Ten years ago, I had the pleasure of discovering a new band from Sweden called A Secret River with an album entitled Colours of Solitude. Deeply melodic and highly attractive prog music, firmly led by a strong bass guitar presence, superb drumming as well as judicious keyboard and guitar work, all having left a wonderful impression and a high rating, well deserved. Ten years after (no, not the band), the unit returns to the prog stage with a sophomore effort “Mirror Universe” that stays true to their vision, pretty much the same crew in charge, led by multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Andreas Olov, syncopation master John Bergstrand and keyboard maestro Bjorn Sandberg as well as Elin Bergstrand on added vocals. Three guest guitarists provide the fretboard electricity needed to fuel this engine. Note to all bass guitar aficionados, this is another sonic feast just like the debut album, it is littered with stunning bass lines that stand out clearly.
The wind-swept beauty of “Celestial Fields” really sets the tone, with a myriad of seductive features within a well- constructed structure that aims to create a complex yet effective, jazzy nevertheless hummable track. Infusing ornate piano musings, as Andreas’ velvety voice emotes with a breezy grandeur, the direction taken over by a roiling organ, bouncy drum strokes and an unexpected and long bass guitar spotlight, played upfront, centre and dazzling. The following piano solo is no slouch either and all is topped off with a beautifully insistent chorus, that immediately settles in for the ride. Brash guitar riffing and howling choir mellotron elevates this to stellar status as the title seems to infer.
Starting off in a conventional construct, “The Bridge” is certainly guitar heavy as it builds up a heady storm, the piano once again the choice foil in adding acoustic joy to the arrangement, while the monster rhythm section holds back nothing. The divine chorus is grandiose, soaring high into the sky, though this is a bellicose piece of bold prog rock as the rampaging guitars attest.
Romantic is the mood for the quixotic piano on “Moments” but not for long, as the flirting turns into outright desire as the scratchy guitars monopolize the sizzle, held in check by another immediate melody and chorus, loud and proud, unfettered. A nine-minute bulldozer that offers no respite, a catapulting bass relentlessly keeping the pace on full throttle, the drum kit securing the rearguard. The electric guitar solo slices, slashes and goes back to its bullying tactics undeterred. I need a moment to catch my breath.
The title track starts off as a piano-bass duet lullaby, taken over by Elin’s voice à la Haslam, emitting a Renaissance feel that is emboldened by a rigid beat, electric guitar shavings and a distinct feel. Soon, the mood is hectic, almost chaotic, halted by an unexpected keyboard sampling, first some echoing electric piano and then a roiling Hammond organ solo. Intriguing, original and tasty.
“Beyond My Fears” is electric guitar centric as the clanging fretboards weave a stirring pattern that soon adds on a choppy shuffle, upon which Olov gets to warble his take on his inner demon. A more conventional approach is proposed here, almost AOR but nevertheless tainted by a serpentine bass line that coils up from the mid-section, two fangs at the ready. The guitars start churning once again, transitioning into the vaporously dreamy, before elevating to a higher plane with a soaring killer guitar solo that expunges all the evil spirits.
The ominously worded “The Pain You Didn’t See” is a melancholic dive, where the verbose piano and seductive guitars dance together in a melodic tango, both able to express themselves to the fullest. An all-instrumental affair that offers also that ability to tell a story without words and leave it to the listener to decide what hurts and what is visible. Definitely a highlight track here.
Ending the album on a nearly 16-minute mammoth is quite a ballsy move. A slightly psychedelic kaleidoscope of sound greets “Billions of Souls” before evolving into an overtly romantic tone, the brooding guitar ‘scorching flames’ as the robustly bulging bass bullies the pulse along. Slight vintage The Flower Kings feel (Hello Sverige), especially audible in the vocal department as both the lead and harmony voices seem incredibly familiar. Stellar piano topping the raucous guitar surge is always most appreciated, and that devilish bass lurks just underneath. Each musician gets to stretch out their individual talents with extended spots, including Elin and Andreas who really shine separately or united on their microphones. This just maybe one of the top early 2024 epics to consider for greatness, as it rips, bulges, hurtles and swerves with the best of them. Worth the price of admission, I assure you.
Welcome back to the Prog universe, hopefully no more decade-long waiting periods for the next tributary, regardless how top secret your waterway may be.
4.5 Reflective galaxies