August 27, 2023

It’s a thoroughly enjoyable slab of prog that will have you eagerly waiting for the next two installments of the trilogy.

You can be forgiven for never having heard of The Chronicles Of Father Robin. This is, after all, their debut album, but we’re not talking about some young hopefuls here; instead, the band is a super group of sorts, even if it is a rather loosely formed one of young hopefuls that became known in other groups over the three decades that it has taken to bring to fruition this release. Its origins go back to ideas put together in the early ‘90s by singer Andreas Wettergreen Strømman Prestmo of Les Fleurs Du Mal, bassist Jon André Nilsen (the Few), and drummer Henrik Harmer who played with both of those bands. The trio had a joint interest in folk tales, mythology, fantasy literature, and their parents’ vinyl collection. Guitarist Thomas Hagen Kaldhol (The Samuel Jackson Five) was next to adhere to the project along with Regin Meyer of Les Fleur Du Mal. Eventually, Les Fleur Du Mal morphed into Tusmørke, and Prestmo joined Wobbler, and the project drew others from those two groups (and elsewhere), perhaps most importantly Wobbler keyboardist Lars Fredrik Frøislie.

You know the saying about waiting for a bus and then three turn up? Well, it’s a bit like that with The Chronicles Of Father Robin: this release is subtitled The Tale of Father Robin (State of Nature), and we already know that it is part of a trilogy with Book 2 entitled Ocean Traveller (Metamorphosis) and Book 3 Magical Chronicle (Ascension). Each album will have six tracks, forming an eighteen-track opus. You would expect decent length tracks so it’s a little disorientating when the opening two tracks last barely one minute each. The Prologue simply consists of the sound of waves, then footsteps and a door opening. Slightly more substantial is The Tale Of Father Robin which is a jaunty little folk song, almost with a medieval feel to it. This sort of quirkiness is in Tusmørke territory and might worry those of you who (like me) like their prog to be serious and find Tusmørke just a little too strange.

Those fears are allayed within about five seconds of Eleison Forest beginning as the full band come racing in with a pulsating rhythm and keys and guitar entwined in a thrilling riff which returns at various points in this twelve-minute song. That opening eases into a gentler flute-led instrumental, accompanied by some striking bass playing that propels the music forward. The vocal section that follows mixes dreamy Camel-like sections with a more angular guitar riff. These elements are masterfully constructed and mixed, and there is time for solos for keys, flute, and guitar. It’s a great track and very much in the warm and mellow Scandinavian prog tradition that started in the ‘90s prog revival with bands like Änglagård and White Willow.

The Death Of The Fair Maiden, one of two eight-minute tracks, is possibly the highlight of the album. It’s a title that might put English folk rock groups of the ilk of Steeleye Span or Fairport Convention in mind and the song certainly has a very English traditional sort of melody. But key to the song is the delightful acoustic theme which opens the piece and then weaves its way through the song in different guises. After moving along mostly at mid-pace, the song concludes with a fast energetic passage that will definitely remind Camel fans of Lady Fantasy.  The second eight-minute track, Unicorn, that closes the album begins with sprightly flute and a jazzy accompaniment and then verges into a slightly flat vocal section that meanders somewhat. It does liven up towards the close with some fine guitar work, but this remains the least convincing of the longer songs.   

The centrepiece of the album, at least judging from its length, is the fifteen-minute Twilight Fields. It opens with a slightly nervous background and harsh guitar chords but then bursts into life with something that sounds in style like Rush’s 2112 Overture. You have to imagine hearing that Overture with the addition of wild flute playing though! There’s a languid vocal section that has the feel of classic Yes, especially in the harmonies and then a series of mostly instrumental sections that eventually build up to a return of the opening riffs. At first hearing it may seem disjointed but there’s certainly logic to how it proceeds. Perhaps the only disappointing element is the closing section where I expected the band to create a massive climax but instead the song fizzles out rather tamely.

With three-fifths of Wobbler contributing to the album there’s inevitably a Wobbler feel to a lot of the material – which of course is no bad thing! Fans of Wobbler will certainly lap this up, but so too will prog fans who loved the early ‘70s English scene – Camel and Jethro Tull foremost, or the more recent Scandinavian prog that has been influenced by it. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable slab of prog that will have you eagerly waiting for the next two installments of the trilogy.