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Blakulla - Blåkulla CD (album) cover

BLÅKULLA

Blakulla

 

Symphonic Prog

3.64 | 41 ratings

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Aussie-Byrd-Brother
Special Collaborator
Rock Progressivo Italiano Team
4 stars Lightly symphonic prog and fairly straight-forward art-rock with strong vocal harmonies, quickly catchy melodies that lodge themselves into your brain and very tight instrumental playing forms the bulk of the debut 1975 self-titled album from Swedish band Blåkulla. The quickest and easiest comparison would be the first couple of Yes albums (up to `Fragile' more or less) before they dove head first into very ambitious prog-rock, and this is further highlighted by the thick upfront bass playing, ragged and blistering Steve Howe-style electric guitar soloing and the warmest Hammond organ washes more along the lines of Tony Kaye than the caped wonder Rick Wakeman. There's nothing too demanding or complex here (although the two longer tracks that close each side of the LP come closest), but it's all very well played, easy to listen to rock/ballads with light proggy flourishes and unexpected turns here and there.

It's unusual that the band opens the album on a quick balled `Frigivningen', with a soothing lead vocal from Dennis Lindegren sung in Swedish with delicate yet nimble acoustic guitar chimes. Confident rocker `Sirenernas Sang' instantly reminds of `The Yes Album', with skittering drumming, chunky bass playing, softly exploding lead guitar runs and thick cascading Hammond organ. It sets a standard in superior vocal harmonies and melodies that maintains throughout the entire LP. Energetic tempo changes and lovely electric guitar/organ melodies twisting together enliven slightly repetitive vocal rocker `Idealet', while `De' Fa...' is a tasty interlude of bluesy guitar wailing duelling it out with the thickest darkest grumbling bass. Side A closer `Maskinsang' is the most daring piece so far, a slightly malevolent heavy rocker with morbid intimidating organ and Tomas Olsson's aggressive relentless drumming, with a killer symphonic prog flavoured repeated theme played with electric guitar bite, the entire track full of devilish little tempo change bursts back and forth. Bo Ferm cuts loose with some deranged Hammond soloing, and the whole piece is a totally killer track that kicks so much rear-end!

Many of the symphonic instrumental themes that run through `I Solnedgangen' could have easily come off one of the classic Focus albums, all played and sung with a real joyful warmth, and the Hammond organ gleams here. Organ driven `Drottning...' is a near- medieval flavoured fanfare that also wouldn't have sounded out of place from Focus, with a foot-tapping melody full of classical flare and pomp, yet it always remains quite playful. Most of `Varldens Gang' is a fragile, reflective and somewhat melancholic acoustic ballad, be sure to listen out for the ominous electronic buzzing that brings a hint of unease. The ten minute album closer `Erinran' lets the band more fully flex their progressive rock muscles, full of plentiful soloing mostly powered by Mats Ohberg's dynamic and victorious electric guitar soloing lifting the grandly symphonic themes with ease. Hannes Rastem's bass ripples, there's constant thick upbeat Hammond washes and strident drumming, even a sprightly folky acoustic break in the middle, and overall the piece is almost in the style of Aussie symphonic proggers Sebastian Hardie and even fellow Swedish prog band from the time Kaipa. It's the perfectly epic finale that's expected of symphonic prog albums.

The original vinyl is a super rarity these days, but there's a few CD reissues with bonus tracks more easily and affordably available for curious listeners. I found the front cover unusually eerie and quite unpleasant (look closely at that shadowy inverted figure - brrrr!), so I expected to find an album of occult themed heavy Hammond rockers in the style of Atomic Rooster (only the track `Maskinsang' comes close to that sort of sound)! Instead, `Blåkulla' is a winning collection of smooth symphonic prog, heartfelt pleasing soft-rock/ballads and some brief welcome heavier turns. It really deserves some wider recognition and a renewed exposure, and it showcases what a talented bunch of musicians Blåkulla were. What a shame they fell victim to the `one and done' prog band curse and disappeared, because they showed great potential here. If you're a vintage symphonic prog fan, do yourself and favour and take a chance on `Blåkulla', this very enjoyable and full of life album might really impress you!

Three and a half stars, rounded up to four.

Aussie-Byrd-Brother | 4/5 |

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