After the release of Desolation Rose in 2013, there was no activity from The Flower Kings for a number of years, and with both Roine Stolt and Jonas Reingold active with other bands, the assumption was we’d heard the last from the band. But, to the surprise of many, they returned in 2019 with Waiting For Miracles, which they followed in 2020 with Islands, both of them double CDs, and in 2022 comes the third release in three years, By Royal Decree. (And, in-between Islands and this new album, Stolt was involved in recording The Absolute Universe with Transatlantic). This burst of creativity has occurred as the Kings weren’t distracted by touring, so they were able to focus on new material, as well as going back to unused material from earlier sessions. As Stolt says, ‘this album is a journey through my past as a writer’ and, at just over ninety minutes, slightly shorter than Islands, this is a hefty listen for a single session as, unlike Islands, this album wasn’t released as ‘one long piece of music.’ Mightn’t a single album have been more appropriate?
Whatever, similar to the Neal Morse Band, whose last three releases have also all been double CDs, the Kings have come up with an album containing seventeen tracks rammed with the usual eclectic mix of influences, ranging from rock, folk, symphonic with hints of jazz and blues. The music on this new album is as ambitious as any prog fan would expect, not particularly complex, more melodic and organic and yet always accessible. There are jazzy influences in tracks like Darkness in U, Blinded and the Steely Dan-like World’s Gone Crazy. The quality of the musicianship is exceptional, with all the musicians showing what they’re capable of. Stolt plays impeccably on tracks like The Soldier and Time The Great Healer, with well-structured solos which stop short of guitar hero histrionics, and Zach Kamins’ keyboards stand out on Peacock On Parade. A special shoutout also to drummer Mirko de Maio for sterling work all throughout the album.
It was quite ironic to hear Roine Stolt sing ‘the wheels have come off the wagon and the world’s gone crazy,’ on the very day Putin sent his soldiers into Ukraine. In fact, most of the lyrics on this album are about attempting to make sense of the world. Good luck with this!
They make a plea for cooperation on We Can Make It Work … ‘let’s go off the endless fighting, there’re other ways which are brighter’, and on The Big Funk, which sounds like a song Jon Anderson could have written, they talk about ‘people come a long way to be free’.
Overall, this is an album with no flat-out rock tracks, no bombast and no screeching vocals, just songs performed by a band doing what they do best, merging genres to make a positive statement, and if you view prog as being music without boundaries, played by musicians ready to follow their muse, The Flower Kings should fit the bill.