Bjorn Riis’s A STORM IS COMING (Karisma, 2019).
The sheer amount of creativity that comes out of northern Europe never fails to astound or move me. From the moment the Scandinavians became Scandinavians, some 1,200 plus years ago, they seem to have existed to hunt, to farm, and to create. Even the very word “edda”—so properly associated with northern mythology—is not native to Norse, but is a word that seems to have sprung out of the moment rather than out a specific culture. We remember edda as a story, but it more properly means a divine outburst of creativity. From the creation of the AllThing (the world’s first congress) to Sigrid Undset, the Scandinavians keep shocking into life a western culture that wants to die but won’t. What is it? Is it the cold? The bleak winters? The harrowing landscapes? The daring raids? I don’t know, but I do know I thank the good Lord for their existence.
When a small package recently arrived from Norway—labeled Karisma—I was thrilled. Nothing I ever receive from that small but mighty label is unimportant. Indeed, it has to rank as one of the most important labels in the rock world, equal to Kscope, Insideout, and Sound Resources. That I found the new Bjorn Riis solo album in that package made the arrival even better. Frankly, it made it perfect. From the moment I first encountered Riis’s band, Airbag, roughly ten years ago—thanks to the recommendation of my English friend, Richard Thresh—I liked the band. Granted, their first album sounded like a sequel to Pink Floyd’s ANIMALS, but it was gorgeous, nonetheless, and it had the very James Marsh/Talk Talk-esque cover, of the eyeball crying blood. What a combination of excellent things. Since 2009, Riis has proven his genius time and time again through Airbag (IDENTITY; ALL RIGHTS REMOVED; GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH; and DISCONNECTED), each more lyrically existential and more musically creative than the last.
As much as I fell for Airbag, I fell even more in love with this solo work. LULLABIES IN A CAR CRASH; COMING HOME; and FOREVER COMES TO AN END. If you put Mark Hollis, Roger Waters, and Steven Wilson into the same room, you might come out with something close to Bjorn Riis, but still not quite there. Riis takes the best from each, but his music is very much his own.
Riis’s latest, A Storm is Coming, is more volatile and less longingly melodic than previous albums. It’s still brilliant, though. It can move from silence to a wall of sound and back to delicate piano line in a matter of moments. The title fits. The storm is coming, and Riis offers an album that looks not into the storm, but out from it. Let me revise what I just said a bit—there’s loving melody all over this album, but it feels less sustained (intentionally) than on previous albums. Honestly, I couldn’t really listen to track five, “This House,” without noting that it is melodic—in a David Gilmour fashion—to the nth degree.
I’m seeing several websites label this as an EP, but it’s 52 minutes long, so I can’t imagine what one of Riis’s LPs might look like. Yes, this is a full-fledged album. No doubt about it.
And, it’s a thing of eddaic glory. Enjoy.