Jethro Tull, the iconic band that once seemed destined to fade into obscurity amidst a barrage of live albums, reissues, and Ian Anderson's solo ventures, has experienced a welcome resurgence. After their 2022 release, "The Zealot Gene," which drew inspiration from biblical verses and propelled them back into the UK Top 10 album chart for the first time since the '70s classic "Thick as a Brick," the band has reinvented themselves as a relevant and contemporary force.
Now, just over a year later, Jethro Tull returns with "RökFlöte," a departure from biblical themes in favor of the captivating world of Norse mythology - a wellspring of inspiration that has birthed an entire musical genre. However, those dreaming up a death metal onslaught from Jethro Tull will be sorely disappointed. Ian Anderson, the creative mastermind behind the band, finds greater fascination in the intricate characters and brutal realities that permeate the myths and sagas of the Norse lands, rather than the cartoonish renditions favored by death metal bands.
What's truly astonishing is that Anderson manages to evoke more menace with his flute than any hoarse, roaring voice or thrashing guitar could ever hope to achieve, all over a most progressive and slightly folk leaning set of songs. "RökFlöte" opens—and closes—with haunting, metallic flute feedback that creates an eerie atmosphere. The opening track, "Voluspo," sets the stage with a ponderous theme that underscores the prophetic implications at the heart of Norse mythology.
Anderson delves into the pantheon of Nordic gods, introducing us to figures like the one-eyed Odin and his son Thor, whose mythic exploits form the foundation of countless sagas. With an endless reserve of evocative melodies and themes that rival his poignant lyrics, Anderson paints a vivid sonic portrait of these ancient deities. His flute playing has reached new heights of maturity, capturing the complexity of Thor's character on "Hammer on Hammer" while also making a lyrical allusion to Putin. Furthermore, the eerie howl produced by his flute at the beginning of "Wolf Unchained" surpasses the real thing, hinting at the primal power that makes the image of the wolf so disquieting.
While the album's tone lightens as Anderson explores the sagas themselves, the intricate details remain intact. Quirky allusions abound, such as the Mae West flotation jackets worn by the valiant pilots who defended Britain during World War Two, which make a surprising appearance in "Guardian's Watch," a song dedicated to the protectors of the gods.
I continue to like these larger hardcover art book packages as they offer a high-quality look and feel. Of course, it still does come down to sound quality, writing, and performance. Overall, the production and sound quality is above par, truly one of the best sounding Jethro Tull recordings I have heard, plus the band is in top form. For immersive listeners, as those in the know would expect, the Bruce Soord Dolby Atmos mix is fantastic, providing a wonderfully immersive spatial mix with a strong directional activity across all the channels. However, Ian Anderson's voice is only a shadow of what it once was, although he more than makes up for it with some impressive and very progressive song writing that features his flute playing that is better than ever. The word on the street was that Anderson intended for this album to be an instrumental release, however, the vocals are mixed and arranged cleverly to accommodate his aging vocal limitations. Even if the vocals do not add anything significant to the experience, this is an album fans are more likely to return to more often than most of the other recent output from Jethro Tull or Ian Anderson himself.
Bruce Soord was brought in to create the various immersive mixes, including the Dolby Atmos 48kHz / 24-bit and DTS HD Master Audio 48kHz / 24-bit 5.1 surround mixes. Both of these are magnificent in their own right, yet I found my ears preferring the overall balance of the Atmos mix the best. Anderson’s flute and vocals soar to the sky, along with spatial reverberance, occasional keyboard and guitar parts. Throughout the entire album I felt entirely placed into an Atmos bubble that permeated sound from all directions, with a nice feeling of being elevated off the floor. The 5.1 surround mix is equally fantastic from an immersion perspective, and for listeners not yet in the Atmos space, this mix is certainly one of the most encompassing mixes I have heard to date. Jethro Tull offers plenty of ear candy with parts that pop up from all corners, but don’t expect swirling gimmicks, as these are steady straight forward surround mixes that completely wrap the listener in high quality sonics.
Digging deeper into the mixes, one will find both an original and alternative LPCM 48kHz / 24-bit stereo mixes of the album. The alternative mix created by Bruce Soord is very worthy of a listen, as it leans toward a raw and even punchier quality. The drums are absolutely brought forward, while other instrumentation, including flutes, guitars and keys are tempered a bit in the mix, yet these all rise and crescendo with nice dynamics. On the other hand, the original mix created by Ian Anderson is subtler, and comparatively sounds super-polished, which ironically I found to be almost too perfect.
Jethro Tull truly proves their staying power with "RökFlöte." Anderson's foray into Norse mythology has resulted in a record that showcases the band's enduring creativity with moments of brilliance that shine through. The blend of folk, hard rock, and prog elements are exemplified in standout tracks like "Trickster (And the Mistletoe)" harkening back to the band's glory days. "RökFlöte" may not be a flawless masterpiece, but it is a testament to Jethro Tull's ability to adapt and captivate audiences. While other deserving albums may languish in the shadows, this revival from the veteran rockers demands attention by virtue of its association with the legendary Jethro Tull name. Recommended for collectors of immersive mixes, fans of Jethro Tull, and progressive rock enthusiasts.
Released April 29, 2023.
2CD + 1 Blu-ray featuring the first ever Dolby Atmos mix from the band, plus 5.1 surround and 2.0 stereo mixes. Also available on colored vinyl and via streaming platforms.
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About the Author
Wesley is a lifelong music enthusiast. He started his career in the recording industry in New York City as an audio engineer, producer, and studio manager. Subsequently he toured across America as a guitarist with the short-lived band Land's Crossing. After many years in the technology sector and amassing a substantial vinyl and CD collection, he delved into immersive audio and created Hi-Res Edition to share with other listeners about the sound quality and discrete mixes available on many formats. He recently upgraded his system to 7.1.4 Dolby Atmos and continues to seek out and share about the best sounding releases.