‘Haunting’ is a word which is frequently used in relation to a number of progressive albums, signalling a disquieting and lingering sense of presence which inhabits and permeates the music, bringing with it associated feelings of wistful nostalgia, the pain of longing, the pang of regret and the dread of remorse. As a description of the darkly brooding and emotionally turbulent atmosphere which pervades and saturates every level of Forever Comes To An End, the second solo release from Bjørn Riis, the fit is most certainly apt as well as accurate.
But what I think is so decisively different about this album is the powerful impression that what you are listening to is not only haunting, but in many significant and unsettling respects, haunted as well. Listening to the lyrics there is little doubt this is an intensely personal release which grapples with issues and feelings across the course of each song, reaching down into the intimate and deeply private places where things matter most. Yet the spectre which infests this beautifully melodic musical feast ultimately remains frustratingly just out of sight.
Riis says it is an album which deals with hate and resentment. But from the thundering drum fuelled anguish of the opening title track what becomes crystal clear is that this is definitely not some kind of curiously detached or speculative intellectual exercise. “Do you feel / do you feel the hate / what you’ve done to me / and forced me to do” This comes scarily close to being an all consuming preoccupation, an almost obsessive intensity with a singular driving focus, a wrestling with something he cannot let go and which will not let him go. “But I’m scared to let you go out of my life / and I want you here / I need you by my side”.
The tranquil interludes are matched by the irresistible agonising of the impassioned guitar, frantically searching for the right voice to express its tortured, frantic, frustrated feelings but finally falling back into the anguished cauldron which gave it birth. There is the sense of an itch being furiously scratched, a scab being picked, but just as you get caught up in the guilty pleasure of the briefest satisfaction of scratching and scratching, only to be driven mad by the need to keep going the minute you stop, so the musical itch here never quite delivers a lasting peace.
The austere and contemplative simplicity of The Waves (Track 3) is a forlorn wilderness of hopeless, helpless abandonment. “I’ve been down for too long / I almost drowned / There was darkness all around / and it pulled me down to the deep”. But not just abandonment: an abject, wrenching giving up and giving in. “And I tried to reach out to you / Helpless and barren”. In the end, tragic futility and despair. “I held on as tightly as I could / I fought through wind and rain / But these waves keep on hitting me / They drag me down / And I try to breathe, I try to scream / But I’m too far, too far down”.
The fearful icy depths herald a suffocating numbness as Getaway (Track 4) segues to a softly pulsating trance-induced mindlessness, the repetitive throbbing cycle of electronica-led keyboards washing away the deluge of emotions, fears and anxieties. The soothing orchestral underpinnings of Calm (Track 5) bring a muted, restrained, almost broken guitar lead framed against a simple repeating piano refrain.
When the vocal returns in Winter (Track 6) it’s gutted, hollow: “She’s cold as ice … makes me feel all dead inside”. All passion spent, what remains? “Now she’s gone / but I still want her here / she stole my heart / and she turned it into stone”. The pain and the aching torment of the original dilemma remains; the horizon feels emptier, quieter, desolate, echoes of a female voice floating on the wind.
Where Are You Now? (Track 7) is possibly one of the most wrenching (non) love songs I think I’ve ever heard; weary, laden with melancholic nostalgia, heavy instrumentation that feels too desolate to play. “Where are you now? / Are you safe somewhere else? / Did you find a place to call your own?” Left with a gnawing misery and the suffering torment of what-if’s and what-might-have-beens, the guitar rips one last spark of passion into the soundscape before succumbing to the gentle comforting keys of the piano keeping time to a subdued drum beat.
There is a mental and emotional exhaustion which comes with listening to this record. Don’t be fooled by the rich melodies, the luscious soundscapes, the exquisite instrumentals; they are as beautiful as they are unnerving. There is nowhere to hide from the unfolding story, no sanctuary from the unrelenting honesty and the desire, above all, just to be heard. The reward is a thoroughly enthralling and engrossing album which is a riveting triumph of musical creativity and narration.
Forever Comes to an End (8.14)
2. Absence (2.47)
3. The Waves (7.21)
4. Getaway (7.52)
5. Calm (3.48)
6. Winter (10.16)
7. Where Are You Now (7.27)
Bjørn Riis – guitar, vocals, producer
Sichelle Mcmeo Aksum – vocals
Henrik Fossum – drums, percussion
Asle Tostrup – programming
Simen Valldal Johannessen – piano
Label: Karisma Records
19th May 2017
Format: CD, Digital, Vinyl
This review originally appeared for The Progressive Aspect