Album Review: Greenleaf, Echoes From a Mass

greenleaf echoes from a mass

Behold Greenleaf in their element. The Swedish heavy rockers date back to the turn of the century with their someday-I-will-own-that-vinyl self-titled EP, and Echoes From a Mass is their eighth album and third for Napalm Records. It arrives some 20 years on from their 2001 debut, Revolution Rock (discussed here), and finds them a more stable band than perhaps founding guitarist Tommi Holappa, also of Dozer, ever expected them to be.

Crucially, this is the fourth offering since Arvid Hällagård came aboard as vocalist, and like each of its predecessors, it finds the Holappa/Hällagård dynamic growing in exciting ways that are only bolstered by the rhythm section of bassist Hans Frölich and drummer Sebastian OlssonHolappa has always been a songwriter as the catalogs of Greenleaf and Dozer both demonstrate, but with Echoes From a Mass even more than 2018’s Hear the Rivers (review here), the guitar parts sound as though they were constructed with the vocal accompaniment in mind.

From opener “Tides” onward through the 10-track/46-minute release, Greenleaf and longtime-associate/producer Karl Daniel Lidén create a world with these songs that is at once contemplative as the boldly-chosen leadoff is, and also decidedly blues-based, as cuts like “Good God I Better Run Away,” “Bury Me My Son” and “Hang On” demonstrate. Hear the Rivers and 2016’s Rise Above the Meadow (review here) before it seemed to reach for the same kind of spaciousness in sound — Hällagård‘s first record with the band, 2014’s Trails and Passes (review here), was somewhat more earthbound in its production — and Echoes From a Mass pushes further in inhabiting that space, with melodies floating in vocals echoes above even what in other contexts might be a driving straightforward riff on “Love Undone” or a hook conjured by lead guitar in early cut “Needle in My Eye.”

As one would expect, it’s not all atmospherics and moody sounds, with Olsson leading the way into “Good God I Better Run Away” and the title-line there making for one of the album’s most memorable impressions — there’s stiff competition — or (presumed) side B opener “A Hand of Might” with its classic and signature Holappa boogie, each riff cycle seeming to try to push the one before it out of its way en route to the listener. The tradeoffs throughout between loud and quiet, faster and subdued, etc., bring to light the chemistry in the band at this point.

This is Frölich‘s second long-player with GreenleafOlsson‘s fourth, and, as noted, Hällagård‘s fourth. For a band who throughout the last 20 years has seen players come and go, come and go and come and go, the solidified lineup feels like a novelty, but it’s one that allows for a new kind of development in the band’s sound and purpose. It’s not just about Holappa paying homage to classic ’70s rock anymore — in fact it hasn’t been for some time — but about what this whole group brings to the material.

To wit, the near-proggy rhythmic tension coinciding with the chug of “Needle in My Eye” and the thickened stomp in the penultimate “On Wings of Gold,” which suitably enough seems to take flight ahead of closer “What Have We Become,” that quieter, purposefully understated finish a key-laced showpiece for Hällagård and an occasion to which he every bit rises.

greenleaf (Photo by Peder Bergstrand)

The same could be said of everyone throughout, and though one doesn’t necessarily go to ‘album number eight’ as a landmark happening in the tenure of a given group, Greenleaf engage a somewhat fraught emotional perspective — see titles like “Good God I Better Run Away,” “Needle in My Eye,” “Love Undone” and “Bury Me My Son” — early on and answer with a bit of hope in “Hang On” and “On Wings of Gold” before finally looking back to ask “What Have We Become” at the end. The answer to that question is, at least as far as the album is concerned, that Greenleaf have become a full band with an increasingly complex perspective and a greater depth of sound than they’ve ever had before.

Considering the places Greenleaf have gone stylistically in their time — still under an umbrella of heavy rock, but ever more characteristically so — that’s not saying nothing, but to hear even the downer sway in “Bury Me My Son” as it moves into the bell-of-the-ride hits that start the creeping-into-surge intro of “A Hand of Might,” the subtle turn of defeat to persistence isn’t lost, and the rush of that track helps the band build momentum as they move through Echoes From a Mass‘ second half, with “March on Higher Grounds” arriving not with fanfare but as a melodic highlight nonetheless. Its riff careens deceptively forward and and where one might expect Hällagård to belt it out in the hook à la “Bury Me My Son,” the decision otherwise speaks to how able Greenleaf are at this point to see the bigger picture of what the album needs at any given point.

The flow continues through “Hang On” and “On Wings of Gold” as one would hope, with the latter the longest track at 6:28 and the crescendo for the LP as a whole, bringing together the blues and the heft and the space and putting everything in its proper place without losing the emotional force behind it — that force only getting further prevalence on “What Have We Become,” which seems to call back to “Tides” even as it refuses the temptation to hit into the same kind of largesse. Or maybe that’s just me going back to the start and playing the record again.

Either way, as a fan of GreenleafEchoes From a Mass excites not only in the continued quality of its songwriting — Holappa is name-brand as far as that goes — but in the increasing cohesion of its performance and how the production seems to highlight the band simply melting together as a single unit. It is immersive and progressive in a way Greenleaf have not always sought to be, and that too stands as testament to just how special they are, to be trying and achieving new things and building on their past in this manner some 21 years on. One of 2021’s best in heavy rock, no question.

Greenleaf, “Love Undone” lyric video

Greenleaf, “Tides” official video

Greenleaf on Thee Facebooks

Greenleaf on Instagram

Greenleaf at Napalm Records

Napalm Records website

Napalm Records on Thee Facebooks

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2 Responses to “Album Review: Greenleaf, Echoes From a Mass

  1. Mark says:

    On my first listen, but what a great sounding album! Drums, bass, guitars vox just sound perfect.

  2. Teasekill says:

    I’m so happy to see bands putting out music faster now.GREENLEAF is all you need to know.

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