Even on their 2003 debut Fran En Plats Du Ej Kan Se, Beardfish were patently rebellious souls.
There is a huge audience within the prog world that demands little more from contemporary bands than a sustained flurry of cosy nods to the past, but Rikard Sjöblom and his comrades have long been a self-declared awkward squad, drawing from influences sure to infuriate purists while repurposing more traditional prog tropes for their own ingenious ends.
The band’s last two albums – Mammoth (2011) and The Void (2012) – frequently took them into heavier territory, as Sjöblom’s penchant for metal reared its horned head, but in keeping with their restless instincts, +4626-COMFORTZONE bears only a passing resemblance to either record, edging far closer to the scattershot spirit of 2009’s dazzling Destined Soltaire, while also veering off on several blissfully bold tangents that once again showcase the staggering depth and daring of this band’s songwriting.
There is still room for occasional jolting doses of metal, most notably on the anxious, rumbling pulse of King and the deliciously petulant NWOBHM-isms of Daughter/Whore (which, somewhat cheekily, starts with a dead spit of the opening bass riff from Motörhead’s Ace Of Spades).
Beardfish continue to exhibit a grasp of how heaviness and primitive riffing can be harnessed for progressive purposes without recourse to shameless impersonations of Deep Purple (at one end of the temporal-cum-sonic continuum) or Meshuggah (at the other). This is a dark record, inspired in part by the dead-end defeatism of the band’s small-town childhoods, but one that uses melody, texture and the element of surprise to convey that darkness. The dominant mood on the Swedes’ eighth album is one of furrowed brows, gritted teeth and a persistent sense of melancholy.
The songs themselves revel in extreme dynamics and bright-eyed ambition, Sjöblom’s dry and weary lyrics contrasting subtly with opulent arrangements and a wonderful air of the unpredictable. The robust hard rock of Hold On morphs into the shimmering squall of Comfort Zone – the finest song Beardfish have ever recorded – and then on through Daughter/Whore’s twitching muscularity and the beatific sprawl of If We Must Be Apart (A Love Story Continued), before Ode To The Rock’n’Roller scores maximum points on the acerbic-o-meter – all the while sounding like a cross between George Benson, Uriah Heep and an out-take from Zappa’s Joe’s Garage. This is an album that fizzes with passion for music’s endless bounty. The bar for 2015 has been set.