Anekdoten – Until All the Ghosts Are Gone Review
After eight years without any new release from Anekdoten, in 2015, the Swedish progressive rock band returned to the music scene with maybe their strongest album yet: Until All The Ghosts Are Gone, released by VIRTA. Blending heavy rock and the progressive elements of the ’70s (mainly influenced by the early King Crimson material) with the use of mellotron, distorted yet expressive guitars, and a very rich-sounding cello, Anekdoten has really outdone itself with this album.
There are a lot of instrumental breaks in the album that fits together nicely, but this also puts the vocals more on the background. This might mean that the band has decided to express themselves through their instrumental music and to rely less on the lyrics. But despite this, the lyrics are still on point and tackles some dark themes like hopelessness and death.
The album has some well-known legends in the scene today as guest musicians, like Theo Travis (King Crimson, Steven Wilson) and Per Wiberg (Opeth). Apart from the guest musicians, the band members themselves utilize their abilities to the fullest to create a feast for our ears.
Line-up / Musicians
Nicklas Barker / electric & acoustic guitars, Mellotron M400S, organ, vibes, vocals
Anna Sofi Dahlberg / Mellotron M400S, organ, Fender Rhodes
Jan Erik Liljeström / bass guitar, vocals
Peter Nordins / drums, cymbals, vibes, percussion
Marty Wilson-Piper (The Church, All About Eve) / lead guitar, electric guitar & acoustic 12-string (5)
Per Wiberg (ex-Opeth) / Hammond organ (1)
Theo Travis (King Crimson, Steven Wilson) / flute (3,5)
Gustav Nygren / saxophone (6)
1. Shooting Star (10:11)
After eight years of silence, this is the first new material from Anekdoten and damn, it really is something. By opening with slow and calm synth sounds, the listener is left blindsided by the heavily distorted guitar riff that comes after it and takes us right into the song. Even from this short snippet, Nicklas Barker’s abilities with the guitar are evident because the notes he is playing are just enough to continue the rushed feel of this section, created with the help of Peter Nordins’s drums, without interrupting it too much. The use of mellotron reminds the listener of the early King Crimson records and the syncopated feel between the instruments (which is the main reason for the tension) reflects the experimental and progressive techniques that 70’s prog-rock bands used (e.g. the polyrhythmic instrumentals and odd time signatures).
The song, in its core, is about hope. The narrator is preaching to someone whom he sees as a little child (even though the narrator says “my little child”, it is not supported that this person is his own child but it is rather representing a group) and is asking them to “take heed when [they do] hear my warning”. The narrator is telling them to be patient and that the people before them, who were not patient and tried to bear the burden all alone, had eventually died, symbolized by them losing all hope. This is also supported by the line “There’s no mercy to be found underneath the desert sun” which is a direct implication of death. But still, the narrator is asking the child, the humans, to not lose hope, which is the main message of the chorus:
Hold your head up high Point the arrows straight at the sky
And this theme of hope is reinforced by painting an image of “a clear blue morning”, “a cloudless sky” and “a new day dawning”. The narrator is promising a world where there are “no more fears and illusions, only love”, where there are “no more wars when we’re through it all”. But for now, humanity is compared to “children groping in the dark”, waiting for something or rather someone to come. And since the song ends with the hopeful message of “Keep your eyes on the sky”, this savior that is meant to come from the sky and save us from the dark ages can very well be interpreted as religious symbolism and may represent, maybe, Jesus Christ. This is what some would consider ironic since Sweden, where the band is originating from, is one of the least religious nations in the Western world.
Apart from its lyrics, the song is full of surprises, sometimes the song suddenly stops and then continues with a new section that is as daunting as the last. The song is dominated by Barker’s guitar and around the middle, its musical duet with the Hammond organ, which is by the way played by none other than Per Wiberg, the ex-keyboardist of Opeth, which is maybe the most well-known prog metal band from Sweden. This small section is probably the most effective because it just shows that after these eight long years, Anekdoten has still not lost a bit of its sound but instead, progressed it to a level that it can compete with the major contemporary prog bands thanks to this album.
The song, apart from the heavy riffs and complex instrumentals, contains some very emotional sections too. Near the end, Barker’s vocals have a special timbre to it that perfectly captures the sorrow the narrator feels when talking about humanity’s grim state and Anna Sofi Dahlberg’s mellotron is amazingly good at reinforcing this mood and let it fill our ears and soul. For the last minute, the song goes acoustic. With a simple chord progression by the acoustic guitar and a calming tempo, the song fades out; leaving our hearts pumping with hope and completeness (both musically and lyrically) and our minds in awe of the musicality and the sheer artistry of Anekdoten.
2. Get Out Alive (7:32)
The second track of the album really blasts the ears of the listeners that decided to use a headphone, with a fast and melancholic mellotron opening spiced with Barker’s guitar. It is simple yet very effective and engaging, so the fact that it repeats itself doesn’t stand out as much. This song is more on the heavy side of the rock spectrum but is also a sign of the Anekdoten sound (that contains heavy elements and despite the melancholy, still energizes the listener).
This was the first single from the album and while talking about the album in an interview, the bassist Jan Erik Liljeström commented: “How to pick the first single from the forthcoming album? Choose a song that is fairly representative and has a bit of everything in it, but is less than 10 minutes long. That the first line in the lyrics is ‘Hello my friend!’ is a bonus in this case.“
Lyrically, as Liljeström said, the song directly wins the listener’s attention by addressing us as a “friend” and tries to engage in a dialogue by asking questions about the meaning of life. This is similar to what the opening section achieved musically: taking the full attention of the listener.
Hello my friend, tell me how you been Have you found the answers to everything?
The album, as a whole, tackles some deep and dark themes. Like in Shooting Star, the opener of the album, this song also contains comparisons of humanity to a lower species, where ignorance and desperation are common traits. But this time, instead of “children groping in the dark”, it is represented by a circus (this can be seen in the line “The ringmaster yells that we are out of time”). We, as humans, can’t control the “wheels spinning faster beneath our feet”. The destination, where there is no return, is already decided upon, “a destined one-way street”.
After a long and neutral guitar solo (maybe it would be better if it was shorter) that doesn’t add much to the song, the final verse is repeated again to create the path to maybe one of the most emotional instrumental sections by Anekdoten ever recorded. The chords are somehow gloomy yet carry a wry wholeness that ties the song together. And Anna Sofi Dahlberg’s cello sets up the perfect ending that no guitar solo could ever achieve.
3. If It All Comes Down To You (5:53)
The 3rd track in the album, “If It All Comes Down To You”, is what I would show to someone if they asked for what I expect from a song. The song starts with a dreamy chord progression with the acoustic guitar, sandwiched between clean guitar licks, a tasty bassline, root note backing vocals, and strings. This start is already the definition of Anekdoten’s style and proves that Anekdoten didn’t lose their identity in their 8 years of silence. The soothing vocal melody that follows this intro is in a constant exchange between the guitars until Nicklas Barker sings the line that named the track “If it all comes down to you.” This line introduces the series of solos that make the listener fall completely in love with the song. First is a guitar solo with a slight overdrive that picks up right when the line “If it all comes down to you” ends and acts as a passing ground to the song’s more instrumentally-focused section. What comes next is what I believe to be the song’s highlight: the flute solo (not one, two flute solos!), played by no other than Theo Travis. Even if you didn’t know that Theo Travis was in the lineup, you would know it was him in the first note as the solo is highly reminiscent of the flute solo in “Luminol” from Steven Wilson’s “The Raven That Refused to Sing.” In addition to being similar to the incredibly well-crafted solo in “Luminol,” the flute solo in “If It All Comes Down To You” also includes the lick that is commonly known in the jazz community as “The Lick.” After the flute part ends, the guitar returns as if it is angry to be interrupted by the flute, and the song ends.
4. Writing On The Wall (9:03)
“Writing on the Wall” deals with the philosophy of opposing forces complementing each other, in the sense of existence and death. This philosophy is also known as “yin yang”
The water drops upon the rock until the rock is gone For every tick there is a tock, for every right a wrong
The chorus of the song is essentially the perfect summation of what the song is talking about. For everything in life, there is also the opposite of that thing. And for life, there is death. The example of a rock disappearing with drops of water is the main element of the song. It always seems to us that a rock will always stay as it is. However, just like everything does, the rock will disappear, even if its death will be by a seemingly inconsequential stream of water drops. Just like the rock, “Babylon will not escape the fall,” the song says, and it ties this eventual perishment to destiny, as represented by “the writing on the wall.” It also notes that we do not realize our end, as it says “The days turn into years and we’re still waiting for wonders to appear.”
The song starts with an epic 2-minute long intro with a perfectly matching set of riffs in the bass and the guitar supported by strings. When the lyrics enter, the instruments settle to a quieter sound. This quieter sound fools the listener into thinking that their background parts are not impressive. However, I must say that the chord progression in the background with the unusually altered chords is in itself a piece that can stand on its own. The bass parts, follow an interchanging ascending and descending pattern, carrying the progression and the vocals on its shoulders.
At this point, the vocals arrive at the chorus, talking about water drops. In this part, Anekdoten’s genius is clear as day. They use high pitched mellotron sounds to emulate a water drop sound in a musical manner, much like what we heard in “Echoes” from Pink Floyd’s “Meddle.” To represent contrast, one of the main themes of the song, they follow the high pitched “waterdrops” with a lower-pitched melody.
Of course, the second-longest track on the album can not be left without a 2-minute long guitar solo. Keeping such a solo engaging and interesting for the listener is hard, but Anekdoten shows us time and time again that they can do every task you throw at them easily. It is satisfying to hear the guitar hitting the root notes right at the chord change while also changing key, and the drums playing the same melody as the solo as a drum fill, and before we know it, the song is back at the guitar-bass frenzy that we were used to hearing at the start and was sad to hear it fade out. Such an ending can be quite hard to pull off, but again, it’s Anekdoten.
5. Until All The Ghosts Are Gone (5:07)
Even though the title track of the album is also the shortest song, it certainly shouldn’t be underestimated. It is a transition song between two other prog-madnesses and reflects the whole melancholic-dark themes and atmosphere of the album.
Opening up with the incredible bass and flute duet, the beginning of the song informs us that we will face the song that will take us to a place that is portrayed in the cover of the album. After the short dance of instrumentals, the first verse kicks in with an acoustic guitar and mellotron(yes, again) action. The voice of Nicklas Barker contains all of the characteristics of the person that is telling us the story of the song. We can hear the experiences that he has gone through, all the things that he has lost, all the sadness, all the hopelessness… All of them are represented by the rusty old voice of Barker that sometimes reminds me of the Turkish (to be more general, Eastern) arabesque music-because of the melodic structure and the use of vibrato.
The light’s getting weaker now The colours fading into grey The sentiments are all consumed by one The air’s getting thinner now Surrendering to the void What will I be?
Another highlight from the lyrics is the part where the narrator is talking about his claustrophobia. But this claustrophobia is the metaphor of how he is feeling because of the events in his life. He just thinks that with every other event that he experiences, life is overwhelming him and loneliness/hopelessness is choking him (thinking, he’ll probably be buried under because of the heaviness of his emotions). This section of the lyrics reminded me of the song “Street Spirit” by Radiohead since both of the characters are getting through a claustrophobic experience.
“It seems the walls are crumbling from within The roof above is starting to fall in I’m digging holes to bury all my sins Alone”
We can finally hear through the one of a kind guitar solo of Nicklas Barker that was certainly composed for this song and turns all the things left unsaid into the notes. Then the song ends as the vocals, flute, mellotron, strings, and guitar sounds blend into each other-creating one perfect sound as they became a whole(which can be interpreted as the character of our story has lost his battle against his feelings and he now became with his surroundings-squeezed and digested by all of them). Thoroughly, the title track of the album is the song that perfectly conducts lyrics and music together and shows the general(but not all) the atmosphere of the album.
6. Our Days Are Numbered (8:36)
Generally, the closing tracks on albums are the ones that settle the action and calm the listeners, dragging you away from the atmosphere of the album. However, with the song “Our Days Are Numbered”, Anekdoten defies that generalization and creates a “chaos” that certainly won’t be dismissed from the listeners’ minds even after the album is finished.
The fully-instrumental song starts with slow melodic phrases that come out from the electric guitar, synths, and woodwind instruments. At first, we think as if the song would proceed softly like the general closing tracks. However, after a minute the song changes direction to a rather heavy-proggy sound. This song really reminded me of Steven Wilson’s song “The Holy Drinker”, since they had a similar feel and a chaotic atmosphere. From this point, the song constantly progresses, keeping its complex riff and heavily 70’s prog(and probably some Opeth) influenced soundscape. We can see how they blended up many elements of many different genres and many different instruments by listening to this song. Especially the brilliant saxophone work on the song is a reminder of Steven Wilson’s solo works and Van Der Graff Generator, since how the two bands interpret the instrument and used the instrument to create similar effects on the listeners were extremely similar.
The theme of the song, which is being afraid to die and knowing that you won’t live forever, is well represented with the whole instrumentation of the song. The song has a never-ending dark tone and constantly makes the listeners feel the stress(by the highly effective use of mellotron), just like the constant stress that people face when they think about death. Considering that, this song is the absolute proof that you don’t need words to tell about an idea. Instead, with good musicianship like Anekdoten’s, you can make the listeners feel the idea that you are trying to represent. All in all, the song “Our Days Are Numbered” closes the album worthy of the darkness and progressiveness of Anekdoten.