I was not really aware of The Flower Kings until after hearing and seeing Roine Stolt perform with the prog-rock supergroup Transatlantic in 2000. His brilliant guitar playing and distinctive lead vocal contributions on their epic debut album SMPT was some of the most refreshing stuff I had heard in a long time. Little did I know that The Flower Kings were one of Sweden’s best bands, and with the quality and quantity of great progressive music coming out of that fine country lately, that is saying volumes.
Meet The Flower Kings was recorded at the Stadsteater in the band’s hometown of Upsalla, Sweden, on February 10th, 2003. This is not a true live concert, but more of a live studio performance with only a handful of invited guests in attendance. The small audience is never really included in the filming and were apparently told to shut the hell up during the performances, which kills any trace of live concert atmosphere to speak of. To give you an idea of what to expect from these guys, there are only six songs performed, but they total a staggering two and a half hours! Now clean up the drink you just sprayed all over your keyboard. That’s par for the course with this band, as most of their albums are double-length behemoths that often get bogged down by too much filler. The Flower Kings are not an easy listen, and require a lot of patience to get through some of the longer songs – which are the majority.
The performance kicks off with the epic (I swear to only use that word this one time) "The Truth Will Set You Free," the 31-minute suite that opens their 2002 album Unfold the Future. This baby is progressive-rock at its most indulgent — jaw-dropping musicianship, overwhelming emotionality, and more time signatures than in an ordinary band’s entire catalog. To me, the song meanders on too long and would have benefited from at least a ten minute pruning. Along with the five regular Flower Kings onstage are Pain Of Salvation frontman Daniel Gildenlöw adding some extra guitar, keys, percussion, and his incredible vocal range. Also joining them are Hasse Bruniusson of the band Flying Flood Circus with some extra percussion and vocals. With these seven virtuosos up there, they are able to easily recreate, and often surpass, the complex arrangements of their most challenging studio work.
The program alternates between song performances and behind-the-scenes footage. This was one of those rare occasions where I didn’t really mind, considering the length of each song. For instance, "Garden Of Dreams," the 18-part, 60-minute monstrosity that kicks off their 1999 album Flower Power is up next, but they are kind enough to slice it up into a 27-minute Part 1, and a 17-minute Part 2, which are separated by more behind-the-scenes stuff. Don’t let the length frighten you though because this one is a stunner. They somehow manage to mix in the sounds of James Taylor, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Bob Marley, Pink Floyd, and Al DiMeola into one song. Yeah, that’s who they sound like. Roine Stolt shares frontman duties with guitarist/vocalist Hans Fröberg who has a more ordinary, but pleasant-sounding voice. Stolt’s vocals have a rather nasally, lounge singer-like quality and he tends to over-enunciate everything, but he still manages to be very appealing. He is truly unique.
I haven’t yet seen The Flower Kings in a true live concert setting, but they were rather boring to watch in this setting. Kind of like a mini prog-rock orchestra. To make matters worse, they blended all kinds of bizarre film footage, such as modern dance, juggling, ballet, fire-eating, or simply scenes of the Swedish countryside, throughout the song performances. Didn’t they see The Song Remains The Same for Christ’s sake! The camera editing doesn’t exactly help matters either. Although the director mostly uses slow sweeping motions that rarely change angles too quickly, a good thing, he often ignores the person who is playing the key part or solo at the time, and kind of just meanders about freely. The guest musicians are almost completely ignored too.
The songs on the second disk are slightly less compelling than the two masterworks that filled the first disk. That is, until you get to the 26-minute, magnum opus "Stardust We Are," which closes out the performance. Before that, you get an unremarkable 23-minute performance of "Humanizzimo," which is actually from the 2001 Roine Stolt solo album The Flower King, followed by the King Crimson-esque instrumental "Circus Brimstone," and then "Silent Inferno," the second choice from Unfold the Future. Maybe I was just already exhausted after the first disk, or there were better songs I would have loved to hear such as "I Am the Sun" or "Church of Your Heart." But hell, even a mediocre Flower Kings song towers over most of the other prog-rock competition out there.
Some of the behind-the-scenes extras were interesting, but most were fairly bland. It doesn’t help that only Swedish is spoken throughout, and even if you do understand the language, the dialog is usually barely audible. Unfortunately, the only audio mix provided is PCM stereo, but it is one of the best I have ever heard. Every instrument and vocal clearly stands out and is perfectly balanced in the mix. The video quality is also outstanding.
Overall, this is an impressive documentary of the music and musicianship of The Flower Kings. Some of the performances will make you shake your head in awe, especially the amazing playing of their new young drummer Zoltan Csörsz, who joined the band in 2002, just in time to play on the Unfold The Future album and this DVD. Watching him mess around on the skins during the behind the scenes footage was probably the most impressive stuff of all. Stolt was also at the top of his game, and his guitar playing has never been more dazzling. It’s about time you meet The Flower Kings.
The Truth Will Set You Free
Garden Of Dreams part 1
Garden Of Dreams part 2
Stardust We Are
Read all of my DVD concert reviews at Roy’s Reviews