Gösta Berlings Saga
Konkret Musik
24/07/2020
Formed in Stockholm, Sweden, almost exactly 20 years ago, Gösta Berlings Saga long have demonstrated a thirst for evolution and new sonic mutations. Emerging from the shadowy prog underground with early albums like Detta Har Hänt (2009), Glue Works (2011) and Sersophane (2016), these esoteric masters of manipulated sound and melody stood apart from the rest of the progressive pack, eschewing clichés and nostalgia in favour of a fervently forward-think ethos. Although undoubtedly influenced by the greats of prog, art rock, electronica and the avant-garde, Gösta Berlings Saga have remained thrillingly impervious to categorisation, even as they signed to revered prog imprint InsideOutMusic and released their 2018 masterpiece ET EX, their fifth and most high profile album to date. Utterly distinct from every other band on the label, while also showcasing the Swedes’ ever-evolving sound, the album was many prog fans’ first taste of this band’s fearless and ingenious approach. It also gave its creators a clear sense that doing things their own way was the only way to go.

Fast forward to 2020 and Gösta Berlings Saga have evolved once again. Despite the ongoing coronavirus chaos, the band have completed work on their astonishing new album, Konkret Musik. Buoyed by the effusive response to their big label debut, they have marched stoically forward along their own unique path, discovering a brand new way to blow minds in the process

“I think the response to Et Ex made us feel rightfully bold and adventurous,” says drummer Alexander Skepp. “If there was any sense of us being a bit nervous or concerned before, I think we’ve managed to let go of that now. This new album has 12 tracks on it, which is by far the most we’ve ever had on an album. We just tried to explore in every possible direction that we could, so we had a range of ideas, instead of trying to find a common thread and picking seven songs in that vein. What we started out with was just skeletons of songs, basically, and it could’ve ended up with us saying ‘Fuck this! This is too much hard work!’ but somehow we pulled it all apart and made it ours. That’s when the fun part of creativity happens, I think.”

If their previous records were defined by sprawling, multi-genre epics that hinged on spiralling intricacy and muscular crescendos, Konkret Musik represents a wholesale refinement, as the GBS sound is reborn in succinct and vital three or four-minute bursts, with each song kicking open the musical door to another exhilarating, alien world.

“I think we’ve started to drift into liking shorter songs in general,” says guitarist Rasmus Booberg. “The idea of the epic is a little overplayed. It’s like a compulsion for many progressive or instrumental bands. In a way it’s more progressive to do a three-minute instrumental and fuck the stereotypes! I think that’s why we recorded almost this entire album live. That’s so much harder with ten-minute epics! This way, you get way more different flavours over an album.”

“This is like a good reduction, when you make a sauce,” grins Alexander. “It’s our band, but very condensed. The songs are shorter and more punchy. They still have the trademarks, such as the strong melody lines and very powerful, unexpected chord progressions, but it’s still much more condensed and much grittier, too. It’s fragments of things that could inspire you as you get on with your everyday life. It’s like the soundtrack to whatever you’re up to, whether it’s renegotiating your mortgage or shoplifting beer or whatever! (laughs) It’s powerful, I think.”

Although long-time fans of this band will inevitably recognise certain tics, tropes and characteristics from previous Gösta Berlings Saga outings, Konkret Musik is plainly a very different beast from its predecessors, not least due to the extensive and expansive use of synthesisers. Always an integral part of the Swedes’ sound, these modular sonic wonders have been fully exploited this time round, leading to a curiously timeless and emotionally powerful listening experience. From the propulsive grooves of opener Släpad to the dreamy ambience of Close To Home and on to the Kraut-punk thunder of the title track and To Never Return’s film noir clatter, it’s a celebration of arcane and unheard electronic sounds colliding with the human touch.

“It’s way more electronic, with more synthesizers,” nods Alexander. “That’s something we’ve wanted to explore for many years, but for many reasons we haven’t been able to align on how we wanted to sound. But this time we got on with doing what we liked, finding the right synth sounds, programming for ages to find the right feel for it.”

“We worked with Daniel Fagerström who did our last album,” Rasmus continues. “He produced this album with another friend, Anton Sundell. A lot of the synth stuff was supervised by Fagerström - he has a lot of old, weird synthesisers, not just the classic ‘70s and ‘80s stuff, but also some really weird sounds! The album is, of course, inspired by a lot of ‘70s and ‘80s synth music, but this is also something really different. He’s a very experimental producer!”

Newly expanded to a five-piece, with Alexander, Rasmus, bassist Gabriel Tapper and keyboard maestro David Lundberg joined by percussionist Jesper Skarin (Misery Loves Co/Switch Opens), Gösta Berlings Saga are now primed and ready to launch Konkret Musik on a still unsuspecting world. While many other supposedly progressive bands merely ape the styles and sounds of the early ‘70s, this band are hammering at the door of music’s future, armed with several decades of experimental fervour and blessed with a shared chemistry that truly explodes on the new album. Meanwhile, Alexander and his band mates are looking forward to taking their new music out on the road in not-too-distant future, even if they are generally content to be stuck in the studio, pondering the next grand leap into the future of weird and wonderful music.

“We really love playing live, but it’s not our primary objective,” Alexander concludes. “We have this machinery of writing and releasing music, and that’s where our biggest focus lies. But one big reward is being able to play these songs to people. Just having one person coming up after a gig and saying ‘I didn’t even know that this type of music existed!’ /That/ is the biggest reward, I think.”