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The Chronicles of Father Robin @ We Låve Rock, Asker Kulturhus

What unfolded was a dazzling, varied, fascinating concoction of 1970s progressive rock and folk, with some ambient and more experimental passages. It was, to be frank, impressive. It was a three-hour set, consisting of three albums in their entirety.

Fredag 24 mai 2024

We Låve Rock 2024 took over Asker Kulturhus the weekend of this week 21 and put on a feast of eclectic and more accessible progressive music. We attended for a very special event – the playing, end to end, of all three albums (or Books, as they call them) of The Chronicles of Father Robin. English, American and Polish accents were audible in the crowd. People had travelled for this. What unfolded was a dazzling, varied, fascinating concoction of 1970s progressive rock and folk, with some ambient and more experimental passages. It was, to be frank, impressive. It was a three-hour set, consisting of three albums in their entirety.

Each of the three books has a different musical tone to it, though this came across as more of a journey, a drift rather than shift in style.  As front man Andreas Wettergreen Strømman Prestmo explained at the start of the concert, Fr. Robin goes on a journey, and that story-telling aspect came across in the presentation, both musical and visual. The band changed costumes between each Book. The stage had on it large realisations of the some of the band’s symbology – a cloud, a moon, a star, and a pyramid – which served as a projector screens for moving images that supported the lyrics and the points of reference in Fr. Robin’s journey. Sometimes, we were travelling through woods, sometimes exposed to fire, or a viscous fluid, or networks of plasma, or swimming with jellyfish. Behind the band was a screen which showed simple, elusive, beautiful chalk line drawings which evoked the tales as well – at first, Ouroboros encircling the band’s imagery, later a ship at sea, or a turtle, a swallow in flight, a mysterious high tower. 

The music demanded good ensemble playing and although one could pick out moments of individual brilliance during the set, the overall impact came from the combined quality of the whole group – they were tight from the get-go, totally committed and fearless. The first book was energetic, dynamic, continually changing. The band managed the changes of tone and pace well in music which was episodic and largely up-tempo. A feature of the music is the strong backbeat, and Martin Nordrum Kneppen (drums and striking red kimono) and Jon André Nilsen (bass and sunglasses) kept everything in perfect time across the three hours. There was a distinct groove underlying some of the pieces which brought Nilsen’s playing to the fore. Kneppen on the other hand gave a three-hour clinic in ensemble playing, with the music providing opportunities for extended pattern playing, rapid hi-hat work, and some nice timpani-style playing in slower passages. And when he wasn’t playing, he was gesturing in time to the music, raising his arms, and mouthing the words behind Prestmo. It was an evening of constant movement – people in the audience were headbanging.

If the “Unicorn” and “The Death of the Fair Maiden” in Book One were fast and intense, driven, intricate, the melodic qualities of the music became more apparent in Books Two and Three. This came across most of all in the vocal performance from Prestmo, often supported in harmony in a higher register by Aleksandra Morozova on backing vocals. The undersigned has repeatedly called out that Prestmo should be considered one of the three best vocalists in Norway. This evening was no exception. The denser material in Book One made his voice more part of the music, but with the change in style in Books Two and Three, we were treated to a moment of real vocal bliss in the opening “Kyrie” in “Over Westwinds” and again later, in Book Three, in “Empress of the Sun”, which was the most beautiful, absorbing number in the whole set, as brilliant as the rest of the set was, with its lyrical atmosphere, rich ensemble vocals, and its pulsing, insistent duetting acoustic guitar basis.

Otherwise, the lyrical qualities came from the instrumental solos. Kristoffer Momrak provided scintillating flute solos throughout (when he wasn’t dancing around the stage), and particularly in Book One, where the flute had more of a voice, but also on “The Grand Reef” at the end of Book Two. Both Prestmo and Thomas Hagen Kaldhol had guitar solos throughout the set, or sometimes the lead part flowed between them.  That was another nice surprise of the concert,  how much – and how well – Prestmo plays the guitar in this band. The music is generally intricate and rhythmically demanding, so it needed excellent timing and sensitivity. Kaldhol was equal to that and really shone in Books Two and Three, with more open, melodic and ambient solo playing, as well as some nifty mandolin playing later in the journey. When Momrak wasn’t playing the flute, he was adding textures and curious enigmatic vocal calls from his array of synths.  Just behind him sat multi-instrumentalist Håkon Oftung on keyboards, whose playing filled out both the rhythm parts with walls of sound or arpeggios, but also the occasional solo, again with Books Two and Three calling for more lead lines from his instrument.  He had nice solos in “The Grand Reef” and an excellent classic organ solo in “Cloudship” on Book Three. 

However, that’s not to say that Books Two and Three did not contain some of the same drama as the earlier music.  “Green Refreshments” in Book Two was dark, dramatic, brooding, dense.  “Cloudship” was an exhilarating journey all on its own.  Prestmo remarked at the end “What a ride!” He might have been talking about the whole show. It had been an evening of dense, complex, sometimes brutal, sometimes almost spiritual music, with polyrhythmic intensity trading places with atmospheric, dreamlike passages, and then back again, always with a strong sense of movement. When it was fast, it was almost delirious, when it was slow, it was entrancing and enchanting. As Prestmo explained between the pieces, Fr. Robin goes on a journey from earth, to sea, to sky. The tone of the music perfectly matched that journey and the performance was true to those elements.  The audience, who had clapped along, cheered, and given fulsome applause, had been easily swept along on the journey by the music and Prestmo’s characteristic charisma. He had commented on social media that it was a dream to be able to play this music live. He should consider his dream wonderfully accomplished. 5.5/6

Text: Alex Maines
Photography: Anne-Marie Forker