This is something different for me! I’ve posted the odd book review over the years on here, but I don’t think I’ve ever written an album review for the site. Well, there’s a good reason for this one! As you may know, especially if you listen to Rock, Paper, Swords!, the podcast I co-host with Matthew Harffy, I am a HUGE fan of Jethro Tull. I even have a massive hand-drawn picture of singer/flautist/guitarist Ian Anderson on my study wall. So, when the band’s publicist sent us an advance copy of the brand new album, RökFlöte, I knew we’d have to deal with it properly – so I’ll post a review here, Matthew will post one on his own website, and we’re going to record one together as a bonus episode of the podcast (UPDATE – HERE it is). Why would Tull let us have an advance copy of their album, you ask? Well, Ian has very kindly agreed to come on Rock, Paper, Swords! Yep, Ian Anderson, the musical genius behind Tull – who have 60 MILLION ALBUM SALES – is coming on our podcast to chat about RökFlöte! Since the album has a Viking/Norse religion/mythology theme it seems absolutely perfect for us to interview him, as my new book is about Alfred the Great facing the Great Heathen Army, and Matthew’s latest series is about the first Viking invasion of England in AD 793. Rock, Paper, Swords! and Tull, a match made in,
I’ve decided to look at each track of RökFlöte individually, with a summing up at the end, so here we go. I’ve edited this from notes I took while listening to the album so please forgive the choppy style. I would work on it more but I’m supposed to be editing my new book right now, and I also have to edit the podcast episode to go out tomorrow!
Intro -Voluspo – This first track starts atmospherically with loud breathing (reminds me a bit of the heartbeat starting Tull’s unfairly maligned album A Passion Play), then spoken word by a volva, also puts me in mind of the Enslaved song “Fenris” which kicks off with a “Viking” spoken word section as well. Great flute melody here, then Ian Anderson speaks the lyrics. Driving drums, bass and guitar. Lovely flute solo which intertwines with a guitar lead. This is portentous and really sets the scene for the journey to come! The volva is an interesting addition for me, as I’ve used these characters in my Warrior Druid of Britain series. They were kind of “wise women”, something similar to the druids of Britain, and appear frequently in ancient Norse writings.
Ginnungagap – Again, flute kicks things off. This track has a real classic Tull style, with guitar and hi-hat building up in the background until…Another brilliant flute melody! This one would fit on the Roots to Branches album IMO. Good use of John O’Hara’s keyboards to enhance the main flute melody here, and some interweaving guitar and flute in between stop-start parts.
Allfather – Considering this song is about Odin it has a strangely jaunty melody to start and reminds me of the very early Tull stuff. Some really robust guitar riffing here with the flute over the top of it, some nice bass too. The lighter vocal sections work well with the meatier instrumental parts although it never completely takes off.
Feathered Consort – Flute starts again (see a theme here?!). There’s a strident beat, almost marching, for this song about Frigg/Freya. All the instruments are working well together, then it gives way to the verse with some keyboards doing most of the backing. This seems more like something from an Ian Anderson solo album to me.
Hammer on Hammer – Unsurprisingly, flute starts! There’s a gentle verse section which builds up and gets heavier, and the guitar is more to the front here with some tasty licks thrown in and a fantastic full-on solo from Joe Parrish-James that even has some harmonised parts (incidentally, the guitar tones are superb all through the album). This song is a fine, fitting tribute to Thor!
Wolf Unchained – We have a repeating flute motif to start this time, before heading straight into a rock beat, no messing. Fat guitar stabs here and there, with everything driving along nicely at a good pace. There’s a very, very nice instrumental/solo section on this track, with each instrument working together in a very satisfying way. This is not an old man’s album, this is really cooking now! Then there’s a second instrumental section, ending with a wolf howling. Wow, this is a superb song!
The Perfect One – nice doubled flute to start. More of an emphasis on the lyrics/vocal here I feel, nothing to distract from the verse. Goes into a nice bit of flute that somehow reminds me of the Rock Island album. Then guitar/keyboard/flute all come together to play a cool melody in harmony before another verse leads into an instrumental section again. This is all very interesting!
Trickster (and the Mistletoe) – We have a classic Tull folky melody here, and, to me there’s a real Stormwatch (1979 Tull album) vibe going on in the music. The verses are almost like a National Anthem style, before we’re back into that fantastic accordion/flute motif. There’s some nice drumming from Scott Hammond propelling things along here, with some really good fills. Like the rest of the album there’s not a lot of keyboard at the forefront but what is here is perfect, just adding the odd flourish or point of interest. Another absolute highlight of the album for me.
Cornucopia – Beautiful flute and piano here, reminds me of “And Further On” from the A album. Every Tull fan will love this I think, and I’m left wondering how does Ian still come up with these wonderful melodies on the flute after so many decades? Ian’s voice also sounds good here. It’s a lovely change of pace and feel at this stage of the album, although it speeds up at the end as we head into…
The Navigators – another doubled flute riff starts things before a pumping bassline from David Goodier pulls us into an upbeat rock song. The main rhythm guitar on the right channel with little stabs in the left which I found really interesting, before the flute goes off again and the guitar spirals behind it. There’s a classic Tull “start-stop” kind of section before the vocals come in again and that driving rhythm section is back. If anyone was thinking this would be a tired album, this is one song that proves them wrong. It rocks. Cool video too.
Guardian’s Watch – It’s hard for me to describe the feeling I get with this one – there’s a very “English Country Garden” flute melody here backed with similarly “English” organ. Do you get what I mean? It’s like a very pleasant summer garden party set to music. And then? Another hard rocking drum beat with lots of hi-hat drags us in! This is almost metal, and could be if the guitar was more in your face. The drums really shine here, and we’ve even got glockenspiel too I think! Eventually we get some acoustic guitar arpeggios backing the flute and, again, this is classic Tull and one of the best tunes on the album.
Ithavoli – unusual melody on flute to start, puts me in mind of something electronic band The Shamen might have done years ago. There’s some simple drums and guitar riffing here to back another Norse/Icelandic spoken word section. That’s a technique a lot of black metal bands have used but this is very much a Tull song. There’s a nice keyboard section in the left channel before the flute takes over in the centre. It all comes to a conclusion as the volva’s voice and Ian’s heavy breathing return so the album ends much as it started! 4/5
Overall thoughts? I’ve been a Tull fan for years, seen them twice live, and my favourites of their albums are the mid 70’s ones, but I’ve been very pleasantly surprised with just how rock oriented this album is. How GOOD it is. Ian is stretching his musical and song-writing muscles here, and this is not a collection of simple three chord rock songs hastily cobbled together. It’s meticulously crafted and definitely more on the “prog” side than something like their earlier albums Catfish Rising or Rock Island. There’s not much acoustic guitar, something which Ian always excels at, but the album doesn’t suffer for that. There’s a LOT of simple melodies repeated throughout the songs – simple, but not simplistic, and they’re played in interesting ways with guitar and flute sharing a lot of the lead parts. I like the keyboard sounds better than the ones Tull were using when Andy Giddings was in the band, and the solos (on any instrument) are not overly flashy, they fit the songs perfectly and add plenty of interest to the recurring flute melodies. And that flute…Ian is really on it here, with some truly inspired and lovely playing – considering he suffers from asthma it’s incredible that he’s still able to do what he does to such a high standard. Inspirational, really. I am the biggest fan of Martin Barre who was Tull’s longest serving guitarist, but even I have to admit the addition of Joe Parrish-James – an Iron Maiden fan! – has worked tremendously here. His lead playing in particular is very tasteful.
I would rate this 4.5/5 – it’s a modern classic Tull record hot on the heels of the Zealot Gene which came out last year and had some great songs on it but wasn’t as consistent as RökFlöte. Apparently Ian Anderson has already started work on another new album which he plans to release in 2024. 3 albums in 3 years? How the hell does he do it? That’s the kind of creativity/productivity that bands like Tull, Judas Priest and AC/DC managed in the 70’s but is unheard of nowadays!
RökFlöte comes out on April 21st. Find out more here – https://jethrotull.com/new-jethro-tull-album-rokflote/
We are hoping to interview Ian for Rock, Paper, Swords! in a couple of weeks so please look out for that episode appearing around the start/middle of May.
Huge thanks to Inside Out Music, Jethro Tull/Ian Anderson, and The Publicity Connection for the ARC of the album.
Matthew, my RPS co-host, has posted his review of RökFlöte, find it HERE. It’s a nice companion to mine, as he’s less of an Über-fan than I am!
UPDATE – here’s the link to the full, in-depth review on our podcast, check it out! https://spotifyanchor-web.app.link/e/RHhYhP3i6yb
And the Youtube version:
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