Highest Prog Fantasy: Unfold The Future by the Flower Kings
[Originally published in 2017]
A review The Flower Kings, UNFOLD THE FUTURE (2002; remastered and reissued, 2017). Tracks: The Truth Will Set You Free; Monkey Business; Black and White; Christianopel; Silent Inferno; The Navigator; Vox Humana; Genie in a Bottle; Fast Lane; Grand Old World; Soul Vortex; Rollin’ the Dice; The Devil’s Schooldance; Man Overboard; Solitary Shell; Devil’s Playground; and Too Late for Tomatos
Grade: A+. Glorious. Full. Enchanting. Mesmerizing.
The Flower Kings released its first boxset, A KINGDOM OF COLOURS (Insideout Music), in very late 2017. Granted, we’re more than a bit late coming to the news, and I (Brad) only realized that the boxset had come out when seeing an advertisement for the forthcoming second boxset.
This set—a gorgeously packaged one at that—is part 1 of 2, re-releasing the band’s first official seven studio albums. Missing are any b-sides, extra tracks, live releases, and the album that started it all, Stolt’s 1994 solo album, THE FLOWER KING. But, these absences are certainly fine, as the boxset is what it is. The next set, according to Insideout, will have three full disks of new or previously unreleased material. Additionally and spectacularly, of those original albums re-released for A KINGDOM OF COLOURS, the final one, 2002’s UNFOLD THE FUTURE, has been completely remastered by the Flower King himself, Mr. Roine Stolt.
Despite being a life-long prog fan, I didn’t come to The Flower Kings until the band released its 1999 album, FLOWER POWER. When it came out, one of my best students (now, amazingly enough, a beloved colleague) lent it to me, knowing my love of all things prog. Not only did FLOWER POWER floor me, but I had to purchase it and everything the band had done to that point. To say I became a MASSIVE fan of the band in 1999 would be pure understatement. My love of the music produced by Stolt and co. was tangible, and I simply couldn’t get enough. Of those first seven studio albums, my favorite—to this day—is SPACE REVOLVER (2000). Yet, there’s nothing the band has done that I don’t love.
When UNFOLD THE FUTURE came out in November, 2002, I was just completely my first book (on Tolkien) and starting my second (on Christopher Dawson). It was a heady time in my professional life, and The Flower Kings served as a thrilling and inspirational soundtrack. To me, the band was making not just prog, but mythic prog. Not just prog, but actual high fantasy. Indeed, unlike almost any other band in rock, The Flower Kings alone were defining and making albums as manifestations of fantastic moods or states of being. BACK IN THE WORLD OF ADVENTURES was explorative; RETROPOLIS was playful; STARDUST WE ARE was redemptive. Of those first seven studio albums, though, the seventh, UNFOLD THE FUTURE, was boldly confident and righteous. Not pretentious, but definitely righteous.
Even more than the previous releases, the band embraced every form of musical expression for UNFOLD THE FUTURE: everything from Genesis-like symphonic prog to Metheny and Brubeck-like jazz to tiddly-winks and novelty music. It was all there. All there. Everything. Nothing absent. Yet, it all came together in some appreciative whirligig of cohesive and thunderous reality.
Additionally, while the themes of earlier albums, such as FLOWER POWER, were overtly pagan, the themes of UNFOLD THE FUTURE are subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) Christian. But, they’re mythically Christian rather than pietistically Christian. At center stage in the drama of UNFOLD THE FUTURE stand two mighty figures: the devil and the Holy Mother. Whether Stolt means the Holy Mother to be the white goddess who appeared to Socrates, the White Buffalo woman who appeared to the original Sioux, the Lady of the Lake who appeared to Arthur, or the Virgin Mary, it probably matters not. She’s the Holy Mother, and she hates the devil.
The three central tracks of the album are 1) The Truth Will Set You Free; 5) Silent Inferno; and 16) Devil’s Playground.
The opening track, “The Truth Will Set Us Free,” not surprisingly, takes us to the beginning—allowing us to imagine the first rainfall on the earth and the incomprehensibly huge heart and grace that allowed it all to come into being. The second main track, “Silent Inferno,” is tenebrous, and the world slides easily into the twilight realm of existence, a haunting and foreboding hovering over all humanity. The final track, though, “Devil’s Playground,” pits the two giants against one another, the force of Hell and the Holy Mother. Though the song ends on a nebulous note, it’s hard not to believe that the Holy Mother has not emerged victorious. After all, how could the album—or the band—ever promote the transcendence of the human person (as seen on the cover of the album) without a victory against the forces of evil.
Well, maybe it’s just wishful thinking on my part. Still, let me just state: I’ve been listening to UNFOLD THE FUTURE for sixteen years now, and it never gets old. That Stolt has remastered the entire album is just an added blessing and grace. Perfecting that which is already perfect.
At least perfect as understood in this world of sorrows.