Rikard Sjöblom's Gungfly - On Her Journey To The Sun

11 songs
74:38 minutes
***** ***


When it comes to Swedish progressive rock of this millennium, the three names that come immediately to mind are The Flower Kings, Kaipa and Beardfish. It’s the latter, headed by a young Rikard Sjöblom, that always appealed the most to me. Maybe it was their fresher attitude that helped set themselves apart from the two other bands fronted by an already older Roine Stolt. Beardfish broke up last year, but that didn’t mean that Sjöblom would just quit playing music. On the one hand, he had already joined British prog veterans Big Big Train, and he also had already released music with his more or less solo project Gungfly whenever there was a downtime with Beardfish.

On Her Journey To The Sun is already his third album under that name, and apparently a fourth one is already scheduled to be released even this year. So no downtime really for Mr. Sjöblom. Apparently at first Gungfly was more pop oriented than Beardfish because that was the vessel for the music that was not progressive enough for his then main band. As Beardfish are no longer around, Gungfly can now become more progressive, and that shows immediately on the nearly eleven-minute-long opener Of The Orb. Its beginning is a regular tribute to Genesis’ cult classic The Cinema Show, and from there continues in a direction not unlike Sjöblom’s earlier band. There’s crunchy guitars, vintage keyboards, charismatic vocals and above all amazing songwriting that seamlessly combines progressive complexity with catchy melodies. Towards the end we get a keyboard solo that once again is screaming Genesis in your face. This is like the kind of opener that every progressive rock album should have. A true masterpiece! Next up are a few shorter songs, vehicles for the artist’s more straightforward side. While not as mesmerising as the debut, these songs show of a wholesome Swedish prog pop sound that only Scandinavian bands seem able to conjure. But don’t worry, the melodies are still unusual enough to make this much more than simple pop music. Where the title track is a mellow pop song, He Held An Axe is a downright ballad. Things turn more progressive again with the nearly eight-minute-long My Hero, where we get a bass guitar that sounds as if the late Chris Squire from Yes had come back from the dead. If You Fall, Pt. 1 is a short ballad, before we get with Polymixia a nearly twelve-minute-long incredibly varied instrumental piece. Even though polymixia is the Latin name for a beardfish, this song sounds at first more like a tribute to Gentle Giant, one of the major inspirations of Rikard Sjöblom. I also really like the electric piano part that comes across a little like mid-Seventies Van Der Graaf Generator. Over My Eyes is another ballad, before the more progressive Old Demons Die Hard comes with a guitar part that reminds of the Eighties incarnation of King Crimson. Keith (The Son Of Sun) is another, this time shorter instrumental, quite mellow with a fusion jazz sound, emphasised by the fretless bass guitar. Another magnum opus, the twelve-minute-long The River Of Sadness, is of course one more progressive monster that even comes with an accordion part. It’s always again intriguing how Sjöblom manages to fit in catchy choruses. The album ends with the short and quiet All A Dream, and after nearly seventy-five minutes, the album ends.

And that’s the only problem I have with On Her Journey To The Sun. There is some incredible material to be found here, but in my opinion just too many ballads. Some would be ok, but this big amount somehow takes some of the dynamic tension out of the album. A little less would have been more in this case. And still, this is a great return from Rikard Sjöblom and frankly just as appealing as what he had done with Beardfish. Gungfly may have started as a solo project, and although Sjöblom is still the main songwriter, they seem to be a fully-fledged band of six people now, with at times half of them playing the keyboards on stage. Sjöblom is in charge of the vocals, guitars and vintage keyboards. I am already looking forward very much to his next album that is promised to be released very soon.

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