Airbag – The Century of the Self (2024)

Airbag - The Century of the Self (2024)
Artist: Airbag
Album: The Century of the Self
Genre: Neo-Prog
Label: Karisma Records
Year Of Release: 2024
Quality: FLAC (tracks)

Tracklist:
1. Dysphoria (10:38)
2. Tyrants and Kings (6:47)
3. Awakening (6:44)
4. Erase (7:50)
5. Tear It Down (15:00)

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Personnel:
– Bjørn Riis / guitars
– Asle Tostrup / vocals
– Henrik Fossum / drums

With:
– Kristian Hultgren / bass
– Ole Michael Bjørndal / guitar
– Simen Valldal Johannessen / keyboards

One day the wheel will be reinvented and the world will wonder why we were so reluctant for this to happen. Today is not that day. The Century Of The Self is AIRBAG’s sixth album, it also happens to be the sixth time the band have refused to divert from their modern FLOYD-ian blueprints established almost 15 years-ago. Yet, while it seems counterproductive to praise, or encourage such creative stagnation, is sticking to your guns so inherently bad? With five new tracks, clocking in at just under 50 minutes on this prog pilgrimage, we must ask that very question.

While the answer may escape total unanimity, there’s no getting away from the fact that The Century Of The Self does not put a new band on the table. This is the same AIRBAG that you discovered in 2009 – those who love them will rejoice, and those unable to resonate will remain relative strangers. They can be praised and lamented in the same ways as before, and for that, we have an unrevolutionary album whichever way you look at it.

AIRBAG have always written a very agreeable, and very thoughtful form of ‘quiet prog’. It’s the sort of music that sits well against a calm fireplace, a rich brandy, and a modest bookcase of leather-bound editions of literary classics. It takes strict notes from the catalogues of FLOYD and PORCUPINE TREE but strays from the eccentricity of the former and the foreboding complexity of the latter. Instead, with this new LP playing no differently, the Norwegians rely on ensnaring songwriting, terrific guitar solos, and just about every angle of ‘world on my shoulders’ lyricism you could muster.

In isolation, The Century Of The Self presenting no change from this formula is no crime. Its runtime simply vanishes before you, with five distinct tracks leading listeners through a labyrinth of gentle bass-led grooves, empowering hooks, and soul-shredding solo work. It wears its influences proudly upon its sleeves as it did five albums previous but, given the bands AIRBAG is nodding to, there are certainly shabbier books to take a leaf from. Alike Megalomaniac from 2020’s A Day At The Beach, the album culminates its rich gene pool into its last hurrah, the 15-minute epic Tear It Down. Providing essentially everything one could want from such a colossus, the track ends matters on a poignant reminder that the trio haven’t lost a beat over the years.

However, given the band’s four-year gap in new material, is ‘more of the same’ truly enough to keep this AIRBAG from crashing out of fans’ favour? Truthfully, The Century Of The Self is not enough to reach much further beyond diehard listeners. Especially as, with the band treading water so consistently, their flaws are laid rather bare from a bird’s eye view. Asle Tostrup, while a fine vocalist enough, has beaten the same lyrical drum to the point of breaking skin and, combined with his somewhat pained delivery, can begin to wear after a few dedicated listens. It’s almost better, then, to keep AIRBAG in the background. Press play while you work, clean, exercise mindlessly as, if you look too closely, you’ll start to see the cracks.

The album’s lyrics offer another discussion, too. The band root themselves in the present, tackling cancel culture, dysphoria and “a world steeped in fear and condemnation“, but things are kept perhaps intentionally vague as to the group’s underlying sentiment. This ambiguity, while allowing listeners to glean what they wish from the tracks, does leave yet another act of impartiality from an album that struggles to remove itself from the fence.

Perhaps it should be admired that, while so many bands of their ilk fail time and again in the name of meaningless re-invention, AIRBAG are content and comfortable to champion the innocuous. It yields consistently serviceable results and for those that love it, its familiarity is never a disappointment. With that said, this album is fine. It’s technically sound and emotionally resonant but you’ve heard it before, and definitely heard it better elsewhere.
~ Alex Mace

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