Airbag is a great name for a band. I’d never heard of them until a week ago. Comparisons to Pink Floyd and Porcupine Tree are enough to get this prog geek’s ears up, and here we are, listening to their fourth album, Disconnected. Giving your album the same name as the classic Fates Warning record is cheeky indeed, but my hopes are high that this band can pull it off. But first, some research. Hailing from Norway, Airbag got its start about a dozen years ago. Debut release Identity came out in 2009, and set the band’s style: epic, sweeping, mid-tempo songs slavishly devoted to David Gilmour-led Pink Floyd. Two more albums followed: All Rights Removed featured more of the same, with the 17-minute “Homesick” being a standout track. After this, someone showed guitarist Bjorn Riis the gain knob on his amp, and third album The Greatest Show On Earth was a darker, grittier version of the band. Really, a third album of mellow Pink Floyd worship would have been completely unnecessary. Evolve, dammit! Which brings us back to the album in hand. Will Airbag continue to evolve their sound, or will they simply fall back and rely on the Gilmour worship? Sadly, they go for the latter on Disconnected, which turns out to be a lush, slow, introspective album dealing primarily with feelings of loss, pain, and, um, disconnectedness.
Opening track “Killer” is one of the standout cuts. It comes in with a relatively upbeat tempo, and features compelling lyrics – “Here I am, a self-made predatory man,” vocalist Asle Tostrup croons. The song is epic in length, and with the extended wah guitar solo it gets right to the point of the album: an unabashed love of David Gilmour’s Pink Floyd compositions.
The next three songs – or half the album, as it is only six songs in total – slow things down considerably, and while they’re well played, there’s nothing in them (aside from more lengthy guitar solos) to merit hitting the repeat button, unless mid-tempo dream-prog is your cup of tea. They pleasantly pass the time by but do little else. Not until the title track do we get something that perks us up. The longest song on the album, “Disconnected” features moody, atmospheric synth washes to open, with muted percussion joining in, and plenty of movement within the song, making it a proggy gem of a track. More, please!
The band closes things off with “Returned,” yet another slow, mild track. The twist here is that the lyrics are uplifting rather than despairing. “Now my heart is wide open, and I’ll find my way back to you,” Tostrup sings in Anathema-like fashion, and the song builds exactly as most Anathema songs tend to do.
Production quality is mixed on Disconnected. Although vocals, guitars, and keyboards shimmer and radiate the lushness sought after, the drums are strangely muted. They’re subtle, but present. The snare drum lacks punch and clarity throughout, and when the tom loop comes in for the title track (practically lifted from Tool’s “Reflection”) the drums disappear completely into the background as the rest of the band enters. There’s no need for this and it takes away from whatever edge these songs may have possessed.
Airbag clearly has the chops to create some beautiful records. Asle Tostrup’s voice is well suited to this slow prog rock style, and Bjorn Riis does a credible job of soloing like Gilmour. Disconnected is their third of four records that sound basically the same, though. It would be nice to see the band stretch out a bit and add some variety to their songwriting. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen here. Disconnected is a pleasant album that won’t offend any of your dinner guests. It also won’t have them asking who the band is.