Somewhere on the outskirts of progressive music, amidst waves of 9-string trendhoppers and unbearable Dream Theater knockoffs, exists the entity known as Beardfish. This Swedish quartet has been cranking out thoughtfully complex music and left-field lyrics for over a decade, though I must admit that my own experience with them is limited to what I’ve heard in my friend’s car. Their new record is cryptically titled +4626-Comfortzone.
The album starts off with “The One Inside, Part One,” a melodic theme that will reoccur in different arrangements throughout the rest of the album. Up next is “Hold On,” a 7-minute jam that recalls Yes with its dominant bass work and tricky harmonies. This is some clever shit, and as a fan of prog in a general sense, this album is checking all the appropriate boxes for me.
But it’s not until the third track,”Comfort Zone” that I begin to understand what the band is getting at. The lyrics are pretty dark on this record, and despite the use of humor to blunt the edges, the message is painfully familiar: small towns and smaller minds. As a resident of the midwestern U.S., where most of us will die exactly where we were born and not even mind, the sentiment hits home.
This general theme comes up on occasion throughout the album, in subtle ways. For instance, on “Daughter/Whore,” Sjöblom rails against outdated anti-woman attitudes, as his band tears through some pseudo-thrash metal beneath. And the vaguely funky “Ode To The Rock ‘n Roller” laments the closed-mindedness and limited palettes of typical rock music fans. (Bonus points are given for referring to the aforementioned fans as “buttholes” in song.) Culturally, I find it amusing that across the globe, whether in middle America or Beardfish‘s hometown in Sweden, small-town ignorance equates with misogyny and watered-down music.
But the obvious centerpiece is “If We Must Be Apart (A Love Story Continued),” a 15-minute epic about lovers that have drifted apart. The band throws in everything including the kitchen sink for this one, including folky acoustic passages, Genesis-esque organ work, and some fluid lead guitar work. In a trick ending worthy of M. Night Shamalayan, it’s revealed that Satanism is somehow behind it all, and the band ramps up the heaviness accordingly for a big finalé. Finally, “The One Inside, Part 3 – Relief” builds the theme from Parts 1 & 2 into a full-fledged song, and brings the album full circle nicely.
To make a long story short, this is a damn good progressive rock album. And if this review has favored the lyrics slightly, rest assured that the musicianship and songwriting is also top notch. It’s rare to find an album this complex and long-winded that is also memorable and, y’know, has a fucking point. Beardfish has succeeded on all counts.