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The Bender family and entourage are back with album number three, 'Anima'. Having been mightily impressed with Introitus' sophomore full-length effort, 'Elements', my own expectations were pretty high before listening to its successor. Comprised of no less than four Benders - namely the husband/wife team of keyboardist Mats and vocalist Anna Jobs, along with their progeny, drummer Mattias and backing vocalist Johanna - also returning from 'Elements' are Henrik Björlind on flute/additional keyboards, guitarist Pär Helje, and bassist Dennis Lindqvist. Interestingly, Johanna doesn't feature in the booklet's centre pages where band members and their functions are listed alongside headshots; instead, she's relegated to a mention at the end of a small-print list of personnel on the back of the booklet, so I'm guessing her contribution, musically, is minimal this time around. However, featured as one of two models on the quite wonderful cover art, her presence has materialised more emphatically in a non-aural manner this time around.

Musically, 'Elements' impressed me greatly with the quality, and consistency of quality, in the songwriting, awash as it was with some seriously sublime melodies - both vocally and instrumentally. 'Anima' maintains that core essence of Introitus' sound, courtesy of Mats' compositional skills, the alluring charms of Anna Jobs' voice as she delivers her self-penned lyrics with a great emotional depth, and the general musical talents of all players involved. On the surface, this is predominantly sympho-propelled prog rock, albeit with some sporadic guitar heaviness thrown into the mix. However, the true essence of the music skilfully crafted by these talented Swedes can be found in its compositional prowess. There is some seriously good songwriting on show here, so much so that the music's stylistic traits and genre affiliations are almost secondary. Well, maybe not secondary per se, but not as axiomatic as many other prog bands. That is to say, it's easy to become lost in the emotional charms of each song, rather than being forced to step back and observe its sonic idioms. This certainly isn't "rub your face in it" prog where the style overrides substance; rather, style and substance are at one.

What slightly mars 'Anima' for me, and I'd be 99% certain that it's only an incompatibility with my own listening proclivities, is an occasional prominence of what I can only construe as some ever so slightly cheesy keyboard sounds. I cannot fault Mats' songwriting abilities, nor the massive sound he's afforded the songs with his evident production skills. However, I find myself, on more than one occasion, wishing that he'd held back on some of the more retro-based keyboard sonics. Fortunately, this is only a minor nuisance (and, who knows, probably a strength of the album to a different pair of ears), as 'Anima' is, on the whole, another great work from this talented bunch of Scandinavians. And on an album that has the power to occasionally surprise (such as with the inclusion of some death vocals on the title track as its lengthy 16+ minutes duration builds into a heavy crescendo, only to subside into a flute-led passage, and epic-choir infused outro), it also keeps you on your listening toes, despite its captivatingly sublime appeal.
Progress Records
Review by Mark Holmes
20th August 2014
1) Initiare
2) Broken Glass
3) Who Goes There
4) Slipping Away
5) You Will Always Be My Girl
6) Free
7) Anima
8) Exire
"This certainly isn't "rub your face in it" prog where the style overrides substance; rather, style and substance are at one."