Now then , cast your mind back to a Velvet Thunder review last Autumn of the Italian retro-rock band Witchwood, described in those pages as an imagining of Uriah Heep and Jethro Tull playing together on the same stage. That perfectly captured the sense of the band, enough for me to rush out and invest! Well, here we have something very similar, a kind of harmonic prog-rock blending of Heart, Uriah Heep…..and dare I say a hint of Abba!! Prove me right or wrong!
Nephila is a Swedish psychedelic rock band consisting of seven young musicians, five of whom appear to like being masked most of the time – and I don’t mean surgical face masks, these are the full-on “Plague Doctor” variety – without any clue why this be so! The band are collectively inspired by ’60s and ’70s rock, with hints of folk and a twist of theatrical expressionism. Nephila won the nationwide Swedish music competition LiveKarusellen in 2019 and made an impact on everyone who attended. And I can see why, the seven tracks on the album provide a mix of heavy prog, retro rock, sweet guitar solos and duelling vocal harmonies provided by the band’s dual lead singers, with elements of mysticism, folklore, and storytelling.
The lead singers were previously with another Swedish retro band called Children of the Sün, who are distinctly hippy-ish so if you like the more psychedelic music of the late 60’s, early 70’s you’ll love this! Touches of heavy blues rock add to the retro feel, according to the band, guitars act as the basis on which hard rock rests as the heart of it all. Add to it that sense of mysticism and theatre, and that captures their ‘vision’. “Nephila’s strength definitely lies in our performance”, says one of the lead singers Stina. “The mystique is important. We all have strong personalities and our masks create yet another dimension. No matter what happens to any of us, the mask always lives on.”
The album opens with White Bones, which kicks off soaked in Hammond Organ, a great riff underpinned by some classy bass and drums. The vocals are superbly in sync, they get a bit stretched once or twice, but powerfully feed off each other. I’m fascinated as to how the two might decide who takes which role at times? Who Are You then has a fascinating swirling organ / riffs soundbase that rises and falls. A military beat drives the main song, with effective interplay in the vocals. And almost hidden in the mix are some great rhythmic licks. A strong track!
Mushroom Creatures gently tiptoes in your senses after the bombastic last number, before oh-so-sweet vocals awaken you! Operatic chord sequences then swoop in and out, and this is where I get that sense of this being a soundtrack for a Musical? A nice blues bridge section further lulls you, there’s undertones of so many nameless tunes and bands from the 60’s that I half-sense but can’t pin down – I suspect these guys have very interesting musical influences via their parents (and yes, that is an age thing!)
Belladonna is different, although still a sense of being from a Musical? It’s a slower, quite melancholy track, before hitting a very Pat Benatar-esque chorus line. The two voices of the singers are in perfect sync on this track, that sense of Benatar/Heart amalgam hits the spot for me! Next up is Guidance to Agony, and we’re straight into early Purple, Tull, swirling riffs and organ before the pace and mood slows dramatically. Another track where the five-some “band” is playing some impeccable, great quality blues/prog/retro but I’m not completely sure about the marriage with “floaty” vocals? It’s a good track though, with an impressive organ-led bridge section. I just wonder whether the arrangement is too complex in order to accommodate the twin vocals, hence that sense of Musical again? Clavata comes in with another crash of retro-riffs – this could be Heep, and my head is trying to picture David Byron covering the vocals instead…ooh!….whoever, whatever, its a nicely bluesy chunk of retro-rock, I would love to see these guys live!
“Alla Galaxers Centrum”….this is Swedish for “centre of all galaxies” and this closing track really is the powerhouse of this album. Nearly ten minutes long, sung in Swedish, slower, bluesy, it features some truly lovely guitar work and beautiful softer vocals, still alternating singers but both totally on the button. It builds sumptuously into a more proggy Tulli-ish, Heep-ish number, very classy soaring twin lead guitar work, wonderful stuff, an early vote for top10 tracks of the year! This reminds me of the recent release by Witchwood but carves a niche all of their very own – high quality retro prog-rock is clearly thriving in Europe – and long may it last! A really epic of a track to close a very strong album!
I am intrigued by these guys – there’s five really accomplished masked musicians, almost in the background at times, and I’m sure that’s quite deliberate, they’re happy to just play in relative anonymity and leave the glory to the girls!? The dual lead singers swing from being truly excellent and compelling, to sort of “High School musical” that occasionally feels slightly endearingly naive, sometimes a little strained? But they absolutely nail the album’s classic closer, and there’s a fascinating, fresh, and undoubtedly classy 70’s retro feel to this album that transcends any minor imperfections. A lovely piece of work and I look forward to seeing them live, and how their collective career takes off!
Nephila’s self titled debut album will be released June 4 on The Sign Records.