Ah, Iceland. I have fond memories of my time in Iceland. It is a wonderful place, to be sure, but there are many facets of it that are not well-known. The wondrous beauty of music of Iceland is what I will focus on in this review – but specifically the recent album of a band called Ring of Gyges called “Beyond the Night Sky.” But I guess you could figure that out from the title.
I’m not going to profess to be an authority on music coming from this Nordic country, and I am only aware of a few bands, but these certainly are wonderful. The bands have their differences, but the human in me has the tendency to see connections where none may exist, so I feel like these bands are tied together by some sort of Icelandic musical tradition.
Ring of Gyges has been around since 2013, released their debut EP “Ramblings of Madmen” in 2015, a ten-minute single “Witchcraft” in 2016, and their full-length debut “Beyond the Night Sky” in November 2017. They are a wonderful band and my favorite new find. They seem to have five permanent members, sharing duties on keyboards, bass, guitars, vocals, along with a few guests on different instruments — flutes, clarinet, saxophone, violin, viola, and cello. The lineup for the album clearly shows the importance of the horn and string sections, and it is used to great effect, but the keyboards and guitars dominate. This, for me, is a huge bonus.
The music of “Beyond the Night Sky” is generally smooth and subtle (don’t think Kenny G, I’m not finished) like Hatfield and the North in their more pensive moments, and less like the funkiness of Billy Cobham or the energy of Mahavishnu Orchestra. It’s more on the fluid, astral spectrum of jazz fusion, like Return to Forever. That said, they don’t sound anything like RtF – the horn section and lack of guitars make a pretty clear distinction. And then there is a metal segment, where influences from Dream Theater, Opeth, Leprous and Haken are on the display.
I guess that’s pretty great though, right? I hear aspects of Prog, old and new, but they don’t overpower or turn it derivative. I hear aspects of other Icelandic bands — Agent Fresco, most prominently — but they don’t turn the band toward regressive introspection.