Prog rock goes to Broadway.
Breaking new ground is not necessarily reserved to the newcomer, and though some might argue that progressive rock has seemingly done it all since its 1970s inception, there are a number of veterans of the craft whom beg to differ. To be clear, the particular case of Swedish multi-instrumentalist and mastermind Jörgen Schelander is one that begins in more traditionally grounded territory given his career began with a brief stint in the early 90s with the pioneering Finnish heavy metal outfit Oz. But not long after, he would find fertile ground for exploring the eclectic and technical end of the art via the Stockholm-based progressive metal outfit Mercury Fang, which would later rebrand itself as Misth and field several intricate studio entries during the 2010s. Add to this an adventurous progressive rock project with his brother and members of Avatarium and Pain Of Salvation in Astrakhan that saw him dabbling in the musical theater realm with an impressive rendition of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” and Jörgen’s creative bona fides become clearly established.
All of these aforementioned points in history could be likened to streams pouring into a larger pool that would be dubbed Sweet Freedom, a project that features a highly competent quartet of players alongside the man of the hour, and their debut offering “According To Jörgen Schelander” reveals a composer whose world is nothing if not elaborate. In what could be considered a well-balanced blend of old school progressive rock, an occasionally darker modern edge, and a tall order of musical theater trappings that could see this outfit headlining on Broadway, Sweet Freedom embodies the idea of creative freedom leading to sweet results. The collective of instrumentalists accompanying Jörgen in Håkan Nilsson (guitar), Håkan Rangemo (drums) and Jan Lund (bass), all of which were previously involved in the Varmland-based doom metal outfit Sabbtail prove highly competent, rivaling the players associated with the big names in prog-metal. But the sonic ambassador that truly steals the show in conveying Schelander’s musical ideas is vocalist Stefan Nykvist, whose pristine timbre and versatility blends perfectly with the varied web has been woven.
Though this album practically wears its Broadway-leanings on its shirtsleeve, it presents itself more as a traditional LP rather than a programmatic production that normally goes with an ensemble of stage actors singing along. One might be tempted to take the odd-time signature vocal fanfare that kicks off the first number “The River Of Silver And Gold” as the opening scene of the first act, but what actually emerges is a song that could pass for Dream Theater’s recent output with a hint of Queen’s “Bicycle Race” and some gospel elements in how the vocals interplay. The longer slough “Join The Circus” takes a somewhat darker and crunchier route that befits a song that takes a cynical view of society analogous to a clown show, but can’t help being catchy enough to pass for terrestrial rock radio despite being over 7 minutes in length. Things then proceed to launch into metallic territory with the punchy groove machine “Wasted Time”, spearheaded by a deep low-ended riff set and a grittier vocal performance out of Nykvist.
While the first act conveys a sound that is a bit mixed up but still stylistically consist, things get taken for a massive loop soon after. The light, coasting bluesy swagger of “Good Life” sees a correspondingly mellow vocal display out of Stefan, but Jörgen’s solid rock organ work proves the chief fixture. Flair of eastern mysticism comes into play with the entry of “Istanbul”, though once things get going it morphs into a slightly less frenetic emulation of Symphony X complete with a more aggressive vocal display out of Stefan. Acoustic ballad with occasional fits and starts “I Am Alive” actually outclasses “Join The Circus” in merging together seemingly disparate influences and making them flow together in a strong state of synchronicity while sounding dangerously close to a latter-day Led Zeppelin influence. But the coup de grace that really showcases how original progressive rock can be when the artists actually apply themselves is the digitally steeped is “Ghost For You” which goes heavy on the quirky keyboard sounds but also sees guitarist Nilsson showcasing his impressive chops.
Just as one cannot step on the same river twice, Sweet Freedom has put together a sound that listens like a direct nod to Rush and Yes during their respective heydays. The level of staying power that this album carries due to its highly eclectic set of influences and masterful performances reveals a newcomer outfit to be reckoned with, though it stops short of becoming as technically over-the-top as most of Dream Theater’s seminal offerings. It’s only real downfall is that it gets a little too ambitious for its own good, which may see some balking at a couple of songs that clock in at over 6 minutes, while others may find the jolting shifts in style that often occur within an individual song a bridge too far. But considering that many older progressive rock/metal fans have written off this style as having no more room to grow and evolve, this quintet has done much to reinvigorate the sub-genre with something that isn’t encountered every day.
Released By: Melodic Passion / Sound Pollution
Release Date: July 8th, 2022
Genre: Prog Metal
“According To Jörgen Schelander” track listing:
- The River of Silver and Gold
- Join the Circus
- Wasted Time
- Good Life
- Honor thy Name
- I am Alive
- Ghost of You
- Rest in Peace
- Stefan Nykvist / Lead & backing vocals
- Håkan Nilsson / Lead & rhythm guitar, acoustic guitar, backing vocals
- Jan Lund / Bass, acoustic guitar, backing vocals
- Håkan Rangemo / Drums, backing vocals
- Jörgen Schelander / Keyboards, 6-string & 12-string acoustic guitar, percussion, backing vocals
Order “According To Jörgen Schelander” HERE.
Longtime Swedish heavy metal veteran of stage and studio Jörgen Schelander shifts gears to become the mastermind of a new and intriguing project that seeks to border the rarely coinciding genres of progressive rock and musical theater