September 18, 2020

Dramatic and evocative… Album Of The Year material

There is cause for celebration in the land of Wobbler. The many-bearded quintet has emerged from their lair deep in the Norwegian woodland to deliver the follow-up to 2017’s acclaimed From Silence To Somewhere. An even more robust and focused release, Dwellers Of The Deep marks the first time that a fresh crop of Wobblerworks feels like a proper and equal blend of each of the preceding albums. This is not From Silence… part 2, but its own observation seasoned liberally with components of the band’s rich heritage. Elements of albums such as Hinterland and Rites At Dawn seamlessly swirl together, with tiny sprouts of new ideas breaking through the soil in search of their own sunlight.

Sure, Wobbler don’t ignore the past – theirs or anyone else’s – but while less substantial bands are sometimes chastised for relying too heavily on sounds forged by heroes of yore, the Wobblies float far above that middling crowd with lush compositions, brilliant playing, and a profoundly distinct presence. Does their music reinvent the wheel? Certainly not. But I’ll be damned if they don’t craft consistently spectacular music that is instantly identifiable as them – a characteristic absent from some others who are seen to emulate rather than create, and founder by comparison.

Dwellers Of The Deep wastes no time, springing to life instantly with the lengthy opener By The Banks. The eccentric track intoxicates the senses as though drawn into some kind of mad, fantastical banquet we’ve stumbled upon. Its frantic keyboards and fluid guitar line quickly lead to wordless harmony vocals before blooming into a dynamic and decadent epic with shifting moods and tempos. At one point midway, the piece so recalls Gentle Giant that it’s almost startling – if it wasn’t so deliciously entertaining. The ever-present arsenal of vintage keyboard sounds courtesy of Lars Fredrik Frøislie confidently leads the charge, and lovers of all things moog, mellotron and more will find much to relish here. Playful folk, haunting themes and plaintive flute all play their respective roles as the piece eventually reprises the opening themes and earns its position as Best Album Opener of their career.

Five Rooms is of a similar nature, if somewhat more compact (at a tiny eight minutes). The hallowed sound of its organ intro is accompanied once again by wordless dual vocals, soon exploding into a frenzied, almost claustrophobic verse. Numerous changes follow throughout the complex composition, showcasing many beloved Wobbler hallmarks, including some fiery playing and a thick, rubbery Rickenbacker that boldly rises above the fray. Indeed, Kristian Hultgren often threatens to steal the show with his tasty and appealing bass tone – but make no mistake: Wobbler are the sum of their five excellent parts.

Naiad Dreams, in contrast, is a breather from the bombast, four minutes of summery gentleness that recalls the more tranquil moments of Anthony Phillips, PFM, and even Led Zeppelin III. At one point it almost feels like the serenity of the piece could suddenly veer into something more high energy, but it remains consistent, never growing into something it shouldn’t. On an earlier Wobbler album, it may have been used as merely one section of a larger epic, but here it knows its place and is all the better for it. Many a band have spoiled such a track by inexplicably expanding it or shoehorning it into a foreign house.

The 19-minute album closer and epic bookend track Merry Macabre is surely Dwellers‘ centerpiece, a compelling, otherworldly journey through their numerous facets. An eerie piano intro is joined by rumbling cymbals before Hammond organ enters and the full band barges in. The huge opus then wanders many paths: from jazzy to choral, breezy to dense, pensive to rocking. Nods are given to Goblin, Van Der Graaf Generator, ELP, King Crimson, Yes, Gentle Giant, and of course their Scandinavian brethren, those dark charms always potent ingredients. The climactic ending section is full-on hyperdrive prog rock with grand, dazzling keys over top of shifting chords, culminating in a finale that crosses between those of Yours Is No Disgrace and A Day In The Life. Fading chant-like vocals trail off and lull the listener into a peaceful – if somber – moment of reflection, as though they’ve just been released from some ancient ritual.

Dwellers Of The Deep is dramatic and evocative, but those feelings and images seem to dissipate like smoke, as fleeting and unreachable as trying to remember a dream: midnight snow fluttering through a lantern’s beam, ships splintering in a cruel maelstrom, the final leaf of autumn’s deathly gasp, the ruins of mossy stone temples. It’s engaging stuff, this, and it’s no small feat for the band to carve out such a respectable place above the bloated horde of their contemporaries. Any criticisms one might naturally level seem to drop away instantly from the sheer joy of immersing oneself in this music, and they can only be admired for that. In defiance of tradition, I’m not waiting to see how things play out over time, because it’s obvious. Simply put, Dwellers is the best and most consistent album Wobbler have made, easily Album Of The Year material, and earns a monstrously high recommendation. Proceed entirely without caution.

Dwellers Of The Deep is released 23 October.

By The Banks · Five Rooms · Naiad Dreams · Merry Macabre

  • Andreas Wettergreen Strømman Prestmo – vocals, guitars
  • Marius Halleland – guitars, backing vocals
  • Lars Fredrik Frøislie – keyboards
  • Kristian Karl Hultgren – bass
  • Martin Nordrum Kneppen – drums