The 1970s were a fascinating period for Sweden. There was a ton of experimentation, it was the 1970s, but just like many other phenomena, much of what was happening in the outside world was mirrored in the funhouse mirror that is Sweden’s culture. So while Americans of the time, for example, flirted with Marxism, drugs and experimental music, all of that stuff got taken in different directions in Sweden. Reading about the so-called “Red Wave” (red as in communist) of the 1970s is actually really interesting, and seeing how that was showed up and was interpreted in other parts of the culture is a fascinating endeavor. It follows, then, that one of the most interesting things that came out of the era was called “progg” (that might look familiar to you), and it is not the same as what we think of progressive or symphonic rock that changed the face of rock in the US or UK. Instead, much of the scene was caught up in ideologies and were far more concerned with political thought than with music at all. (Rumor has it that one of the bands let everyone play every instrument because it would be unfair otherwise.)
There were, however, spin-offs or non-conformist non-conformists. One of them reformed fairly recently in Kaipa, whose record I reviewed last year and adored. Another of these bands that didn’t quite fit into the mentality of the scene (as I understand it anyway) is Kebnekajse, who play what I see as the grandfather of folk metal and reformed in 2009 to put out a self-titled release that brings this Angry Metal Guy some tremendous joy. I don’t know if it’s fair to count these guys as “progg” in the political sense, but since they came out in the same era they are definitely associated with the scene. The band is now back for their second go since reunion and Idioten (The Fool) is some damn fine art rock.
So to give you metal types some reference, these guys aren’t heavy. Well, they’re heavy for a folk rock band, but as far as what we’re used to listening to they’re not heavy. They are, however, like a blending of 70s rock, African beats and, most of all, Swedish folk melodies. So the passing fan of Otyg, Vintersorg, Fejd, MÃ¥negarm and others should at least be a little bit interested. Of course, the difference here, is that there’s no metal root. Instead, this music has a lot more in common with Pink Floyd or Afrocelt Sound Collective than it does with anything else I really listen to. The tracks, like “Senegal Beat,” often wander off on hazy grooves that aren’t really the kind of thing that I normally listen to. Or, like on the follow up track “Tax Free,” you can hear the 70s loud and clear in the tone, the lead sounds like it could’ve been Hendrix.
But it’s all about the creeping subtlety that gets under the skin and sticks with these guys. The record sounds like it was recorded in an old analogue studio somewhere and that these guys walked and picked up their instruments, dusted off the equipment and picked right back up. The production is a bit fuzzy and I’d go so far as to say muddy, and this could be a bad production job or it could be that they recorded on old analogue equipmentâ€”but for whatever reason it fits the music. This is something that probably shouldn’t even be listened to on CD. You should buy this on vinyl (which it is of course available on) and then sit on your living room floor in a beanbag and just listen. And fuck if Idioten doesn’t make me want to do that.
I’m a little iffy on scoring here, so I stuck it at 4. What I love most about this band is the use of the sort of melancholy Swedish folk melodies, so the aforementioned “Senegal Beat,” for example, after the first few listens I started skipping because it just wasn’t my thing. And sometimes tracks wander a bit more than I would like them to, maybe a bit more like a tad jam band at times, than I’d like which isn’t something that I have previously ever been into. But outside of small imperfections, I am moved. I’ve been listening to this record on every medium possible in this apartment over the last week or so and I can say that it is a truly enjoyable record.
If you’re a fan of folk music or progressive rock and/or art rock Idioten is something that should appeal to you at least a little. It’s available from the label’s website for damn cheap for CDs (by Swedish standards anyway). The vinyl is there as well and I strongly suggest you purchase this music because, well, it’s worth having. It’s also amazing that 40 years after their first album this band is producing music as heartwarming and interesting as their earliest material. One thing about metal is that after a while the people making it just seem quaint or absurd, they lose touch with the scene or they’re just out of date; but you just get the feeling that Kebnekajse will never get old.