One look at the plethora of instruments used by Lars Fredrik Frøislie, keyboardist for the Norwegian progressive rock group known as Wobbler, and you know the reference points for this band are classic progressive 1970s groups like King Crimson, Gentle Giant, ELP, and Yes. With Frøislie's rig painstakingly detailed in the booklet of this debut album, Hinterland
looking like an analogue lover's wish listone wonders if the group could ever afford to hit the road.
Then take a look at the length of the four tracks on Hinterland. With the exception of the brief introduction, "Serenade for 1652, they range from 12 to 28 minutes. It's clear that Wobbler is all about the kind of long-form, suite-like and episodic compositions that represented the bestand occasionally the worstof its progenitors.
But while its roots are clear, Wobbler manages to incorporate elements of its own country's folk music into the diverse mix, lending it a personal complexion. In the same way Gentle Giant incorporated aspects of Baroque and Renaissance music into its blend of odd meters, idiosyncratic arrangements, and solid rock rhythms, so too Wobbler finds ways to pull together a multitude of elements into a potent blend. It doesn't exactly say anything new, but it will undoubtedly appeal to fans of the aforementioned 1970s bands who pine for the days when they were not only filling halls, but selling a lot of records.
Thanks to the reach of the internet, progressive rock has been undergoing something of a renaissance in recent years. But while sales of remastered/expanded reissues by classic bands are doing surprisingly welland a whole subculture of lesser-known contemporary bands are selling enough records to justify their continued existencefew of these bands have actually reformed with any degree of success. King Crimson, under the watchful eye of Robert Fripp, refuses to look back, only forward. Yes has toured with its most revered lineup for a few years now, but it sounds as old and weathered as it looksas does ELP.
And so the mantle falls to younger bands like Wobbler to keep the flame alive. Like Genesis, none of Wobbler's players have the kind of virtuoso tendencies of Fripp or ELP's Keith Emerson, but they're more than capable of navigating their own headily complex arrangements. And they've done their homework well. By incorporating the sounds and aesthetics of a wide range of groups, they've created something that sounds at once like all of themand none of them. Contrapuntal acoustic guitar duets recall Gentle Giant, Karl Hultgren's bass the edge of Yes' Chris Squire, the haunting mellotron and jagged guitar early-1970s Crimson, and the detailed Hammond-based arrangements Emerson at his best. Johannessen's vocals are the only weak point, but in their very innocuousness they are easily ignored.
Ten years ago a band like Wobble wouldn't have stood a chance. But with a burgeoning progressive scene where festivals like NEARfest sell out in a matter of hours, albums like Hinterland have a chance at a real audienceand real sales.