November 20, 2022

It’s nice to see such an ambitious debut album full of music that is complex and demands concentration.

Norway is fast becoming the go-to place to find interesting and innovative prog bands. From Wobbler through to Arabs in Aspic, there seems to be a conveyor belt of Norwegian groups that are inspired by the prog legends of the past but capable of putting their own very Scandinavian twist on the genre. Wizrd is the latest new prog group coming out of Norway, although I’m not quite sure whether I should refer to them as a group or a project since its members also have multiple other commitments: Hallvard Gaardløs on bass and lead vocals also plays in Spidergawd; Karl Bjorå on guitars and vocals plays in Megalodon Collective; Vegard Lien Bjerkan on keyboards and vocals, and Axel Skalstad on drums both play in Soft Ffog.

If you are not familiar with those names, then both Megalodon Collective and Soft Ffog are jazz-oriented bands, while Spidergawd are a very different kettle of fish, more of a throwback to classic ‘70s heavy rock. Does that mean we get a bizarre mixture along the lines of Jazz Sabbath? No, not at all, because what emerges out of the mix is a curious jazzy prog sound with late ‘60s psychedelia overtones that’s very hard to categorise. Their own label hits the nail on the head by describing them as ‘a Norwegian rock band that dips its toes in all kinds of genres. From rock and indie to jazz and prog, Wizrd knows all the rules but deliberately breaks them’.  To these ears, the band I hear closest parallels to is Yes. Now, they don’t sound like Yes, but the guitar style has that angular choppiness that one often finds in Steve Howe’s playing and vocals are frequently delivered with multiple harmonies, another Yes trademark. Opening track, Lessons, highlights both traits, as well as hurrying and bustling along very much like Yes’ Siberian Khatru.

Finally, a band that smiles! (Photo: Frida Roland)

While in this Yes-influenced mode, Wizrd demonstrate that they can create intricate and dense music, but on the couple of occasions that they move into more mainstream rock territory, the band is less convincing. For example, Spitfire, that is something of a homage to Deep Purple, drives along frenetically like a modern-day Fireball, and while it’s quite an enjoyable song, it’s not going to compete with the best of the material by the myriad bands reworking that ‘70’s hard rock sound.

The longest composition at eight minutes, All Is As It Should Be, is probably the standout piece. The track is mostly instrumental, driven by a pulsating guitar riff and fine drumming. The song has a quite lengthy organ solo and an increasingly frenzied guitar solo too. Overall, this is the most coherent and convincing piece on the album. In contrast, a song like Free Will has two individually interesting elements but the two of them don’t meld well together. That accusation of being slightly disjointed also applies to Show Me What You Got but, in this case, the track works well all the same. The first part is marked by some complex time signatures and impressive jazz rhythms that leads to a slightly chaotic instrumental section where the band seems close to going off the rails. But there’s then a remarkable mood change at just past the four-minute mark as a beautiful melody is introduced with sparse backing. The organ gradually swells, accompanied by vocalising, into a fine climax. It’s three minutes of prog brilliance, albeit slightly unexpected after the first part of the song.

It’s nice to see such an ambitious debut album full of music that is complex and demands concentration. Wizrd certainly aren’t looking for the easy route to commercial success and they deserve a lot of credit for that. Seasons will certainly appeal to those who enjoy complex but compact prog with robust jazz overtones. Wizrd are a promising new addition to the stable of Norwegian prog bands, and definitely one to keep an eye on.