Peanut butter and jelly. Batman and Robin. Satan and black metal. It seems like some things in this world have a natural partner, someone or something to enhance one’s individual qualities. With regards to music, some bands experiment by merging the unique aspects of multiple genres to create something wholly new. While I can appreciate the creativity in every attempt, unorthodox genre-bending can either work (e.g. Zeal & Ardor, Panopticon), or fall flat on its face (e.g. that dubstep Korn record). But, what if a band chose to build their signature sound around two similar genres instead? Would they be able to produce an album that’s dynamic and exciting, or repetitive and boring? In the case of Finnish progressive-psychedelic group Superfjord’s new album All Will Be Golden, my opinion definitely skews to the latter.
But it didn’t feel that way the first time I gave All Will Be Golden a listen. Truth be told, I dove in with moderately high expectations, probably due to being spoiled by all the other great prog pairings happening in music these days. Also, it’s worth mentioning that the promotional material from the band name-drops The Who, The Grateful Dead, and Pink Floyd, so one could say I had my hopes up. And for almost ten minutes, I thought Superfjord was onto something. The opening track “Cut and Paste” serves as a really solid example of what progressive-psych should be: technical without noodling, entrancing yet focused, and true to the core character of each style. It’s clear that the musicians are talented enough to hang with the classically-trained savants of progressive rock, and throughout “Cut and Paste,” the band flexes their songwriting abilities with delightfully jaunty and unpredictable riffs and chants.
Speaking of chants, I hope you enjoy repetition, because All Will Be Golden has a habit for repeating itself. What’s perfect for goldfish may not be perfect for humans, but Superfjord insist on recycling their psych concepts, which makes their relatively short progressive album seem much longer. Following the excellent opening track is “Master Architect,” the ten-minute jam session that reveals the cracks in the band’s tie-dyed armor. I’m game for a long song with a singular, slowly meandering theme; I’m into drone metal and funeral doom for a reason. But, when those themes aren’t immersive enough to hold my attention, the listening experience feels overindulgent and boring.
There are glimmers of good content throughout the album, like the middle portion of “No Rest for the Wicked.” The contentious dance of the electronic and acoustic vibrations tries to distract you from the uninspired vocals, until it all finally culminates into a very brief, yet invigorating foot-stomping psychedelic barnburner. “Rainbow” features some really cool 70’s prog instrumentation; the buzzy synthesizers and guitar tones sound like lost audio from Todd Rundgren’s Utopia. But after repeated listens, the unflagging incantations start to wear on the listener. It’s like, I got it, “bow down to the rainbow,” I heard you the first time, please write more lyrics.
After multiple spins, All Will Be Golden taught me two commandments of progressive rock: you can’t write a ten minute song with two minutes of ideas, and lyrics can be cheesy as long as they’re tolerable. The great semantic irony is that the only song that doesn’t suffer from eye-rolling repetition is “Cut and Paste.” Well, as it turns out, the joke’s on us, because if we want to finish the album, we’ll have to listen to one of the most cringe-inducing tracks of 2018: “Parvati Valley.” This isn’t some cultural appropriating soapbox by any means, but there’s just something about six dudes from Finland chanting Hindi mantras that I find uncomfortable and awkward. The Eastern influence in the compositions is genuine and the band is earnestly trying to sound authentic, but I’m afraid my eyes will roll out of my head every time I hear them sung. Unlike the promise from the promo material, my chakras were definitely unopened, and I have to skip the song every time it comes up, or else my hair stands on end.
So, I guess this genre mashup didn’t work out the way I thought it would. But you know, if you line up all the ideas Superfjord put on display end to end, there’s enough content for a potentially great EP. No one can say that the band lacks technical skill, and some of the more daring sonic experiments produce the best moments on the record. And honestly, I’m confident that “Cut and Paste” will end up as one of my favorite songs of the year. I think truncating some of the repetitive aural fat would’ve resulted in a far more consistent listening experience, and I doubt I’ll be revisiting the LP as a whole in the future. I’m still holding out hope for progressive-psych, but if the music insists on being this monotonous, it might be best left to the goldfish.
All Will Be Golden will be released on September 21st, 2018
Pre-order the album at Svart Records