There isn't much in English on the web about Algarnas Tradgard, so here's my own homage to their wonderful music...
The Swedish group Algarnas Tradgard (Garden of the Elks) were formed in 1969 and played an active part in the progressive movement of the next seven years, often performing at free festivals. Their 1971 debut album was a radical exploration of the new possibilities opened up by creative use of the recording studio as an instrument, in a similar vein to Faust and other German experimenters, while also pulling in folk and medieval influences. On stage they would improvise more upon riffs and extensive touring led to their sound becoming heavier and more rocky, yet with complex arrangements and dynamic interplay between their wide range of instruments: violins, cello, zither, sitar, tabla and flute added to the conventional rock band of bass, drums, guitars and keyboards.
They recorded a second album in 1973-74, but its release was "Delayed" until 2001 (hence the album's name). The band finally split up in 1976. No other official recordings exist, although there must be bootlegs. Next I'd like to check out the musical careers of the band members...
Listening to their legendary debut album is like a magical voyage of space-time travel through the Middle Ages and on into a space-age future. The album cover depicts an old white-haired man sitting God-like in some strange landscape with huge stone blocks floating above, around which planets revolve. The LP back cover also featured the amazing Hieronymus Bosch paintings of The Garden of Earthly Delights and St. John on Patmos. The CD differs slightly, having Bosch's The Creation Of The World printed on the disc (like the LP) while the booklet has four different pictures of the band playing, slightly dissolving some of the mystery around this mythic music's creators, but it's good to know what they look like. And welcome also are the sparse sleevenotes listing instrumentation and English translations of the song titles, which were absent from the LP. The track titles alone convey the poetic care bestowed on this music:
The album begins with a dark chiming clock, from which emerges strange guitar finger-picking and psychedelic echoes. Before long, a band has gathered, with electric guitars, organ, violin, wonderfully sedate but impassioned drumkit, beginning a long and steady improvisation that is at once sure-footed and free. As the intensity rises, two electric guitars duel around each other fiery exchanges. A noticeable change in the mix heralds a new section beginning: the two guitars even more fuzzed out now, accompanied by rebec (a medieval violin), cello and low tom toms in a medieval dirge, to be then joined by dark voices all in unison with the strings. This eventually dies away into EMS VCS3 Putney Synthi sounds and radio noises with a return to the dirge theme amidst mangled Sixties pop radio, oscillators and white noise.
Next comes a pleasantly processed vocal chant, which is soon replaced by a medieval dance for tin whistle, drum and tambourine together with sounds of horse and cart, dogs barking, cock crowing, birds singing. The next interlude has some strange synthi heralding a gruesomely squeaky door opening onto subtle cello and jews harp with a loud clock ticking. This transmutes into a sitar and tabla theme with echoed violin dancing eyes-closed over the top. The sitar and tabla then disappear leaving the echoes of violin into which a sublime zither and acoustic guitar duet wanders, closing this track with the still echoing loops of violin.
Track three 'Children of Possibilities' starts swiftly with reversed piano notes jumping into a folky ballad for female voice, violin, rebec and cello in unison, with small bells. An electric guitar adds a modern touch, as does a sudden interlude falling away into echoes and tape effects of atmospheres and more piano reversals, before the theme returns a third time.
Strange ancient horns herald the next song, 'La Rotta'. Handclapping and simple drum beat time for a unison string folk melody over a drone bass, while imagined villagers dance.
A sudden ending whisks us off into 'Viriditas', a dreamy otherworld of echoey piano and voice, with more unison strings, jews harp and cymbals, which ends with tape effects spinning off into the distance.
Then for me, the pinnacle of the album: 'Saturn's Rings'. An introduction of quiet organ chords and gentle piano is joined by liquid electric guitar tones which instantly transport the listener to a distant planetary orbit after all their earthly adventures. A snare drum roll builds as the guitars launch and then the band comes together into what must be one of the finest moments in progressive music. Drums, cello, violin and rebec jam it out as the dual fuzz guitars spin and dive around each other like ships in orbit above an echoey wash of colours. There is an amazing sense of hurtling through the rings of Saturn as the title suggests. The violin challenges the guitars with altitude games. The track comes to a sudden and surreal end, as reverse effects simulate some kind of hyperspace teleportation.
When we regain consciousness, we find ourselves in a cold, dark, forbidding place with menacing rebec, shady violin, langourous cello, haunting organ, creaking floorboards and unrhythmic bass drum: nocturnal music not unlike a subdued Univers Zero falling asleep. After a few frightening minutes, the music creeps away back to wherever it came from.
As if we are not lucky enough to just have this gem of a record available on CD, there are also two bonus live tracks, recorded at the Museum of Art in Gothenburg in autumn 1972 by 'unknown'. The recording quality is not crystal clear but suits the music's atmosphere perfectly and in no way detracts from the enjoyment; these are great extras and well worth the price of admission.
The first bonus track '5/4' is a Faustian Krautrock groove in five beats which enters gradually from the darkness, with mesmerising repeats over which a liquid lead guitar and shimmering synthesisers paint a brighter canvas. The drums rise to the challenge and spur on the guitar to passionate solo playing. The track dies away into a haze only to return to the initial riff for a another reprise, this time with bass to the fore.
The final song 'The Mirrors of Gabriel' starts with gentle pulsing guitars and cosmic washes of shimmering organ. After a while, cello and flute appear, and a slowly swaying bass theme begins to take shape, inviting our gaze into the angelic mirrors... Drums join in and soon we are in flight once more, with excellent use of toms and cymbals rather than hihat and snare. The glasslike organ chords continue to the last, as the track fades back into the void.
It is nice to be left back in space again rather than the creepy netherworld that ended the original LP, which always made me feel uneasy when listening alone at night in my medieval house...
This second album was recorded in 1973-74 after two years of touring, but not mixed and released until 2001. Hence we have the benefit of excellent production and 21st Century mastering quality of these sizzling Seventies sounds.
'Takeoff' immediately launches us in flight. After a brief lull comes a quote of a mixture of Holst's 'Mars The Bringer of War' (acknowledged on the sleeve) and something by ELP. The track dissolves into the synthesiser warblings and violin explorations of the intro to 'Interstellar Cruise'. Keyboardist Jan Ternald is more noticeable on this album as an instrumentalist and not just a sound effects man as on the more acoustic-electric debut, here creatively exploiting the powerful resources of his new Moog modular synthesiser. A hand drum starts a simple beat which is then taken up by the band who get right into some heavy intergalactic riffing that Gong or Can would not be ashamed of. The track slows to a close amidst slabs of mellotron, but then jumps back into gear with some excellent drumming and ensemble interplay. Hot stuff. It finally ends with glissful guitar and poignant piano.
A solo mellotron starts the next short track 'Reflection', which soon moves into 'Almond Raga' with echoing cello, then an Indian-sounding theme kicks into action, a rocky raga similar to Popol Vuh or Amon Duul II, played with impeccable flair. Some strange diversions include curious found sounds before a resonant synth and sitar duet starts, joined by tabla and voices.
Next up is 'Beetlewater', which quotes Third Ear Band's 'Water', a psychedelic funkout which to my ears recalls Hawkwind's 'Spirit of The Age' (despite coming four years beforehand) as well as Faust's 1971 epic 'Miss Fortune'.
The next song heralds 'The Arrival of Autumn' with a calm guitar and synth introduction soon overtaken by a heavenly mellotron-flute and cello interlude bathed in wistful guitars and synth tones. From here a 7/4 groove emerges giving birth to more ascending guitars and we're back to 'Rings Of Saturn' riffing, alternating with the earlier mellotronic interlude. (Both of these last two tracks are more reminiscent of the first album's atmospheric collages.)
Finally, a solo flute dances around echoes of itself, introducing the only singing on the album (in Swedish) in the gentle 'My Childhood Trees', over fragile zither and moog slivers, all rebounding around the same long delay line. The album ends with a drawn out tape-echo loop gradually decaying into Silence.
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© copyright Malcolm Smith 2005-03-09 - last updated 2005-03-26 - links verified 2005-03-22