The Flower Kings rule with By Royal Decree - a lean, melodic prog-rock trip

By Royal Decree 

Artist: The Flower Kings  

Inside Out Music

18 total tracks / CD I - 52:14 CD 2 - 41:43     

The new project by The Flower Kings, By Royal Decree, is a wonderful hour and a-half plus of meaty progressive rock music. Solid songwriting rescues the double disc from the potential tediousness of the genre, buttressed by wonderful playing, solid melodies, intriguing vocals, tasteful symphonic elements, and a skillful mix-in of jazz, classic rock and folk. The unique stamp of founding member Roine Stolt’s vocals and guitar are the glue that holds the diverse elements together to make this double CD set a unified work that stands strongly next to any of Stolt’s / The Flower Kings’ past efforts.

Roine’s brother Michael is back in the fold playing bass, and his playing is extremely articulate and lively throughout. The interplay between the two Stolts on “Evolution” is a thing of beauty. Of course all of the players on By Royal Decree shine throughout. Drums by Mirrko DeMaio, additional bass by Jonas Reingold, keys by Zach Kamins - all of the basics are executed with energy and the tightness necessary to create music like this, incorporating shifting time signatures and pin-point interplay. Thanks to Kamins and Stolt’s synth work there are plenty of interesting musical textures and unique sounds. There’s some delightful acordian work by Aliaksandr Yasinski (yes, I said acordian) on “Letter” - and Rob Townsend’s sax soloing on “Blinded” lends a nice, jazzy feel to one of the strongest and longest songs on the album, clocking in at nearly eight minutes.

Musical comparisons always fall apart - and rightfully so - but these ears hear hints of Queen, Focus, and a good helping of Frank Zappa sprinkled throughout this project. It goes without saying that fans of Transatlantic and The Neal Morse Band will also find much to relate to on By Royal Decree, but fans of Frank Zappa’s work will have a field day with Stolt’s arrangements on songs like “Blinded” and “Time the Great Healer.” Of course, Stolt’s wonderful guitar work echoes Zappa in tone and often technique - “Evolution” and “Open Your Heart” are good examples, but you’ll hear Zappa-like phrases all over the album. There’s another subtle but interesting musical callback - even though these songs were finished long before the recent passing of Procol Harum’s Gary Brooker, the opening chords of “A Salty Dog” seem to haunt “Moth,” as if in tribute...

Roine Stolt’s vocals have never sounded more appealing to me than on this album. While he’s not the only vocalist, his voice is the one that stays with you. I imagine it could be an acquired taste, especially to American ears (this is a Swedish band, and Stolt does have a bit of an accent), but his vocals are sure-footed and distinctly his own. Sometimes sounding a bit sinister, always expressive, and at times quite passionate, Stolt’s vocal prowess are put to good use on By Royal Decree. He goes from impish (“Letter”) to sincere (“We Can Make it Work”) using his unmistakable vocal timbre to full effect.

Lyrically, the album is generally uplifting and somewhat spiritual in places without ever becoming too literal or preachy. Roine sings that “There's a man who'll hear you out / You've seen his eyes, you've seen the light / He'll make it right.” While he leaves it up to you to figure out who that man is, he also sings “let’s face it - the world has gone crazy,” in the appropriately-titled “World Gone Crazy.” In a more positive mode he also sings, “We can make it work together / The power of two, working out is twice as clever / We can make the world go round and round / The me's and the you's - all set for any weather,” from the hopeful “We Can Make it Work.”

Without grand epics, most of the songs hover between four to six minutes, with three of the more intricate pieces passing the seven minute mark. This is not a negative, prog fans, since there’s not on ounce of fat in the tracks. There’s plenty of great soloing and lots of interesting tempo changes and chord progressions to be enjoyed. There are no wasted moments. By Royal Decree delivers both musically and emotionally - it’s a solid piece of work and much of it will stay with you after only a few listenings thanks to strong melodies and fine production. Roine rules on By Royal Decree.

- Bert Saraco 

You can see Bert’s concert photography (including pictures of Roine Stolt in action with Transatlantic)

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