotional aspect of the music. The second positive is Riis’ guitar playing, especially his lead solos. Often compared to David Gilmour, Riis is blessed with an ability to make the electric guitar literally sing. His notes are precise, his touch deft, and his solos have the power to hypnotise and break hearts at a hundred paces. Happily, ‘Everything To Everyone’ features both of these positives and therefore I am brought back time and again to immerse myself in the music.
Onto the tracks themselves, and there’s a lot to unpack within them, even if, on a first listen, everything feels quite smooth and simple. It’s a skill of Riis that he’s able to fool us like this, because once you get into the music, it’s surprisingly involved.
The album begins with the instrumental piece, ‘Run’, and I’m initially surprised by the energy that’s courses through it. The intro is dramatic, with a throbbing bass building up tension alongside an insistent, repetitive piano motif. From there, we’re plunged into 70s retro-rock territory which I wasn’t expecting if I’m honest. The song is actually book-ended by this vivacious 70s drive, with the middle portion much more recognisable as the work of Riis. The music falls away to almost nothing and we’re left hanging until slowly, the synths grow and an acoustic strumming enters. Gentle piano notes add another layer, as do some simple bass notes upon which a melodic acoustic guitar solo grabs me by the heart and fills me with warmth.
Up next is the eleven-minute ‘Lay Me Down’ which begins incredibly delicately. Riis sings with gentle emotion, later joined by the silky voice of Mimmi Tamba to inject something different and arresting to the composition. The soundscape is beautiful, only to give way to a heavier guitar riff to briefly punctuate the serenity effectively. Then in comes the first of many soulful, and emotional guitar leads from Riis, and I’m transported to another place – a place of stunning beauty from which I wish there was no escape. The increase in urgency leading up to the halfway mark also shows that Riis can rock out if he feels the need. The remainder of the song sees another slow burn build from minimalism to something more immersive, where Riis’ guitar is again the central focal point.
To be honest, the album doesn’t deviate too far away from this blueprint for the remaining four songs, but then you’d not really want it to, because why fix something if it isn’t broken? But far from broken, this album is dripping in understated class. I really like the swathes of synths that come out to play in the early stages of ‘Every Second Every Hour’, the longest composition on the album at over thirteen minutes in length. I like the way that it ebbs and flows with effortless grace, the acoustic guitars offering a lovely texture, alongside the layers of keys, the cleverly placed lead guitar embellishments, and Riis’ voice that is heavily effect-laden at times. Occasionally, we’re treated to a more muscular riff, but it’s the exception rather than the rule, but their inclusion adds to the drama throughout what is a gorgeous track.
A bold electronic beat is used to signal the arrival of ‘Descending’, an evocative and introspective instrumental piece that explodes with pent-up power in the second half. That leaves us with the title track to see us out, and it does so with some of the most poignant and immediate melodies on the record. The lyrics are moving, delivered by Riis and Mimmi Tamba again, giving them extra gravitas in the process. It’s a bittersweet closer in that it’s both sad and oddly uplifting at the same time, with a sense of hope lurking in the background.
All that I can say at this juncture is that ‘Everything To Everyone’ is another great body of work from Bjørn Riis, one of the most accomplished songwriters and talented guitarists currently plying their trade within the progressive rock sphere at the current time. The only criticism that could be levelled at Riis is that you already know pretty much what you’re going to hear when you press play. But when the music contains this much beauty, soul, and finesse, it’s hardly a criticism. Instead, I recommend you pour yourself a glass of wine, dim the lights and allow the magic of Bjørn Riis’ music to wash over you. You won’t regret it.
The Score of Much Metal: 90%
Check out my other 2022 reviews here:
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