Hinterland – Wobbler
Well I recently stumbled upon this superb prog rock band from Norway on the Progrock Facebook Group thanks to my good friend Dan Lockard. The band Wobbler originally formed back in 1999, although it was not until 2005 that they released their debut album Hinterland.
This 5 piece band who got together in the Norwegian countryside and had a burning desire and ambition to recreate some of the expressions with their instruments that came from the prog rock scene back in the early 70’s. That much that they more or less decided that the only way to capture the music that came out of that dark decade, was to use the same vintage instruments many of the prog rock bands were using back then.
Most of the time they spent between 1999 – 2004 was spent accumulating the instruments and structuring the music. For example they even went out and brought vintage drum sticks from 1973 off Ebay. Only to find out that they broke on the third stroke :)))))).
The bands keyboard player spent a fortune amassing vintage synths. Although having gone on the road playing live with them. He soon found out that the synths were too temperamental these days for the road and to the change of climate conditions. So to save on time and repairs, he had to purchase even more up to date digital keyboards for this purpose and use most of the vintage synths for studio work only.
The band were quite young and very inexperienced even down to working in a studio to get a good production for their debut album, and upon its release they was not very happy with the production despite all the hard work, time and money they spent on it. Though the album was certainly good enough to be noted by a small American label known as Lasers Edge and was eventually released in 2005.
Like many bands today who love and are inspired by progressive rock from those dark distant days of the early 70’s and go about creating their own version of it, it’s certainly a struggle to make a lot money out of doing such great music.
I am sure many of you have heard of the expression “Don’t give up the day job”.
Well despite the fact that the band Wobbler released their 4th album From Silence To Somewhere last year, and it getting voted the album of the year by Progarchives and the band caused a bit of a stir in Italy when they played there. The members of the band still very much have a day job and only get to make music in their spare time.
So before I go deeper into what floats my boat about this band so much, let’s first take a look the packaging and artwork.
The Packaging & Artwork…
The CD is stored in a rather neat 2 panel cardboard Digipak and I like how the disc is stored in a plastic tray which lends more strength and support to the case, and it’s easy enough to retrieve the disc from the holder without getting your mitts all over the disc surface. It also has a pocket to store the booklet and is a very nice presentation overall.
The 10 page booklet it comes with contains the normal credits and production linear notes, plus the lyrics, some photos and some background information of when the album was made. Overall it’s quite informative and not just a load of pictures like some booklets.
The front cover artwork was done by the visionary artist Michael Bennett and it looks like this chaps either had a bad hair day, or had been throwing a Wobbler :)))))). It could also be that this Hinterland lies in a sleepy hollow deep within a Norwegian Wood. The band photos were taken by Erik Skjerve and the new CD layout for the 2018 release was done by Tom Erik Kristofferson.
CD & Vinyl Releases…
The album Hinterland was originally released on CD back in 2005. Because it went out of print the bands keyboard player Lars decided to not only reissue the album, but also remix and remaster it due to it not having a very good production in the first place. It’s now said to sound better than ever, and the new reissued CD comes in a Digipak and was released this year on Termo Records which I was pleased to see, and I got my copy of it from Amazon for £12.67.
Termo Records is a small record label owned jointly by Wobbler’s keyboard player Lars Fredrik Frøislie and Jacob Holm-Lupo who is a guitarist who plays in a couple of other bands in Norway.
Also in 2016 a very short run of limited editions were released on both black and coloured vinyl. Only 350 copies were pressed on black vinyl and 200 copies were pressed on blue & gold vinyl. These were also remixed and remastered by Lars and released on Pancromatic Records. Those I would expect will have sold out awhile ago now. But for my money it appears that I have got into the band at the right time, and no doubt the CD does sound really great too.
Musicians & Credits…
Produced by Wobbler, Jacob Holm-Lupo, Øystein Vesaas. Recorded and mixed between 19th June 2004 – 27th February 2005 at Lydkjokkenet Oslo Norway. Engineer Øystein Vesaas. Mastering Jens Petter Nilsen. Album Cover Artwork & Illustration by Michael Bennett. Band Photography by Erik Skjerve. New 2018 CD Layout by Tom Erik Kristofferson. Remixed & Remastered by Lars Fredrik Frøislie at Lars Studio 2015 – 2016.
Tony Johannessen: Lead Vocals.
Morten Eriksen: Gibson Explorer Electric & Martin Acoustic Guitars.
Kristian Hultgren: Rickennacker 4001 Bass Guitar & Saxophone.
Lars Fredrik Frøislie: Hammond C3/Minimoog Model D/Mellotron M400/Petrof Grand Piano/Berggren OG Bengzon Reed Organ/Glockenspiel/Wurlitzer A200/Rhodes Mark II Stage Piano/Hohner Clavinet D6/Zuckermann Harpsichord/ARP Pro Soloist/Arp Axxe Solina String Ensemble/Logan String Melody & Stylophone.
Martin Nordrum Kneppen: Ludwig Special Drums & Percussion.
Aage Moltke Schou: Percussion (On Hinterland & Rubato Industry)
Ulrik Gaston Larsen: Theorbo & Baroque Guitar (On Hinterland)
Pauliina Fred: Recorder (On Hinterland)
Ketil Vestrum Einarsen: Flute/Backing Vocals/Vocal Arrangements (On Hinterland, Clair Obscur & Rubato Industry)
The Album In Review…
The album Hinterland by Wobbler was originally released on the 5th July 2005 in the US only on the record label Lasers Edge. The album contains 4 tracks and comes with an overall playing time of 56 minutes, 48 seconds. 4 days after the albums release on the 9th July 2005 they played at the Nearfest prog rock festival in America. I guess the bands intention was to hit the American market first with them being tied to an America record label.
The band played the 3 main tracks from their debut album Hinterland at the festival. They also played “Imperial Winter White Dwarf” to which the studio version would later appear on their 2nd album Afterglow which was released 4 years later in 2009. This video I found on Youtube contains short edited excerpts from the live show, and it’s a shame they never had more of it.
Nearfest did also release a DVD of the bands that played at the festival back then. But it’s a compilation and only features the odd track that the bands played at the festival and not the whole of the set they played.
The only live video you do get of Wobbler is of them playing “Imperial Winter White Dwarf“. The British neo prog rock band IQ also played at the festival on the same day. Although personally even though I like IQ they do not quite cut the mustard regarding genuine prog rock music where as Wobbler certainly are more like it in my opinion.
Wobbler without a doubt are one of the best prog rock bands that came out much later than the 70’s. Their music is much more like the prog rock music that came out in that decade, and the only other band I can think of who did that, was the Swedish band Änglagård. Both bands produce highly original material that is very much their own, and is up there with the likes of Gentle Giant. Genesis. Yes. Gryphon and all those greats.
The other interesting thing about Wobbler is that out of the 4 albums they have made so far. They all sound completely different to one another. There is no doubt the band does have some musical influences from those greats from the 70’s. But the way the band go about writing their music is very much different. The only resemblances you will hear comes from the instrumentation they use.
The Album Tracks In Review…
The album Hinterland is perhaps more of an instrumental album rather than a collection of songs, and even though they do have a singer, he only gets to do his bit on 2 of the 4 tracks on the album. The band Wobbler are perhaps very much like the band Anglagard at this early stage of their career in the way that they like to be more instrumental and use the space more for the musicians to interact with one another on their instruments.
But where Anglagard have the advantage in presenting their music in this way, is really down to the fact that their singer happens to be one of their guitarists, so he’s not gonna be left twiddling his thumbs whilst the rest of the band carry on strutting their stuff so to speak, like poor old Tony Johannessen the singer of this band was doing.
I personally think the band should of paid more consideration to its vocalist and in reality the one of the two tracks Tony Johannessen did get to sing on this album is by far the best track on the album by a MASSIVE margin. Having heard all 4 of the bands albums, he was without a doubt the best singer they had in my personal opinion.
I do not know the reasons behind Johannessen’s departure from the band after they made their first 2 albums. But my guess is that the poor guy was bored out of his skull with the band giving him very little to do.
One of the other reasons why the band Wobbler may tend to focus more on instrumental pieces, is that the bands keyboard player and producer Lars Fredrik Frøislie has also composed a lot of music for films and television.
So having said all that lets see just how the bands debut album turned out as I take you through the albums 4 tracks.
Track 1. Serenade For 1652.
Well judging by the year in the title it appears that they had something to sing about in 1652 and I know the band had a big thing about getting all the of instruments that came out in 70’s that featured on many of those prog rock albums that came out back then, and the mellotron does play it’s part very effectively on this short orchestrated piece. But 1652 was quite a few centuries before the 70’s :)))).
But never the less this is a band that also very much considered much older instruments that would of came out centuries ago too, and personally this is what makes this band so unique and the fact they also include those instruments is why I love this band so much.
“Serenade For 1652” is the shortest track on the album and is all of 42 seconds long, and in reality it’s an intro to the next track which happens to be the masterpiece on the album. They could of quite of easily of done away with making this a separate track and giving it a separate title.
Track 2. Hinterland.
The albums self titled track “Hinterland” is without a doubt a masterpiece and a master class composition. This without a doubt what I would call prog rock heaven and is an outstanding piece of work. This track alone is worth the price of the album as far as I am concerned, and the idea of using instruments from 70’s certainly paid off, and no doubt this very much sounds like a classic that came from that decade.
But of course just by going out and getting all those instruments that came out back then, does not mean you can make music like this. There is the fine art of composition and having the right musicians with the skill to pull it all off.
Not only do the band have a very capable keyboard player, but the bass player they have is quite remarkable, and the bass playing on this track alone is to die for. Combine that with the electric and acoustic guitar sections you will hear throughout this 27 minute and 44 second epic, plus the flutes makes it one sheer class exciting magical journey.
No doubt there are a loads of influences from other bands from the 70’s you will hear on this masterpiece, including the likes of Wishbone Ash and Black Sabbath besides all the other more noted prog rock bands like Gentle Giant, Emerson Lake And Palmer and many more. But this is all highly original material and nothing has come from any of those regarding how the music has been structured and composed.
The word “Hinterland” can have several meanings and judging by the lyrics we have here, my guess is that they have taken it from the German word which means land beyond.
The track opens up in quite a mysterious and haunting way. It sort of reminds me that the lonesome traveller is making his entrance into the land beyond from the sea which is portrayed by the keyboards and the use of a gong, all of which is the opening 21 seconds. Once on the land, our traveller sets off at a more speedy and menacing pace, and the band weave out a bit of magic here with the interaction and interplay of how they feed off one another over the next minute and it grinds to an halt at the 1:25 mark.
The next section the band bring in a rather nice transitional change with some fine rhythm guitar from Morten Eriksen and some really gorgeous bass lines from Kristian Hultgren and the bands drummer Martin Nordrum Kneppen is almost holding it all together in military style. This all allows the singer Tony Johannessen to come into play, and he makes his entrance around the 2:17 mark.
This vocal section from 2:17 up to around the 6:45 mark is what I call the Wishbone Ash section. Although this is nothing like that band at all in reality, and my observation comes from the soothing vocal section of the verses they sing on their song the “Warrior“. Johannessen’s voice very much has these fine refined vocal qualities about it, and no doubt he has a great voice.
Once again the band weave some magic in between this first vocal section in between the vocal parts and even the session player Ketil Vestrum Einarsen contributes to it on the backing vocals and flute. There is more musical interludes than the actual vocal parts in this section as well, and it all comes down nicely around the 6:45 mark. The acoustic guitar played by Eriksen plays a lovely short passage that leads into the next vocal section and change, which is perhaps even more serene.
Once again there are some gorgeous bass lines from Hultgren and it builds up into the next section around the 8:30 mark where a bit more power and aggression is injected into it over this short half a minute section, and at the 9 minute mark another really great transitional change comes into play.
This section runs for near enough 3 minutes and is quite like a cross between early Genesis and Gentle Giant. There is even some great acoustic guitar work and vocal chants and harmonies, and is quite menacing like Gentle Giant too with the chord progression and how it all changes. The session player percussionist Aage Moltke Schou also contributes some nice vibes on the vibraphone in this section too.
Then as if that section was not gorgeous enough, around the 11:52 mark another session player Ulrik Gaston Larsen comes into the equation on the Theorbo & Baroque Guitar. This short interlude runs up to where the main vocals come back into play around the 13:04 mark, and is accompanied by another session player namely Pauliina Fred on the recorder. The bands keyboard player Lars Fredrik Frøislie adds a touch of harpsichord to it, and makes it a madrigal piece of heaven that is sounding something more like the year 1652 which was in the title of the 1st track.
The fine melody continues with the vocal section for just over a minute, and at first Johannessen’s vocal approach being more serene and subtle, which gradually builds up once again to some power which takes us into the next musical section that comes into play at 14:08.
This section is more darker and this is what I call the Black Sabbath section because of its dark and heavier approach. I suppose you could also associate Uriah Heep with the darkness too. Although for some reason I am singing the words to the Black Sabbath’s “Electric Funeral” but once again this nothing like that song, and it’s just my own way of being a singer myself can incorporate those words into this melody line. Just like I could do with the Wishbone Ash song I mentioned earlier.
This dark meandering section runs for about 3 minutes and 20 seconds and features some great synth and hammond playing by Frøislie supported very well by the bass, drums and occasional bits of flute. Then it builds itself up to a faster pace at the 17:22 mark with lead guitar being brought into the equation, then settles itself back down and runs into the next transitional music change that comes into play around the 18:58 mark.
This next section is once again meandering its way nicely along and even falls back into some of the earlier melodies. There honestly is never a dull moment throughout the whole piece, then at the 22:22 mark it goes into another lovely acoustic guitar passage and starts to heavily build itself back up for Johannessen to come back in on the vocals at exactly a minute later for the final verse.
This runs up to the 24:13 mark and it starts to descend into another change, at first with some rather jolly flute playing and then it runs into what I call the Emerson Lake and Palmer section. Well perhaps Keith Emerson to be more precise with the superb job Frøislie does on the hammond organ. We are now on the last run and the track ends itself off superbly with more great interplay from them all.
“Hinterland” is without a doubt the best track on the album and is my personal favourite just as sure as I feel it will be for many others too, and merits my top spot award of the album. Quite frankly there is nothing else on this album that comes close to it. But that’s not to say that the last couple of tracks are bad by any means.
Track 3. Rubato Industry.
Quite a strange title and the word “Rubato” relates to the temporary disregarding of strict tempo to allow an expressive quickening or slackening, usually without altering the overall pace. It also translates to “Stolen Time” in Italian and judging by the excellent well written lyrics this song could relate to them both. Here are the words to the opening verse to give you an idea.
A lonely page in a music book
Is torn and blown across the lake
And by the water’s edge it stills
As the tide retreats in defence
Can these notes awake again?
Father time is slowing down
The flowing sand inside the hour glass
Unlike time, they can be free
By the way I do not need to translate these words because both the singers the band Wobbler have had, very well sing in English.
“Rubato Industry” is perhaps more of an instrumental track in that it is has a lengthy 2 minute 55 second intro before Tony Johannessen comes in on the vocals. His part in it is all over at the 6:09 mark too, and in between the vocal section there is a lovely melancholy lead break that features Ketil Vestrum Einarsen on the flute again. The last verse is also beautifully sung by Johannessen too. and he ends it all off with some great power in his voice as well.
The remaining 6 minutes and 36 seconds of the song is all instrumental and personally I feel it would of worked a lot better if they spaced out the vocals a bit more, like they did on “Hinterland” rather than try and cram them all into one particular place early on in the song. You do get the odd vocal chant in a couple of small sections as it progresses along, but it’s not enough to make it work like a song as an whole.
No doubt the band are very skilful and the musicianship is top notch how they interact with one another. In some ways this is even a bit like King Crimson how it meanders it’s way along and incorporates some great melody lines, twists and turns.
But I do get the impression that the band maybe scared of the singer taking up more of a role of being more of a front man in the band, and it’s damn shame because they have a really great singer who would make a great front man of any band.
Track 4. Clair Obscur.
The second longest track on the album is an instrumental piece that weighs in at 15 minutes, 31 seconds. Another strange title and judging by the intro featuring a fine melody on the piano after the initial sound of the mellotron opening it up. One could get perhaps the impression that this is a very obscure version of Debussy’s “Claire De Lune“. But that would have to be very obscure indeed :))))).
The opening movement is quite classical and has a sense of drama with it’s approach with how its been orchestrated with the mellotron and piano. After 2 minutes and 23 seconds the melody on the piano changes to a more cheerful mood and Ketil Vestrum Einarsen’s flute replaces the mellotron to give it that more of a melancholy feel about it.
At 2:57 the guitar makes a pleasing entrance, followed closely by the hammond organ, drums and bass, and it starts to take shape and end eventually kicks off into some more prog rock goodness.
The track has some great changes along its path, excellent progression and diversity to drive it all along. Even the guitar plays some fine lead lines besides the keyboards, and eventually it all ends off nicely in a similar fashion that it started off with on the piano.
“Clair Obscur” is another really great track on the album that has some influences from King Crimson and Gentle Giant and I dare say some other great bands too, including the Moody Blues with its intro and outro. It even has a bit of Steve Hackett like phasing on the guitar has does some of the other tracks on this album too, and puts an end to a quite a remarkable album.
To sum up the album Hinterland by Wobbler it’s more or less a solid enough album and no doubt the band got off to a great start with the material that was written for it. There is no doubt the band took a lot of time sculpturing and carving out the music they present to you, and this is not something you can knock up in a year. Since the band formed in 1999 they spent at least 5 of those years working on the material for their debut album and also wrote the biggest majority of the material for their 2nd album.
But you can plainly see that this band do not rush things out just for the sake of getting another album out to try and get a bit more money from its sales. And even though most of their 2nd album was written at this stage, it took them another 4 years to get it anywhere near the way they wanted it, which is why it got released much later on in 2009.
There is no doubt that their hard work as paid off. Because this in reality is one of the very few bands in this world today who actually make what I would call genuine progressive rock music. This album sounds like it came from the 70’s and the only other band I know who can do that today is the Swedish band Änglagård like I mentioned earlier in my review.
I know Robert Reed tried to make the last Magenta album We Are Legend sound like something from the 70’s. But he failed miserably and both Magenta’s first and second albums fared better to be honest, but Magenta are only really a neo prog rock band and could not do what these two bands can. Just like the many other so called prog rock bands today could not either.
There is no doubt Wobbler have made a huge contribution to the world of progressive rock music and have done it completely in their own way and style. It’s a real shame that a band like this cannot make a living from the great music they create, and still have not gave up the day job so to speak. This bands deserves way more recognition and are one hell of a force to reckoned with.
To conclude my review of the band Wobbler and its debut album Hinterland. Personally I feel that anyone who is into progressive rock needs to have this album in their collection. I would not say the whole album is a masterpiece as an whole, but overall it does not disappoint either.
There can only be one highlight from the 4 tracks on the album, and that is a masterpiece in itself. The near enough 28 minute epic self titled track “Hinterland” is worth its weight in gold. It’s a pure classic that not only belongs in the world prog rock music, but speaks the exact language that awesome prog rock music did back in the 70’s. It’s by far one of the best tracks I have heard in ages in the world of prog rock.
Hinterland is my 2nd favourite album of the 4 albums this great band has made so far. The album that followed it in 2009 Afterglow. Happens to be a pure Golden GEM and is my ultimate favourite album of the band. You can find out more about that great album in my next review.
A New World Springs From My Hinterland…
The CD track listing is as follows:
01. Serenade For 1652. 0:42.
02. Hinterland. 27:44.
03. Rubato Industry. 12:45.
04. Clair Obscur. 15:37.