+4626 - Comfortzone
7/11/2015 - Review by: Vinaya Saksena
After being won over by this Swedish prog rock outfit's last album, 2012's The Void, I eagerly awaited this followup, only to initially find myself slightly worried when I heard its first single and first full song, "Hold On." While Beardish are known primarily for a sound influenced heavily by '70's progressive rock acts such as King Crimson and Yes, The Void found singer, keyboardist and principal songwriter Rikard Sjoblom integrating more of his metal influences into the band's sound, resulting in one of my absolute favorite tunes of 2012, "Voluntary Slavery," which sounded like a smart, heavy modern rock tune with progressive touches (even if the album's mix was a bit weak in the guitar department by metal standards). Apparently, however, some fans of the band's earlier, more purely proggy efforts freaked out over this and a couple of other tunes on said album that boasted a similar sound. So "+4626 - Comfortzone" (the numbers being the telephone code for the band's area of residence) arrives heralded by a leadoff tune and single ("Hold On') that, to me, sounds like an only slightly inspired retread of the band's pre-The Void sound, metal influences kept at bay. This did not look promising--a band going backwards, out of fear for their fanbase's reaction to more metal, no less!
Thankfully, listening to the rest of this album yielded both a more rewarding listening experience generally and (a little) more metal. No, it didn't impress me as much as The Void or 2009's Destined Solitaire (another release I enjoyed), but it definitely wasn't as bad as I feared. Sonically, metal doesn't really enter the picture until the fifth track ("King"), and even then, just barely. The heaviest track on the album, however, is "Daughter/ Whore," which combines an almost Motorhead-like intro (but again, with a frustratingly thin guitar sound) with some smart and biting lyrics that decry sexism and patriarchy. If you're looking for pure metal, that's about as close as you'll come on this album. However, metal fans willing to examine this album beyond its surface-level qualities will likely find something they can relate to here, especially with regard to the lyrics. Loosely a concept album, "Comfortzone" finds Sjoblom examining the contrary mix of frustration and comfort that can be experienced by those living in a small town, with its rarely changing nature and sometimes narrowminded worldview. Sjoblom's lyrics often manage to be depressing and humorous at the same time, pointing out with biting honesty the existential confusion experienced to some degree by all human beings, and the contradictory and often hypocritical actions that result from it. (See "Can You See Me Now?" Sample lyric: "You know that those who don't deserve it/ They gnaw and they claw their way while always licking upwards and furiously kicking down.") The title track takes the examination of life's contradictions even further, relating the reactions of a protagonist who admittedly hates "everything and everyone, except for the chosen few," but nonetheless finds himself wanting to remain alive in this hated world when faced prospect of his own demise. The contradictory feelings common in intimate relationships are explored (along with all manner of musical craziness) on the theatrical, fifteen minute tour de force "If We Must Be Apart (A Love Story Continued)," which tells the tale of pregnant mother-to-be who reconnects with a former lover, only for their story to end in a tragedy that will seemingly haunt her for years to come. As a musician, however, I most appreciate the lyrics to "Ode To The Rock 'N' Roller," which hilariously lampoon a frustrated musician's attempt to garner appreciation from an apathetic bar crowd that views his work as nothing more than a human jukebox. ("They didn't come here to listen, they came here to drink/ So play those three chords over and over/ So they don't have to think.")
Musically, there isn't much new here for Beardfish fans. From that standpoint, it's a functional Beardfish album--nothing more, nothing less. This time, it seems like the greatest creative effort has gone into the lyrics and concept. (A short song called "The One Inside" appears in three parts at the beginning, middle and end of the album, further tying everything together thematically.) At first, I found this to be a disappointment, but the more I listened to it, the more I found "Comfortzone" to be a solid, relatable but not life-altering piece of art. I think it's fair to say this one's a grower. And something tells me that, despite my initial reservations, I'm much more likely to find myself reaching for it in a few years than I am some of the stuff that I've found more immediately enjoyable. And isn't that how things often work with great art?
Note: The limited edition of "Comfortzone" includes a second disc titled The Early Years, which features thirteen demos, outtakes and other assorted rarities recorded by the band between 2002 and 2007.
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