Remember that summer when you were 10 years old and those few friends that meant everything to you? Whatever happened to them? That question serves as the inspiration and connecting thread for Rikard Sjöblom Gungfly’s upcoming release Friendship.
I’d wager to bet that Sjöblom looks forward to a day when his new releases aren’t compared to his previous – and now defunct – band Beardfish who established themselves as one of the most consistently brilliant modern progressive rock bands over the course of eight studio albums. But since Beardfish is the lineup that put Sjöblom on the map, those releases remain the standard by which he’s judged. Arguably, this new effort combines the best of what made both Beardfish and early Gungfly so special: intricate, brilliantly-crafted, thought-provoking, prog-tastic melodies blended with genre-hopping, yet sensible and catchy, straightforward hooks.
Originally created as an outlet for Rikard Sjöblom’s not-appropriate-for-Beardfish ideas, Gungfly has been steering more prog since Beardfish called it quits in 2016. Friendship continues this trend, helping to fill the void left by Beardfish disbanding while remaining uniquely Gungfly. On Friendship, Sjöblom carries on the tradition of being a one-man band by writing and recording huge portions of the albums himself. However, notable support is offered by drummer Petter Diamant, bassist Rasmus Diamant, and ex-Beardfish guitarist David Zackrisson.
“Ghost of Vanity” is a solid opener with a cleverly complex – but still catchy – riff weaving through the song, spotlighted initially by bass, then synth, and finally is revealed to be the vocal melody of the chorus. With the fist-pumping rhythm guitars in the intro and the opportunity shout “NO!” in middle of every iteration of the chorus, this tune is an obvious choice for energetic live performances.
Next up is the nearly 14-minute track “Friendship” – a rollercoaster of a tune with huge moments, softer resets, and many unexpected turns. The first 8 minutes play out like an epic instrumental, an overture of sorts, with several melodic hooks intertwined throughout. One of the most impactful moments on the album resides within this section that mellows out in the middle and soulfully builds over a couple minutes to a beautiful and powerful crescendo. The vocal section isn’t introduced until the last 6 minutes and can easily stand independently as its own song – which is exactly what you get with the radio edit bonus track. It’s within this portion of the titular track that the album’s lyrical theme takes clear focus.
“When I found that old picture of me standing on top of the treehouse it immediately sent me back to my childhood and I started thinking about all the friends I had back then,” explains Sjöblom. “You know, the whole deal with endless summer breaks and building treehouses and stuff like that …. I started thinking about the fact that these people were no longer part of my life, and this in turn got me thinking about that weird part of life where friends just drift away from each other. So, it’s a concept album about a treehouse that I built when I was around ten. Turns out it was a magical place and somehow all my friends from my 36 years on this planet can reside there forever, almost like the chapel at the end of the TV-show Lost.”
“They Fade” is another stand-out on the album for many reasons. It is easily the least proggy song in the collection, identifying more as soulful, story-driven, folk/country rock. It’s catchy, straightforward, and easy to digest, while still offering a subtle complexity in the backing layers and honky-tonk piano flourishes for those looking to analyze deeper. This is a track where you will find yourself singing along within the first listen. “They Fade” is also the first track written specifically for this collection and helped drive the concept, as Rikard felt that this idea of friendships fading away had the potential to expand into an entire album.
“A Treehouse in a Glade” delivers – without disappointment – the whimsical, eclectic, “anything goes” instrumental that we’ve come to expect on every Rikard Sjöblom release. The tune “Stone Cold” effortlessly blends pop rock with an uncompromising multi-voice instrumental midsection while asking the poignant question “Am I still that friend to you?”
“If You Fall (Part 2)” reprises some familiar melodies from “If You Fall (Part 1)” found on Rikard Sjöblom Gungfly’s 2017 tour de force On Her Journey to the Sun and provides a fitting continuation that makes more sense lyrically when placed in the context of this album. At nearly 13 minutes, it is much more than a rehashing of part 1. Many new melodies are introduced that remain framed within the main hook from the original release.
With the final tune “Crown of Leaves” Rikard nicely ties the album together by reprising several lyrical themes. Musically, however, we are treated to an entirely distinctive composition where the band demonstrates their ability to defy genres by gradually transforming into a jazz trio. This seems odd, I admit, but somehow it all works. Rasmus Diamant shines brightly on this track with his exceptional double bass work.
The initial print of the album includes three bonus tracks. The aforementioned radio edit of “Friendship” is essentially the final 6 minutes of the full version, excluding the long instrumental opening sequence. Personally, I prefer the original, full-length edit, but this version makes the heart of the song more accessible to less prog-minded individuals. The other two bonus tracks, “Slow Dancer” and “Past Generation,” are listed as bonus tracks due to not fitting the album’s concept. These tunes are far from “cutting room scraps” or filler. Each is worthy of release, making them welcome additions to the track listing. “Past Generation” stood out to me as an uncharacteristically angst-ridden punk anthem that intrigued me into further investigation. When asking Rikard about the song’s origins, he gave this explanation:
“The fun thing about “Past Generation” is that it was written in 1996 together with an old friend of mine and it was performed ONCE at a school concert when I was in the 8th grade. This was the first time Petter [Diamant] and I played together! We both remembered it well, and one day in 2016 Petter suggested we (Rasmus, Petter and I) should go down to the studio and record a proper version of it. Their father had a videotape of the performance from ’96 so we watched it and laughed our asses off! I transcribed the lyrics, changed a few words and sentences that didn’t make sense, and then we recorded it live in the studio apart from the vocals which were recorded in the afternoon. Rasmus had a pretty clear idea of how he wanted the mix to sound so he mixed the song in the evening after Petter and I went home. I think it turned out great!”
Some albums are strong out of the gate; some grow on you over multiple listens. Friendship falls into both categories. The first few cuts instantly grab you. Others slowly mature to a full appreciation. After each spin something new stands out, making this collection one that can be quickly appreciated today but will likely withstand the test of time as well. I count Friendship as the 16th Sjöblom-penned album in my collection, and somehow there are no signs of slowing down. He’s once again given us something impressive structurally and creatively, which begs the question “How does Rikard Sjöblom remain so consistently brilliant?” The album can be pre-ordered from Rikard‘s website at this location.
Released By: InsideOut Music
Release Date: November 9th, 2018
Genre: Progressive Rock
- Petter Diamant / Drums on all tracks (including bonus tracks) and backing vocals on track 9
- Rasmus Diamant / Bass on tracks 1, 5, 9, double bass on track 7, backing vocals on track 9
- David Zackrisson / Guitar on tracks 6, 7
- Rikard Sjöblom / All other guitars, vocals, keyboards and bass
- Ghost of Vanity
- They Fade
- A Treehouse in a Glade
- Stone Cold
- If You Fall (Part 2)
- Crown of Leaves
- Slow Dancer (Bonus Track)
- Past Generation (Bonus Track)
- Friendship (Radio Edit) (Bonus Track)
Friendship delivers what Rikard Sjöblom does best – creative, intricate melodies with catchy hooks – and tops it with a beautiful, heartfelt, nostalgia trip of a lyrical concept with which anyone can identify. Very approachable for casual listeners, but complex enough to impress prog rock fanatics.