“Stately swathes of melodic guitar, stomping-goblin work-song chants, Rick Wakeman-riding-a-plesiosaur keyboard soloing:” Moon Safari’s Himlabacken Vol 2 is an epic complement to its predecessor

The level of care and attention to detail explains why it took the Swedish symphonic prog outfit 10 years to deliver their exploration of growing up

Moon Safari - Himlabacken Vol 2
(Image: © Blomljud Records)

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Moon Safari’s Himlabacken Vol 1 hit big with fans of symphonic prog upon its release in 2013. Anticipation of a follow-up changed from ‘keen’ to ‘hoping forlornly’ as the years passed. But it’s finally here.

And there’s so much care and attention to detail in the new album, it’s like perusing a map of Middle-earth on the frontispiece of a particularly grand hardback edition of The Lord Of The Rings

Continuing the epic and episodic theme of sunny childhood memories, this sequel is presented as a continuation of its predecessor. And while Vol 2 extends some of the cheerful motifs of childhood reminiscence, it also adds reflective, darker, ‘growing up’ moments.

Opener 198X (Heaven Hill), the subtitle of which is the literal meaning of ‘Himlabacken,’ is thoroughly positive prog. Warm, bright 1980s synths are overlain by ultra-chirpy Freiheit-meets-Queen harmonies that almost make the perkier moments of Spock’s Beard’s catalogue sound dour. 

The 10-minute-plus Between The Devil And Me also radiates a fervent sparkiness, with instrumental pyrotechnics and a vocal blend that recall prime-time Styx. The more compact Emma Come On has monophonic keyboard shrieks and spirals of guitar that scream pure 1970s FM-radio gorgeousness.

the many widescreen moments are mere amuse-bouche to the colossus that is the fabulously named Teen Angel Meets The Apocalypse

To avoid overkill, these set pieces are offset by the likes of Beyond The Blue, a shorter, calmer vocal meditation that deserves to be accompanied by aerial shots of – to quote the sleeve notes of Yes’ Tormato – “faraway places with strange-sounding names.”

But even the many widescreen moments are mere amuse-bouche to the colossus that is the fabulously named, 21-minute Teen Angel Meets The Apocalypse. This has everything a self-respecting 21st-century prog opus should. Stately swathes of melodic guitar begin the musical journey, followed by stomping-goblin work-song chants, fierce Hammond work, Rick Wakeman-riding-a-plesiosaur keyboard soloing, and lashings of vocal duelling between Petter Sandström and Simon Åkesson.

There’s even a jaunty McCartney-ish interlude at 13 minutes in, strongly redolent of the ingenuity he experimented with on 1971’s underrated, prog-friendly Ram. This all leads up to Pontus Åkesson’s Hackett-meets-Gilmour solo break sweeping in, followed by a glorious choral denouement. ‘We don’t need religion, ’cos we’ve got rock’n’roll,’ they sing in unison.

It was a potentially tricky task, but Moon Safari can consider Himlabacken Vol 2 a very worthy successor after all these years. Let’s hope the next entry in their catalogue won’t be delayed until 2033.

Himlabacken Vol 2 is on sale now via Blomljud Records.