Magnified As Giants – Caligonaut
Ever since I bumped into the Norwegian band Wobbler a few years ago I have been amazed by their consistent quality output of music over the years and it very much speaks to me like progrock did many moons ago back in those dark distant days of the early 70’s. To be honest, there are not many bands in this world who can craft music as they do and the biggest majority of neo-prog outfits that are out there I tend to describe as PROGMATIC! in relation to PROGROCK! and you will see that word pop up in many of my reviews.
Progrock has always been my personal favourite genre of music and when it comes to listening to music I still mostly live in the 70’s. I also tend to spend most of my money on reissues of albums that came out of that decade and the incentive for me to buy music all over again is for multichannel surround purposes more than anything else. I guess these days I am more of a surround FREAK! though I still buy CD’s and very much prefer the physical product in relation to any Digital Download of an album.
With any physical product, you can see where your money has been spent. Buying a Digital Download has no real value at all, it’s not as if you can look at it with pride or even hold it in your hands and you certainly would not be able to re-sell it like a physical product. This is why I personally think that no Digital Download of an album is worth any more than £3.
A prime example of just what the physical product means to me can be seen in my review of another new band I stumbled across last year which was the German band Argos. Their latest album The Other Life impressed me so much that I would have brought the bands back catalogue. The only problem was that all physical copies of their five previous albums were out of print so I never bothered.
You can of course obtain some of them on the black market second-hand, though I have not stumbled across any of them as of yet at a reasonable enough price. I may stretch my budget further for multichannel recordings but I certainly would not pay over the odds for a CD no matter how good the band or artist is.
Luckily for me, Caligonaut is a relatively new band or project and the debut album Magnified As Giants was released last year and is still very much in print. I suppose I have to thank Dan Lockart for drawing this album to my attention when he posted a track from the album in the Progrock group on Facebrook. The very thing that immediately caught my eye was that he had posted it under a picture of the Dwellers of the Deep album by Wobbler.
Unknowingly to Dan at the time there is an actual connection. It’s also easy to see where the confusion lies as I soon discovered when I Googled images of the album’s artwork as seen below.
Caligonaut is actually the work of a one-man project and the chap behind it all also comes from Norway, his name is Ole Michael Bjørndal. There is also a strong connection with the band Wobbler when he put this album together which I will go into more detail about later on in this review. But before I do so let’s take a look at the packaging and artwork.
Packaging & Artwork…
The CD comes in a standard plastic jewel case which is perhaps not the best way to present your album these days in relation to the DigiPak or DigiSleeve/File which I personally think have a lot more style to them and give your album a much better presentation. It does, however, protect the disc adequately enough although quite often when ordered from online stores they can arrive cracked or split as this one did. It’s very much a packaging that I regard that went out with the Dodos these days.
It also comes with a 12-page booklet that contains all the liner production notes plus lyrics. It is however a nightmare to retrieve from the jewel case as it’s one of those that has three placeholders to keep it firmly in place. Quite often you will end up creasing or even damaging the booklet if not careful and this is another reason why I hate this form of packaging.
I purchased my copy from Amazon UK for £13.65 which is on the pricey side for a CD especially one that comes in a standard jewel case. Though as it’s imported the price is to be expected. Apart from the packaging, I have no real complaints here.
For vinyl lovers, the album was put out in standard black vinyl and a couple of Limited Edition coloured vinyl both of which were limited to 250 copies. The white-coloured vinyl may be much harder to obtain and was released last year. The album was reissued this year on yellow vinyl and all vinyl copies retailed around the £22 mark. As I cannot find any details regarding the weight of the actual vinyl I can only presume they were pressed onto 140-gram vinyl which might also reflect the cheaper price point.
I no longer collect vinyl and have not for over the past couple of decades now. Although recently I have started to purchase some iconic albums on vinyl for other purposes as you can see in this WHACKY! video I made showcasing the 50th Anniversary reissue of Jethro Tull’s classic album Thick As A Brick.
The illustration and artwork were done by Ole’s sister Marte Bjørndal, and it gives me the impression of modern art with how things have been scribbled and noodled around here. Overall I think it looks OK! though it’s not the sort of thing I would hang on my wall so to speak. The back cover artwork was done by Anne-Marie Forker who also helped out with words. It pretty much runs along the same lines with the scribbling and noodling though it fits in with the rest very well.
The Album In Review…
Magnified As Giants by Caligonaut was released on the 21 of February 2021. The album itself contains 4 tracks that spread over an overall playing time of 50 minutes, 38 seconds, which is a reasonable enough time slot though not really suited for vinyl due to its restrictions. Although it was not unusual for many bands and artists to overstep the mark by trying to squeeze too much information onto the format, perhaps more so in the latter part of the 70’s. However, for quality purposes, you were better off sticking to the 30 – 40 minute mark and that is another reason why I gave up on the format more than a couple of decades ago.
The one thing I will say about this album though is that the fifty minutes you get here are very well utilised and not a single drop or second of it has been wasted. The way the music has been crafted very much puts me in mind of the band Wobbler and the strong connection with that band just may very well be the reason why this album turned out as well as it did.
For those like myself who have never heard of Ole Michael Bjørndal, from what I can gather he plays in the Norwegian band called Oak. This particular band have produced a couple of albums to date starting with their debut album Lighthouse back in 2013 and False Memory Archive in 2018. I did take the liberty to listen to a couple of tracks from both albums on the Tube and I can honestly say they are a different kettle of fish to the album we have here.
Magnified As Giants might very well come under the name of Caligonaut (that incidentally translates to “traveller of the mist”) but it could also be seen as a solo album under his own name in that he wrote the biggest majority of the material for it. Bjørndal is a guitarist who also comes with a voice, though you would not think that in the band he is playing with because they already have a lead singer and he only contributes backing vocals to that band now and then.
This is an album that truly brings out this guy’s full potential and just like the band Wobbler it puts Norway on the map of being one of the finest countries in this day and age for progrock. I do mean PROGROCK! as well and not the PROGMATIC! music that the band Oak is making. I do also believe that this was only possible because of the three musicians from Wobbler he has onboard with him here, two of which are very much vital to how this album sounds and has turned out that way.
I am of course speaking of the bands bass player Kristian Karl Hultgren and keyboard player Lars Fredrik Frøislie who literally go to the extremes when it comes to making music sound like it did back in those dark distant days of the 70’s. The latter of those two also mixed and co-engineered the recording of this album which I personally think is also why it turned out as it did.
There are of course other musicians who have been brought in to lend a hand with the album and over the years Bjørndal has appeared on many other albums (as seen below). Many of which I dare say he came into contact with through his connection with lead guitarist Bjorn Riis who is the main songwriter and one of the founding members of the highly successful Norwegian band Airbag.
Although Bjørndal plays the guitar and appears on the albums above, there are some, where his name has been uncredited to them. The Pymlico album On this Day for example is one of Arild Brøter’s projects who not only plays the drums on a couple of tracks but also co-engineered the album.
Bjørndal also uses (NST) New Standard Tuning for the guitar which was developed and used by the guitarist Robert Fripp back in 1985. It’s basically an all-fifths tuning method that is typically used for mandolins, cellos, violas, and violins. Fripp has used the tuning ever since until more recently when I noticed that he has reverted back to standard tuning for the work he is doing for his wife Toyah Wilcox’s new album.
Much of the basic structure of material for the album was written around 2014 – 2018. The album tracks were recorded at various home studios belonging to some of the musicians who lent a hand including Ole’s vocals. According to an interview I watched of him on Youtube he also originally intended to release the album on his birthday a year earlier. No doubt a lot of time, thought and effort has been put into the making of the album and I am sure the wait was worth it.
Musicians & Credits…
Produced by Ole Michael Bjørndal. Co-Producers Arild Brøter, Lars Fredrik Frøislie & Kristian Karl Hultgren. Vocals Co-Produced by Andreas W.S. Prestimo. Words & Music by Ole Michael Bjørndal except “Lighter Than Air” music by Ole Michael Bjørndal & Kristian Karl Hultgren.
Recorded in Norway at the following home studios: Double Decker, Vilthagen, LFF and Helgrud Kirke. Engineered by Arild Brøter, Andreas W.S. Prestimo & Lars Fredrik Frøislie. Mixed by Lars Fredrik Frøislie. Mastered by Jacob Holm-Lupo at Dude Ranch studio. Illustration & Artwork by Marte Bjørndal. Graphic Design by Thomas Hagen Kaldhol. Back Cover Photo by Anne Marie-Forker.
Ole Michael Bjørndal: Lead Vocals – Electric Guitars – 12 String & Acoustic Guitars.
Kristian Karl Hultgren: Bass Guitars.
Lars Fredrik Frøislie: Hammond Organ – Mellotron – Grand Piano – Synths & Keyboards.
Andreas W.S. Prestimo: Backing Vocals.
Arild Brøter: Drums & Percussion (Tracks 2 & 4).
Henrik Fossum: Drums (Track 1).
Åsa Ree: Violin & Backing Vocals (Tracks 1 & 2).
Stephan Hvinden: Rhythm Guitar (Track 2).
Iver Kleive: Church Organ (Track 2).
The Album Tracks In Review…
Although there is a strong connection with the musicians from Wobbler that went into the making of Magnified As Giants, the musical style is quite different. Both use a lot of folk influences but they are poles apart. For example, Wobbler is a band that will quite often throw in some medieval and renaissance folk influences much of which can be heard on the bands second album Afterglow which is perhaps more inspired by the medieval progrock band Gryphon.
Just like that style of folk music the music on this album also has a very strong folk presence that can not only be dark but also light and airy. Although Ole’s voice is nothing like Cat Stevens it can reflect at times on that particular style of folk music Stevens wrote. I suppose in a way it’s a bit like a singer-songwriter approach though it is amalgamated with other influences thrown in for good measure. For my ears, it’s a bit like throwing Stevens, early Genesis (Anthony Phillips) and the band Magna Carta into one big melting pot.
No doubt other influences will pop out of the woodwork every now and then and even though the album very much has a progrock 70’s feel to it, it also comes across fresh if that makes any sense. So let’s now delve a bit deeper into the album tracks.
Track 1. Emperor.
The album opens up quite hauntingly with the piano and bells though it soon launches its power upon us with the guitars, bass and drums and this opening section really does kick some ass. It is, without doubt, the most powerful track on the album and during this section, the drums, bass and guitar get to individually make their own statement in that they all have a leading role. It’s the second longest track on the album weighing in at some 14 minutes, 35 seconds and one that goes through many transitional changes along its path. It’s also a song that will take you on an epic journey like many of the songs on this album.
Musically it’s not all about power and it also reflects grace, passion as well as anger that tie in very well with the subject matter of the lyrical content that pertains to politics and their rulers. The word IDIOCRACY! springs to mind for those that follow and worship false hope and I suppose in a way the demise of Donald Trump’s empire could be seen as the fall of the Roman Empire.
The quality of musicianship on this album is second to none and Kristian Hultgren’s bass plays as much of a lead role as Bjørndal‘s guitar throughout this album. His work on this album is outstanding and it’s very much a dominant feature here. The drummer Henrik Fossum kicks total ass on this track and the work done by Lars Frøislieis on the keys is also very impressive and lives up to its expectancy.
The vocal duties are also handled very well and I do believe it was Andreas Prestimo (who does most of the vocal harmonies) that recorded Bjørndal‘s voice and gave him a few ideas and tips. You can perhaps hear the presence of Wobbler with Prestimo’s harmonies on this track and there is no mistaking his voice.
Åsa Ree not only contributes violin to the track but also backing vocals. I am pretty sure she has guested on a couple of Wobbler albums and her input here is also valid. Originally Bjørndal had the idea to end the song off with the violin but was open to suggestions to which Ree stepped in and arranged the choir to end it off instead.
Everything about the “Emperor” is very well balanced down to the acoustic and electrifying side of things. It’s very much a song that has the right shape with how everything has been placed to play its part throughout each transition including the nice touch with the BEATLE-ESC! like transition that comes into play around the 9:12 mark on the piano which you can hear for yourself here.
There is never a dull moment over its fourteen and half minutes it’s also quite an accessible track and easy enough to take in on your first listen even for NON-PROGHEADS! That may very well be down to the folk presence and the way Bjørndal‘s voice cuts through cleanly and clinically in the mix. In some ways, it is like a breath of fresh air and very welcoming to hear in this day and age.
Magnified As Giants is a very difficult album for me to pick a personal favourite track out of the four you get here. If I was going for power I would personally pick this one but for now, it’s my joint favourite and shares the TOP SPOT AWARD!
Track 2. Hushed.
It’s quite evident and clear that Bjørndal likes to paint images and landscapes with his words and music and he has skillfully crafted out a Twilight World with this GORGEOUS! song. “Hushed” is a song that is perhaps more acoustically driven in relation to the opening track, though it still has those other elements thrown into the equation to drive it along like a force of nature so to speak. Once again the transitional changes have been very well thought-out and pop out of the woodwork in all the right places.
It’s one of the two tracks on the album that features Arild Brøter from Pymlico on drums & percussion also Stephan Hvinden from the same band plays a minor part on rhythm guitar. The Norwegian church organist and composer Iver Kleive also contributes organ to the track and Ree’s violin once again also adds a nice touch here.
This is my second favourite song on the album and one that shares the albums TOP SPOT AWARD! Even though it’s some five minutes shorter than the opening track it still has just as much to say and the lyrical content has very much been skillfully put into context to tie in with the twilight world. It’s very much a song that weaves its way along like magic even down to the beautiful guitar solo around the 4:35 mark.
Track 3. Magnified As Giants.
Next up we have the album’s self-titled track and this is the shortest track on the album although, to be honest, you would not think that with the wonderful transitions that transcend along its path. It’s very much an acoustic song that has that early Genesis ring to it in particular with the twelve-string guitar and its melody lines. It has me thinking of the album Trespass which was the Anthony Phillips era of the band. Both Phillips and Michael Rutherford were also quite diverse when it came to using strange guitar tunings some of them were even forgotten by themselves. They may have even developed the “C” standard tuning before Fripp did for all we know.
Bjørndal has a way of writing words that will leave many to make their own interpretations out of them, they are far from straightforward and quite poetic. Sort of like the way Don Mclean wrote the words to his classic hit “American Pie” back in 1972 though I very much doubt they would sell for 1.2 Million dollars as those lyrics did. However, like all the lyrical content on this album just as much thought has been put into them as the music and this set of lyrics embarks on the memory of falling in love for the first time and displays just how BIG! and powerful it can be sort of thing.
If anything “Magnified As Giants” displays Bjørndal‘s ability as a fine songwriter who knows how to craft well-worked-out songs, songs like this don’t just appear out of the blue and take time to develop and structure. This is very much a song that could also easily share the TOP SPOT AWARD! with the two opening tracks on the album.
It’s a song that mostly features Bjørndal by himself and the only other instrument besides guitar you will hear is the Mellotron that Frøislie added to it which lends support to it very well. Prestimo also lends a slight touch of backing vocals to it as you can hear on the official video that was put out to promote the album.
The word BEAUTIFICATION! springs to mind with this song and Anne Marie-Forker who did the back cover photo for the album is also worthy of a mention for the splendid job she has done with the video here.
Track 4. Lighter Than Air.
The longest track and journey on the album weighs in at just under 19 minutes and I have to admit upon my first listening to this track it did not speak to me instantly like the other three tracks on the album. One of the reasons for that is that although it is longer it has nowhere near the transitional changes that have been applied to the opening two tracks. What I tend to find with this particular song is that it tends to hang too long onto a theme or melody to stretch its way along rather than put more substance into it. However, after a few spins, things do start to sink in a bit more and it starts to grow on you enough to appreciate and like it.
This is actually Bjørndal‘s favourite track on the album and it was the first of the four songs that he originally worked on back in 2012. It’s also the song that has the newest parts and it was developed between 2012 – 2020. Unlike the other three songs on the album, this is the only track on the album where the musical side of things was co-written by Bjørndal and Wobblers bass player Kristian Hultgren.
Bjørndal bumped into Hultgren back in 2010 and have been close friends ever since. It was back in 2012 that the two of them formed a band called Most Above Many although the project never really got off the ground and was scrapped. It’s not so surprising why most of the band Wobbler appear on this album and why Hultgren got a special thank you in the liner notes. As I mentioned earlier without those guys I most certainly think this album would have never turned out as well as it did.
“Lighter Than Air” is a song that you really have to take the rough with the smooth and I would say over its years of development it does have its rough edges regarding how the transitions have been stitched together. Unlike the first two longer tracks on the album, it feels like more than one song and the only thing that holds it all together is the way it comes back together at the end. It is actually the way that it does that which got me to appreciate and like it more though personally for me this is my least favourite track of the four on the album.
The way the song opens up and ends are very smooth that some have described it as meditative, but there is way too much going on in this song for that to be the case. I would liken its intro and outro to something like a cross between Pink Floyd, Alan Parsons and Camel. To be honest there are a ton of influences that fly out of the woodwork during the course of this song even down to BOWIE-ESC! vocals and a WAKEMAN-ESC! synth solo.
What I will say though is that the interplay between the musicians is very good even if they do tend to hang onto some of the transitions a bit longer. The other thing I would say about this song is that it is different in that it lacks the folk presence of the other three songs. Although that’s not to say that it does not fit in with the rest of the material on the album and it does wind up the album quite well.
Summary & Conclusion…
To sum up and conclude my review of Magnified As Giants by Caligonaut. If I would have stumbled upon this album last year I would have most likely given it the prog album of the year award. As albums go this is highly addictive and an album I cannot stop playing, I may have already played it to death and I still cannot stop playing it. This is very much an album that has all the essence that progrock had back in its day yet it feels like a breath of fresh air.
To be honest, when I look at how long it took to make this album it amazes me how bands like Yes and Genesis could turn out an album every year and in some cases two albums in a year. Not even the likes of Wobbler can work at that rate and it just goes to show how much harder it is today to come up with something that sounds remotely like it came from those dark distant days of the early 70’s.
Though of course, without the likes of Kristian Karl Hultgren and Lars Fredrik Frøislie from that band, I personally don’t feel it would have been possible to have shaped this album to make it sound like it came from that decade. Although at the same time I cannot take anything away from Ole Michael Bjørndal‘s writing and I am sure he’s dead proud of how this album has turned out and truly grateful to all the musicians that helped him make it happen.
The only downside I can really see is that this is very much a home studio project and one that most likely will not be taken on the road so to speak. In this day and age, you need to be out playing live to earn a lot more recognition and gather a following. Though to be fair in terms of sales of the album he’s doing quite well and it’s no surprise either when you can churn out something as good as this.
Magnified As Giants is an album that should appeal to most PROGHEADS! including those who are serious about PROG! It’s albums like this that keep progrock alive and even a 62-year-old fart like myself would identify this album with the music we had all those years ago. Albums like this don’t drop on your lap or fall out of the sky, they are skillfully nurtured and constructed and you can see that a lot of time, thought and effort has been put into the making of it.
So what’s up next for Ole Michael Bjørndal? Well I know he’s working with Oak on a new album and he’s also co-written a new song (that can be heard on Bandcamp) which does run along with the same folkie vibe and presence that can be heard on three of the tracks on this album. However, having heard it a couple of times I can honestly say that it does not register to me like the sound of this album and the sound is the vital ingredient that makes it sound like it did all those years ago.
The only thing I can put it down to is that he chose to go with a different keyboard player and without Lars Fredrik Frøislie, I don’t think even this album would have sounded like the progrock we had many moons ago. He is, without doubt, the master when it comes to the sound of the progrock we had back in that seventies decade and is truly missed I am sorry to say.
The very reason why Wobbler are so consistent is down to that guy he is not only a GREAT! keyboard player but the bands recording and mixing engineer. In my opinion, he is the very guy that put Norway on the map for progrock and it’s that bands albums and this album that are very worthy contenders of the music we had all those years ago. As I mentioned in my introduction, I still live in the seventies and without that sound, you simply have not got progrock.
Magnified As Giants is a truly remarkable album and very much one I would suggest you get down your lugholes so to speak. The placement of the tracks on the album is very well thought out and you can listen to the entire album for free on the link I have provided below. I do highly suggest you at least give it a spin to hear it for yourself.
Progrock With Fresh Air…
The Album Tracklisting is as follows:
01. Emperor. 14:35.
02. Hushed. 10:43.
03. Magnified As Giants. 5:46.
04. Lighter Than Air. 19:34.