When Trettioåriga Kriget (The Thirty Years War) returned to the studio and the stage, eight years ago, they were a surprisingly vital and creative band indeed, considering that they had been away for two decades. It was certainly not an ordinary reunion of the kind that reeks of either nostalgia or greed. The explanation may be that the War never really had split up, just taken a long break after those intense years between 1974 and 1981, when they made five albums, played all over Sweden and even toured Great Britain, a rare thing for a Swedish band in that time.
Then one day they gathered again, the same six members, bringing their instruments, amplifiers and new songs. And with a punch and a certainty that comes from having outgrown all compromise, of having become as one with their own music, the album "The Fire of Years" was recorded. On stage, the War performed a seamless mixture of old hits and new songs, proving that they formed a perfect unity. What was once labelled "progressive rock" had quite simply become War music.
The new album "After After" concludes the trilogy that began with 2004's "The Fire of Years" and was continued by "In the Beginning and the End" in 2007. Like its predecessors, this album builds on a batch of strong songs, mostly written by Stefan Fredin, on accomplished ensemble playing, and on the lyrics of founder member Olle Thörnvall. The Thirty Years War may never have made more tightly-knit albums than in its phase II (the exception being the classic "Warsong" from 1976), and in a new way, moods and emotions are now the governing factor.
As a whole, the trilogy forms the autobiography of Trettioåriga Kriget, seen from a more mature perspective than what was within reach of those enthusiastic young men from Saltsjöbaden outside Stockholm. The War tells its long story in a more insightful and moving way than what most bands are capable of. There is melancholy here, but also a kind of sunlit calm and trust in the power of the music. How rare to hear a band that has developed so much on its own terms!
The new millenium has seen TKr become a highly international band. Their albums have been re-issued both in Europe and in a deluxe Japanese set, they have played the US, Mexico, Brazil... Gigs are now lined up in Belgium and Canada, as well as release concerts in Sweden. And then? What happens after "After After"? That remains to be seen.
Trettioåriga kriget / The Thirty Years War
Efter efter / After After (Mellotronen, 2011, CD and LP)
Produced by Dag Lundquist, mastered by Peter In de Betou
Artwork by Johan Gullberg
Trettioåriga Kriget is:
Stefan Fredin - bass guitar, vocals, acoustic guitar
Dag Lundquist - drums, percussion, backing vocals
Robert Zima - vocals
Christer Åkerberg - electric & acoustic guitars
Mats Lindberg - keyboards
Olle Thörnvall - lyrics
"After After" - the songs, the sounds
by Jonas Ellerström
"After After", the final album of the trilogy that began with "The Fire of Years", starts off with a song that fulfils the same role as the openers on the two previous albums. Like the majestic "Sparks" in 2004 and "Childhood" off 2007's "In the Beginning and In the End", "The Man on the Bench" sets the tone for the album and strikes the reflective, retrospective note that is the dominant mood of the trilogy. There are references in the lyrics pointing both forward to the album's closing song, and back to "The Rider" of the previous album. "Once there was a war / The times since then have changed", Olle Thörnvall's lyrics states, but that this feeling is not one of cheap nostalgia is made clear by the next song.
"The Child" is yet another of Stefan Fredin's strong, well-structured songs. This one he sings himself; as in many War songs the rocky seashore landscape of the band's native Saltsjöbaden form the background, but here the city (nearby Swedish capital Stockholm) also enters, glittering with lights. But, and this I see as a sign of the hard-earned, mature self-confidence that more than anything marks the band's phase II, there is "Nothing there / That I would like". This is not a time for youthful dreams of being someone else, the song seems to say as Christer Åkerberg's guitar makes beautiful variations on the melody, this is a time for stating who we have become. There is considerable drama in the musical play of shadows and light, underscored by some fine keyboard work from Mats Lindberg, and the song is one that continues to grow on the listener and to reveal its secrets.
"The Painting" is sung by Robert Zima in an unusually high pitch, which suits drummer Dag Lundquist's fragile melody ever so well. The lyric's images of the past blend with the present, both meet in the painting's depiction of the landscape that now acts as a reminder of the painting. The wistful verses would suggest melancholy, but the refrain takes on a more affirmative voice and the words confirm: "A joy is hidden here / In what once was there". This is not just an idyllic picture; the past influences the here and now.
From time to time, the Thirty Years War have recorded instrumentals. This could seem strange, for a band that has two strong singers and their own lyricist, but these tunes have always been perfectly natural instrumentals, just as much 'songs' as those featuring actual singing! "The Dance" is not so much of a mood piece as the early "Clouds on the Ground" but rather an uptempo piece showcasing Christer's multi-faceted guitar work, Stefan's inventive bass playing and Dag's solid and exact drumming.
”Glorious War" is the autobiography of the band's beginnings in the early 1970's, a highly original song that forsakes an ordinary verse-refrain scheme in favour of an unfolding structure that helps telling the story. Once again, the song shows that this band will not throw in instrumental passages just as fill-out material or to show off their considerable skills. All parts of a War song serve their purpose within the whole. Note also the reference to Cyril Connolly's book "The Unquiet Grave", written under the pseudonym Palinurus, which is the title of a bonus track that the War will issue as a single for those that have pre-ordered the album.
"To a Sputnik" travels even farther back in time, to the early days of Swedish rock'n'roll when Krister Schubert from Saltsjöbaden for a brief moment was a shining star and recorded his own song "Sputnik Rock'n'Roll". The song is by Christer and, fuelled by an insistent guitar/bass motif, adopts an almost playful mode. Rock-Krister, as he was known, "was forgotten and faded", but is here lovingly immortalized by a band that has shown more true staying power than most.
The short acoustic "Time-out" shoulf not be dismissed because of its brevity. It has a subtle melody which interacts perfectly with the softly understated lyric about pausing for reflection, to draw one's breath and gather strength.
And then the album closes with the title track, "After After", an epic song that in its whirling kaleidoscope of then and now, in its blend of memories from the band's on-stage debut at a local disco and its worldwide travelling in recent years, manages to gather all the pieces of this remarkable band's history together. We are reminded of the key role that the elements of air and water play in their music. Often, and this is one of the War's great songs, these masters of dynamics are able to enact the play of sunlight upon waves in the landscape that has formed them and that they have made their own. What do they achieve? I would say: vigorous beauty. What has been the major force behind their years and years of playing together? I think the answer lies in one of the lines of this song: at their best, love itself has been their guest.