I first became aware of Swedish prog titan Roine Stolt in late 2000 when I bought the Flower Kings classic ‘Stardust We Are’ and I’ve been listening to him ever since. I’ve enjoyed and purchased further FK albums, as well as those by Transatlantic, and enjoyed reviewing his supergroup’s self titled The Sea Within earlier this past summer. So upon receiving his upcoming Roine Stolt’s The Flower King ‘Manifesto of an Alchemist’ I was of course rather pleased to get a chance to listen to it. Unfortunately it didn’t live up to its immediate predecessor.
A bit of background on the musicians involved before launching into the review itself. This lineup is stellar. Besides Stolt himself on guitar and lead vocals, he has Marco Minnemann, and Jonas Reingold, both also of The Sea Within on drums as bass. Also making an appearance from the earlier album is Rob Townsend who contributes some saxophone work. Marco is of course one of the most well regarded drummers on the planet, and the rest of the musicians are no slouches either. The performances are sharp and on point, which makes the general blandness of the music all the more unfortunate.
Things start off with the brief “Rainsong” before the album proper kicks in with “Lost America” and “Ze Pawns” which, while separate songs, sort of merge together into an overall commentary and statement on the ways of the world. Ending ultimately with someone rambling about secrets and shadow governments before a brief audio clip of JFK is heard. Musically it’s everything a laid back Stolt written song is, and has been for a very long time. Now granted most everyone who has been making music as long as he has has a signature sound and way of writing. It’s to be expected; but this time around I just feel like I’ve heard it all before too often. This is in sharp contrast to the aforementioned The Sea Within which had a much fresher and unexpected sound and feel.
Jumping ahead we come to one of the few tracks that felt a bit newer and kept my attention and interest to a far greater degree which is the instrumental “Rio Grande.” A merger of more classic old school prog and jazz, this piece really lets the band stretch out and play. There’s plenty of open space for the small flourishes to shine. Stolt’s guitar sings, and Marco once again shows what a peerless drummer he is.
The Alchemist comes shortly after this, and is another instrumental, this time definitely more on the jazzy side of things. The Hammond organ work of Max Lorentz is highlighted throughout, and Townsend offers up some memorable sax moments as well that tie things neatly in a bundle. It’s much less typical of most of the rest of the album, which is probably why I think it works better.
The album closes out with the nearly 10 minute “The Spell of Money” which brings back all the tropes one would expect and lyrically reiterates pretty much everything that Roger Waters already said back in 1973. It’s not necessarily bad, or unpleasant; just not very interesting I’m afraid. And after about a dozen listens of the album that’s the general feel I have for the entire album, I just feel like the whole thing is “meh”. Not bad, not good, just kind of there. I wondered if I had just been oversaturated over the years with his music. But I listened through some older FK material and enjoyed it as much as I always have. Ah well, others I’m sure will find it more to their liking.
Roine Stolt has over the decades more than earned his reputation for a master of classical prog in the modern era. However despite the admirable performances from all those involved ‘Manifesto Of An Alchemist’ feels less like a manifesto and more like a note with bullet points written on it. Hardcore fans will certainly flock to it, but most everyone else will likely be better off waiting for the next album and hope it gets a bit of the spark back.