“These songs slot neatly into the catalogue – but this is a very different record from its predecessors, if only in sonic terms”: Airbag’s The Century Of The Self

Norse notables expand their sonic environment with an effective sideways step

Airbag - The Century Of The Self
(Image: © Karisma)

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Leading lights of the Norwegian progressive rock scene for more than 15 years, Airbag have always had a clear identity. Across their five studio albums to date, their subtly unique strain of post-Floyd melancholy has certainly proved itself to be a malleable thing.

Their 2013 album The Greatest Show On Earth saw them perfect their sound. Every subsequent release has brought new dimensions and textures to the tearful party, while also retaining the essence of their trademark dreamy drift. 

In the darkly digital paranoia-fest of 2016’s Disconnected and the back-to-basics sumptuousness of 2020’s A Day At The Beach, there’s a sense that Airbag could tinker at the edges of their sound forever and a day without ever sacrificing the unfussy, humble power that lies at its heart.

Airbag - Awakening (Official Video) - YouTube Airbag - Awakening (Official Video) - YouTube
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That remains largely true here. The Century Of The Self offers no radical departures or jarring detours, and with the disarming vocal presence of frontman Asle Tostrup dominating the foreground, these songs should slot neatly into the catalogue. Nonetheless, this is a very different record from its predecessors – if only in sonic terms.

The background is a masterclass in minimalist elegance

Blurring the lines between traditional prog, its modern equivalent and, more surprisingly, mind-expanding space rock, opening epic Dysphoria highlights the new dynamic sensibilities that inform this record. Built on a languid groove, it has much in common with the somnambulant stoner ritualism of bands like King Buffalo and OM, quasi-dub bass line included; but with the expected, bittersweet melodic thrust of the modern prog set, and a slight edge of post-punk grubbiness thrown in.

Where previous albums favoured a more conservative quiet-to-loud aesthetic, here Airbag sound liberated by the sheer enormity of space that their songs have wandered into. 

Airbag - Erase (Official Video) - YouTube Airbag - Erase (Official Video) - YouTube
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On the tense but tumultuous Tyrants And Kings, the backdrop for Tostrup’s pleas for mercy echoes the kohl-eyed vastness of The Cure’s Disintegration, elevating an otherwise straightforward song to a higher level of atmospheric potency.

On the gently heart-breaking Awakening, as Tostrup sings, ‘Don’t look down/Keep your head up...’ the background is a masterclass in minimalist elegance, with only drums and strummed acoustic providing an anchor to reality, as Riis wrings slender shards of bluesy wistfulness from his instrument.

The closing Tear It Down embraces Airbag’s newly expansive sonic environs, veering from stripped-down finesse to churning, angular alt rock, and spiralling towards massive, post-rock crescendos. The Century Of The Self is a subtle but effective sideways step.

The Century Of The Self is on sale now via Karisma.

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.