Karfagen - Birds of Passage

After releasing the acclaimed album 'Echoes from Within Dragon Island' last year, Karfagen was quick to release their 11th full length studio album in January of 2020 called 'Birds of Passage'. Their 'Dragon Island' album was well-loved by many reviewers here in the Archives, and many are excited to hear this new album. So the question is, does it live up to the previous album?
Karfagen was conceived by Antony Kalugin in 1997 and even now he continues to head this project performing most of the instruments on the album. However, he has continued to recruit many regulars who have become part of the band line-up over the years. On this album, Antony performs on keyboards, vocals, percussion, penny flute, and does arranging and programming of the tracks. Joining him are Mathieu Spaeter on electric guitars, Konstantin Ionenko on bass, Viktor Syrotin on drums, Tim Soloblev on vocals, Olha Rostovska on vocals, Aleksandr Pavlov on nylon guitar, Alexandr Pastuchov on bassoon, Maria Baranovska on violin, and Elena Kushiy on flute.

The album consists on a single suite called 'Birds of Passage' in 2 parts. Each part is in turn divided up into several sub- sections, in the same way that their previous master work was organized. The sound of this suite is much the same style as 'Dragon Island' suite from last year; complex, symphonic prog with a lot of nice textures among the instrumental and vocal sections. There does seem to be a bit more dissonance on this particular suite, but that also goes hand in hand with the sections that show more intensity. Also, as in the previous album, there is a nice mix of folk sounds and instrumentation and everything flows together wonderfully.

Each part of the suite is over 20 minutes in length, and, as expected from Karfagen, the themes and sections are all well developed. The music flows well and there is a nice balance between the instruments and the dynamics of the music is superb. The overall vibe is quite bright and positive even though the overall thematic element deals with the natural world and using symbolism from that to portray a very neo-prog element of the fight between good and evil. That neo-prog element lies mostly in the theme as the music itself is much more similar to the dynamic of symphonic prog. Each instrument is clear and polished with many keyboard and guitar interaction with nice vocals that utilize both male and female singing and harmonization.

The poetry of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (in part 1) and William Blake (in part 2) is used in the suite. The poetry makes up most of the lyrical content of these parts of the suite, and the additional lyric is composed by Antony. All of the lyrics are sung, and the placement of the words into song has been done quite well, and is probably one of the most impressive things about Karfagen's music. One would almost expect the sound to be a bit choppy between the extended instrumental sections and the lyrical sections, but everything flows seamlessly. This is the main thing that makes me come back to the band's music, the fact that the poetry can be so beautifully integrated into a suite. Everything else just flows along with this, and the more complex compositional parts of the suites start to become more apparent with continued listening. This makes this music more likeable, even from the first listen. The first part of the suite is much more lyric heavy, while the 2nd part concentrates more on longer instrumental sections.

Also similar to the previous album, there are other tracks that are 'supplemental' to the main suite, but in this case they are considered all bonus tracks, and there are only 3 of them. 'Spring (Birds Delight)' is a shorter work also based on a Blake poem 'Spring'. This one has a catchy sound and also has some scat going on that almost sounds tribal, and this sound mixes well with the other influences that are usually at work in the band's music. 'Sunrise' is a nice, pastoral and peaceful instrumental mostly featuring some lovely flute backed by atmospheric synths and percussion. 'Birds (short introduction)' is not available on the CD release. It is another short instrumental that does sound like an introduction to something, but this closes the album.

Toon Ladder (c) 2020