"We wanted to capture the magic of prog's classic era" – Wobbler: the story of From Silence To Somewhere

Wobbler group shot in 2017 sitting around a candle
(Image credit: Terje Skår)

Connoisseurs of Scandinavian prog will already know about Wobbler. Formed in 1999 in Hønefoss, Norway, they have spent much of their 18 years of existence mooching around in the shadows: an intermittent force for progressive good, far from prolific but always impactful when they do emerge from their old school, analogue-driven cage. This time, however, things are a little different. The brand new Wobbler album, From Silence To Somewhere, emerges into a world that’s much more open to music with a limitless, wide-eyed remit. As a result, the band are getting used to the idea that the world is finally beginning to come round to their way of thinking, and to a musical philosophy that could hardly have been more radical when Wobbler started their journey.

“We started playing in ’99, very much inspired by the classic prog era of 1969 to 1974,” nods keyboard maestro Lars Fredrik Frøislie. “We lived close by and musical interests tend to draw people together, don’t they? Eventually we found each other and thought, ‘Why not try to do things our own way?’ We were inspired by all the bands we love. We wanted to capture that magic, the incredible magic of that period. 

“Prog was definitely looked down upon when we started. We were pretty unfashionable, but we didn’t care. We almost did it out of spite! None of us were really into any of the contemporary music that was being made, except for black metal.”

“That was a big inspiration,” adds bassist Kristian Karl Hultgren. “It was the way the black metal bands ignored the music scene in Norway and completely did their own thing.”

Evidence of Wobbler’s idiosyncratic approach to music was laid bare on the band’s superb debut album Hinterland. It emerged to little fanfare in the autumn of 2005 but slowly exerted its unique allure, drawing in discerning fans and confirming that Norway now had a fervently old school prog band to stand beside the likes of Swedish pioneers Änglagård and Anekdoten

Even as progressive music was splintering off in all manner of strange directions, Wobbler seemed determined to honour the ageless sound of the genre’s first wave, even to the extent of becoming notoriously obsessed with accumulating as much authentic analogue equipment as possible. Over a decade on, Frøislie admits that the band have calmed down a little, but that their original ethos remains intact to a great extent.

“Well, the analogue obsession didn’t happen right at the beginning because we couldn’t afford to buy the right equipment initially,” he grins. “I remember the turning point. I had emulations of Mellotron and organs on my computer but then it broke down. So I knew I needed something where I could actually see what’s going wrong and I could stop and fix it with a screwdriver, you know? But we were pretty young when we first teamed up so buying that stuff was unrealistic. Eventually I got the Minimoog and the Mellotron, so when we recorded the first album, it was time to go all the way. It was quite extreme, I must admit. We even had drumsticks from 1974 and they broke during the soundcheck because they were old and rotten!”

“The problems with this stuff start when you leave the studio – you can’t just order a Mellotron if you’re playing in some small place in Italy,” Hultgren notes. “Going on tour makes that stuff difficult. So you have to cater for some modern ways to be able to perform.”

It’s easy to forget how hostile the music world was to anything remotely prog-centric a little over 10 years ago. Wobbler’s debut album went down extremely well with a substantial but largely untapped audience that were desperate for new music of this ilk, but as far as the band were concerned, their prospects were limited and their expectations were relatively low.

“For me it was quite a shock to discover that people loved us,” Hultgren states. “I can remember, especially after we played at NearFest in 2005, I was going off stage, just happy because it was the first major concert we’d done, and suddenly there was this commotion. One of the guys came and dragged me out, saying, ‘You have to come and sign!’ I was like, ‘Sure, I’ll sign a CD…’

“I came round the corner and there was this huge line of people waiting for us to sign stuff, and that was the first time I realised we had an audience outside of a few people in Oslo. Then we started to think maybe we should start writing in English!”

The release of Wobbler’s new album takes place in a much more welcoming environment for bands devoted to the ways of the early 70s. As with their previous two records, 2009’s Afterglow and its blissful follow-up Rites At Dawn (2011), From Silence To Somewhere pulls off the ingenious trick of sounding simultaneously like some long-lost relic from 1972 and like an entirely fresh new take on that old school musical code. 

Almost creaking under the weight of its own inspired ideas, it’s an album that has been painstakingly pieced together over the last five years, during which Wobbler have undergone one major line-up change and, it seems, a focusing of their creative endeavours. 

“Our previous guitar player quit in 2011 and so Andreas [Prestmo, guitar] joined and he’s a very creative soul,” Frøislie explains. “Since then he’s got us gigs in Italy and England and we’re very happy that he took on that manager/booking agent role. He’s much better at it than the rest of us! We did those gigs and tried to get as many more gigs in other countries as we could, just to break Andreas in and get comfortable with the new line-up. 

“We just enjoyed playing for a while,” he adds. “We were always saying we should make a new album, but without a new guitar player, it was hard to get that collective stuff going.”

“We actually started on some of the songs in 2012 and 2013,” Hultgren adds. “Then we jammed at my house and made the outline for the third song on the album, Fermented Hours. I don’t do the lead guitars, so then Andreas joined and the pieces all fell into place and the separate parts we had turned into songs.”

The arrival of Andreas Prestmo in the Wobbler ranks has had a subtle but significant impact on both the way the band operate and the music they make. From Silence To Somewhere’s towering, 20-minute title track comes with lyrics penned by the band’s new guitarist and is simply the most adventurous and absorbing piece of music Wobbler have produced to date. As a fan’s introduction to the band’s new recruit, it’s unbeatable.

“It’s more and more clear to me that it’s a true Wobbler opus,” Prestmo states. “It wouldn’t be the way it is if we hadn’t worked on it collectively. I brought in the lyrics, but what really made the song is what everyone put into it. The song started in a kitchen at a party. I just picked up a guitar and started to play the chords for the verse. I started to sing this melody over it and then I felt it was something. I had a feeling it was not a four- or five-minute song – it was a big song!”

A sprawling but meticulous epic that takes Wobbler through all manner of strange sonic environs while also hammering home the band’s laudable adherence to old principles, From Silence To Somewhere is potent on a lyrical level too. In among its strange, psychedelic musings and skewed, lysergic poetry, the album delves deep into more profound, existential notions. As Prestmo explains, his first foray with a new band provided a great opportunity to exorcise some demons. 

“In 2010 my mother died in an accident, and that pulled me into this maelstrom of very peculiar emotions and a lot of thinking,” he says. “There was lot of hard stuff going on for the next two, three, four years, and this song became a kind of catharsis for me. It’s about a will to survive in this nothingness, this endless void that life is a part of. I was swimming in a big ocean of a lot of different life thoughts, on survival and evolution and many other things. In many ways, this kind of thinking shaped the thematics for the whole album too. It really flavoured the pot.”

“Those themes, like alchemy, rebirth, death, they’re all there and the ending is quite gloomy,” adds Hultgren. “But it’s quite serene as well. The ending, the coda at the very end of the song, it’s very peaceful. But at the same time the lyrics are about lying and awaiting death and then rebirth again, so for me it’s a journey through elements of life.”

“It’s very hard to talk about without sounding pretentious and ridiculous!” laughs Prestmo. “We had this idea to focus on darker aspects but not in a frightening, horror movie, heavy metal way. More in a naturalistic ‘this is how it is!’ way. Life is merciless. Rites At Dawn was such an optimistic record, but it was clear that this material was going to be darker and more introspective and would have a broader palette of emotions.”

One listen to the new Wobbler album should be enough to make you ask why this band aren’t a lot better known. The truth is that four albums in 18 years isn’t the most impressive return, but it’s clear the band are so thrilled by their new album and the enhanced creative process that grew from Prestmo’s assimilation that, at last, they have decided to hurl themselves into the whole process of being an active band. Now signed to esteemed Norwegian imprint Karisma Records, Wobbler may be about to make up for lost time.

“We’re not lazy but we’re so used to doing things at our own tempo,” shrugs Frøislie. “If someone has a good idea, we jump on it. But before we didn’t push it and things evolved naturally. I think we’re past that now and there’s a collective feeling that we want to be more efficient, put out more stuff and drag ourselves into this creative process and see how far we can go.”

“We have a lot of material that wasn’t used on From Silence… so that will be the next album,” Hultgren confirms. “If we can keep up that level of progress, making new stuff as we’re out playing shows and promoting the new record, we’ll always have something to work with.”

Signing to Karisma has plainly made a big difference to Wobbler’s expectations. For the first time in their chaotic history, the band have a label behind them that fully understands the prog world, and that wants to push their new charges as far as they can go. With plans to play as many gigs as possible over the next 12 months, and preparations for their fifth studio album already underway, Wobbler are about to be stirred from their nest and cajoled into the bright, limitless sky.

“That’s why we jumped at the chance with Karisma,” says Hultgren. “They’re fans and they said from the start that they wanted to do stuff for us. We know a few bands that have been on the label for some time and they gave us very good reviews. So right now, this is all we need. It’s been so long since the last album that this almost feels like a comeback. We’re all very happy!” 

This article originally appeared in Prog 83.

Dom Lawson

Dom Lawson has been writing for Metal Hammer and Prog for over 14 years and is extremely fond of heavy metal, progressive rock, coffee and snooker. He also contributes to The Guardian, Classic Rock, Bravewords and Blabbermouth and has previously written for Kerrang! magazine in the mid-2000s.