Soft Ffog by Soft FfogRelease date: May 27, 2022
Label: Is It Jazz? Records
And so, we head back to the Norwegian pond once more to a band that combines the forces of Canterbury, hard rock, and jazz fusion. Three of the genres blend well together in a delicious home-cooked meal that’s waiting for you. I’m talking about Soft Ffog. One of the first bands to be signed to Karisma’s first sub-label that launched a year ago entitled, Is It Jazz? Records.
Their sole self-titled debut album is like a burning candle that won’t burn out. They’re a quartet that considers members from each band, Krokofant, Grand General, and WIZRD. Now that right there, is a combination like no other. You have guitarist Tom Hasslan, drummer Axel Skalstad, bassist Trond Frønes, and keyboardist Vegard Lien Bjerkan.
They’re more than just a “super group”, but a band that gets down to business, and proves listeners that Soft Ffog are like eagles, spreading their wings and flying across the horizonic landscapes. They have probably had performed with everyone from the Norwegian jazz circuit, but man. Their debut album is quite the ride.
Not only there’s the Crimson influences, but Mahavishnu Orchestra, early Soft Machine, MoonJune related styles, and World music combined. They bring in their own unique sound that is right in front of you. They started off as a one-off gig performance at the Kongsberg Jazzfestival in 2016 which achieved critical success. Despite that, they didn’t get the recognition they deserve as a proper working band.
So when they were busy with other bands, they would often play gigs often to see if they were in town together. But it helped get them to where they are right now. And during the pandemic two years ago, Hasslan decided that it was time to reignite the fuse with Soft Ffog’s music once more, and give it the proper recognition that you have in your hands right now.
From the moment Bjerkan’s carousel loop on the electric keyboards begin with ‘Chun Li’ you get a sense of meditation, spirituality, and guidance that’ll take you on a spiritual journey that awaits you. And just as Hasslan enters the picture, that’s where Skalstad and Frønes comes swarming in, lending in those intensive attacks that come right off the walls!
And boy, do they have a menacing sound like there’s no tomorrow! But it goes into an incredible jam section where they lay down the funk, embarking their Rune Grammofon years before Frønes lays down some incredible grooves on his bass while Axel and Vegard walk into the territories of Herbie Hancock’s Headhunter years with a McLaughlin-sque arrangement underneath!
There are strong vibes of Black Sabbath’s ‘Electric Funeral’, Second Hand (unsung prog band from the UK), and tidal waving climaxes that’ll make you want to join in the fun. Meanwhile, ‘Zangief’ has a bit of ‘60s garage rock attitude that evokes the Blues Magoos riff ‘(We Ain’t Got) Nothin’ Yet’ with a bluesy tone that’ll have you walking into this waltzy melody in a trip-hop beat with some Holdsworth-sque craftsmanship and see if the grand wazoo has handled the production levels with this composition.
And Hasslan just steals the show in the midsection with his incredible fret work as he burns his fingers like a mad scientist, taking over the asylum with an iron fist. And the band members watch in awe, giving him the ammunition he deserves to make it towards the finish line.
It then segues into ‘Ken’ where the band move away for a brief moment from their metallic arrangements, into something mystical and ambient thanks to Vegard’s keyboard styles. There’s something vaudeville about this number as Soft Ffog walk into a steampunk universe of the 1930s with a robotic swing technique which is very futuristic, and right down to the bone.
Vegard makes his keyboard sound like an alto sax, channeling the Floyd’s Wish You Were Here sessions in a black-and-white film set in 1950s Paris where you get to view the city of love in all of its glory. It’s not just the way that Vegard honours his heroes, but going into the styles of the French proggy sounds of Atoll during their L’araignee-Mal years that speaks ‘Le Voleur D’Extase’.
‘Dhalsim’ closes the album with Axel channeling Zeppelin’s John Bonham in the composition as the riffs become even more challenging between Hasslan and Frønes by entering Rush’s Fly By Night sessions, continuing where ‘By-Tor and the Snow Dog’ had left off. While this is going on, the volcanic eruption comes sky high with a monstrous roar, crying out to the gods with a mighty beat.
Vegard goes bat-shit crazy by making his keyboards go haywire as the rhythm section goes in for the kill before Hasslan enters his thrash metal-like 12-bar groove attack as if the heavy tanks are coming in to bring peace throughout the entire city that has been in full chaos since the war started. It’s quite rare to hear something like that, but I just love how Tom makes his frets, fiery than ever.
And we’re not talking about Robert Fripp, but more of a Tony Iommi and Alex Lifeson approach to bring it all home.
Soft Ffog’s debut album is a treasure trove, the best of the best, and the cream of the crop. It shows how much the quartet brought everything together in a giant circle. And it just got even bigger. And to paraphrase Hasslan’s quote that he gave to David Fricke in the final section of his liner notes for Krokofant’s Q release in 2019, “We were heading this way anyway. But now we have the opportunity to play the music we really want.”