I found it rather lamentable that Rikard Sjöblom left Beardfish (concurrent with the demise of the band) in the wake of their having released what I felt was their strongest album, 2015’s +4626-Comfortzone. And while I am a fan of the band Sjöblom joined, it still felt like the result was the prog world losing a decent act while simply adding another musician to an already strong one. That’s a net loss. I was therefore rather hopeful when I received a copy of Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly, “On Her Journey to the Sun”, and while I knew Sjöblom had released an album under that Moniker, “Journey” was the first time I had heard any of the ‘fly.
I could probably spend the rest of the review discussing unfortunate band names in the progressive rock world (in fact, Beardfish is pretty terrible) because while I know that Gungfly is a Swedish word that means something like ‘quagmire’ or ‘unsteady ground’, the word is, to an English speaker, a particularly unfortunate collection of sounds, and far too close to something like ‘dung-fly’. But, if we are honest, there are several truly excellent bands with truly terrible names, so it is perhaps well to let the point rest and turn to the album itself.
There are three ‘prog-length’ songs on the album (defined as 9.00+ minutes long), starting with the opening track, “Of the Orb”. “Orb” opens with a Hackett-era Genesis arpeggiated guitar lick and even a lyrical reference to the early Genesis song, “The Cinema Show”. Fortunately the song does not remain an overt Genesis knock-off for very long, as it quickly builds into a frenetic wall of sound behind Sjöblom’s vocals. The song remains rather firmly in 70’s era progdom, with instrumental passages alternating with vocal lines throughout, and a section where keyboard and guitar trade rather accomplished soloing that functions as the song’s climax before a final refrain. It’s a good track, that I enjoyed upon first listen, but it also left me hoping that it wasn’t representative of everything the album would offer, as it didn’t move far enough passed Yes/Genesis ground for me to choose this album over, say, Selling England by the Pound or Close to the Edge. So, it was on to track two.
Track two is the album’s title track, and while the 70’s influences are still present, it does present its own voice, and while it isn’t my favorite track on the album, with the hook on the chorus not quite hitting for me, it still left me hopeful that the album was going to have something of its own to say.
By the end of track three, “He Held an Axe” it was beginning to become clear that Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly indeed had a voice of their own that was something other than just a rephrasing of classic 1970s progressive rock albums. This track is based around an acoustic guitar passage and is taken at a rather slow tempo, and builds gradually to its climax at the end of the song.
The remainder of the album continues to shift fairly drastically in tone and approach, and while classic progressive rock instrumentation and arrangement is heard throughout the album, Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly does not ever dwell on those moments, instead using them as a springboard to their own wanderings. Speaking of wanderings, the middle spot of the album is occupied by the lengthy instrumental track, ”Polymixia”, which, as one might anticipate, is a 12-minute plus tour-de-force that maintains a certain sense of humor that makes it absolutely listenable, despite its length and the impressive display of technique.
I don’t know when it exactly it hit me that what I was really listening to in On Her Journey to the Sun was simply the new Beardfish album, but that’s what it is. (David Zackrisson, who was in Beardfish, plays guitar on the album as well). It contains disparate references to various prog heroes, including the aforementioned Yes and Genesis, but also Zappa and Crimson, but also displays influences from other places, from a lounge-lizard Jeff Beck guitar instrumental (“Keith”) to something just this side of heavy metal (“My Hero”), to a downright pop-sounding hook in “The River of Sadness”. It’s the sort of thing that pleases a progger who enjoys listening to one album that never stands still for too long, and while it isn’t flawless, it’s very good and stands as a worthy successor to Beardfish’s discography. Here’s hoping it’s not the last time we hear Gungfly buzzing around.
Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly, “On Her Journey to the Sun”, will be released on May 19, 2017, through InsideOut Media. Purchase the album here.